Two sets of meetings and events will be taking place in, and about the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from March to April. One, a series of visits to DRC by CEOs of foreign mining companies to advocate for a new bill to increase taxes for foreign mining companies in DRC to be revoked. The second will be taking place in Geneva in April when humanitarian donors gather to advocate for funding to address humanitarian needs in DRC.
A humanitarian appeal with significant increase in funding has been launched for the DRC to address humanitarian needs, caused by internal conflict, which have doubled since 2017, says the U.N. Humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock to the Security Council on Monday March 19. The DRC has become Africa’s displacement crisis, with 4.5 million internally displaced people and another 746,000 who have fled to neighboring countries.
Yet at the same time, foreign mining firms are opposing the plan to increase taxes and government royalties from foreign mining firms. These firms say their operations in DRC would stop being profitable. DRC has considered changing its 2002 mining code for years for putting too many profits in the hands of foreign companies. The foreign mining companies opposing the new bill have argued that the legislation would deter future investment and violate existing agreements. For the millions of Congolese, many of whom have depended on humanitarian aid for decades, these arguments do not matter, after all, current investments from foreign mining groups do not benefit the majority of the people in the country.
A BBC article aptly captures the abundant wealth of DRC: “Limitless water, from the world's second-largest river, the Congo, a benign climate and rich soil make it fertile, beneath the soil abundant deposits of copper, gold, diamonds, cobalt, uranium, coltan and oil are just some of the minerals that should make it one of the world's richest countries.”: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24396390 Mineral-rich yet destitute DRC produces almost 70% of the world's cobalt whose demand has increased and price doubled with high demands for electric cars, requiring cobalt for batteries.
But today, the international community is asking for 1.7 billion to fund humanitarian assistance for 13 million Congolese in dire need. More than 4.6 million children are acutely malnourished and the country is facing its worst cholera outbreak in 15 years. In April, international donors will meet in Geneva to advocate for funding. The amount being requested is nearly four times the amount requested in 2017, at the April 2017 pledging conference. DRC has appealed for humanitarian aid every year since 1998.
While calling on the international community to support DRC’s 2018 humanitarian appeal, Mr. Mark Green, U.S. Administrator for the Agency for International Development noted rightfully that boosting assistance without insisting on concrete, measurable action “is the opposite of compassion.” Mr. Green has called for the international community to demand that credible elections take place this year. The United Nations has also condemned the use of excessive and lethal force against protesters. I will like to add that continued efforts must also be made and intensified to leverage the role and economic interest of foreign mining industries in finding a lasting solution to DRC’s crisis.
The story of DRC’s crisis is one where millions have been left destitute from the complicity of both the international community and national authorities. A scathing UN report published in 2002 following findings by an independent panel of experts noted that 85 multinational companies based in Europe, the US and South Africa had violated ethical guidelines in dealing with criminal networks which have pillaged natural resources from war-torn DR Congo. No doubt that the conflict in DRC has presented the required haze through which the country's wealth has been exploited. The planned tax increase could be a step to address it, but it certainly will not make a dent on the unaccounted for profit that has been amassed from DRC for decades.
In addition to the humanitarian appeal and the call to urgently address pressing governance issues, the role of foreign mining companies in DRC must be leveraged in the quest for a long term solution that addresses the root causes of the country’s current crisis. In the article, Mineral Wealth in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Blessing or Curse?, blogger Emma Bentley noted that the bloody conflicts that have ravaged DRC’s for decades have been funded largely by mineral wealth. “In the eastern part of the DRC, illegal trade of minerals, especially coltan and gold, helps finance rebel groups. But the majority of profits made from mining in the DRC is also used to line the pockets of CEOs in foreign countries” she writes. https://borgenproject.org/the-democratic-republic-of-congo/.
According to the five-member panel from Egypt, Canada, the United States of America, Belgium and Senegal, and British and Swiss technical advisers mandated by the security council to investigate the scramble for Congo's resources in the wake of four years of war, western multinational corporations’ attempts to cash in on the wealth of Congo’s resources have supported the war in DR Congo that left millions dead.
One way foreign companies can address the optics or perception of complicity in the face of growing conflict with increasing humanitarian needs is to fund the current humanitarian appeal on DRC and to support it generously.
As well as the urgent need to address the growing humanitarian needs, more investment should be made on security in DRC. Because as volatile as this country has been projected to be for decades, appropriate and adequate security is still being provided to enable the continuation of mining activities. Insecurity has not derailed or affected the extraction of DRC’s vast natural and mineral resources. Surely, if much and such efforts can be invested to secure the interest of mining industries, efforts should and can be made in providing security so that displaced people can be resettled and millions who have been dependent on humanitarian aid year in year out can recover their lives and livelihoods in dignity.