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AFKI Mining: Artisanal Mining In Central Africa Rife With Hazards

AFKI Mining: Artisanal Mining In Central Africa Rife With Hazards

Through the rest of this AFKInsider series we have examined the influence of foreign companies on mineral exploitation throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

In parts 1 and 2 we examined foreign companies in oil and gas and industrial metal mining respectively. Nearly all of these Multi-National companies, especially those operating in low-capacity states like Angola or Zambia, were based in far off cities such as London, New York or Amsterdam.

However, in states with more economic power, such as South Africa, much more of the economic power was concentrated in the hands of companies based in-country.

Part 3 examined an economic success story, highlighting the way that Botswana had used its vast diamond wealth to transition to a middle-income economy and use the spoils of the Earth to benefit all.

Exploited through a joint venture with De Beers, Botswana has used its diamond money to diversify the economy, educate its populace and prepare for a time when diamond mining can no longer carry the economy. The importance of using the ground’s riches to prepare for the future is a lesson that most states with mineral wealth fail to learn.

Part 4, the final part of this series, will examine the practice of “artisanal” mining. In sharp contrast to the vast industrial projects that take oil and gas, industrial metals or diamonds out of the ground, artisanal mining is an individual pursuit that can be done with hands or a shovel.


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This can include activities such as digging for diamonds, panning for gold or any other similarly small scale practice. The practice is prominent in many states, in particular in Central Africa.

While this practice may seem like a type of mining that removes the high cost of entry for the industry and can do real good for impoverished individuals, it has often been a scourge, fueling and financing some of the continent’s bloodiest conflicts and worst human rights violations.

Despite its small scale individual operations, artisanal mining is a major part of mining across the continent and indeed, throughout the world.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo such miners account for 80 percent of total production. In the Central African Republic nearly all of the country’s mining is classified as artisanal. Worldwide the estimates of people engaged in artisanal mining reach 20 million, while approximately 100 million individuals are dependent on the income it provides.

Perhaps the greatest reason for the outsized contribution to human misery played by artisanal mining is the lack of oversight and inability to regulate the small scale operations.

According to a study from the World Bank’s Oil, Gas and Mining Policy and Operations Unit, the standard process for the monetization of such minerals is to first be exploited in a small scale operation by an individual or small group through rudimentary means, second, the sale of exploited minerals to a dealer near the mining site, and finally, the dealer sells the product to a trading house with a license for export.

Child Miners Speak

 

The multiple cash and grey market transactions that take place along the line leave room for significant corruption, exploitation, intimidation, theft or any number of other maladies.

The horrors that have accompanied artisanal mining throughout the continent are extraordinary. In a report entitled “Child Miners Speak” by World Vision, conducted at the Kambove mine in the DRC, multiple children, some as young as eight, were asked to discuss their work days at the mines.

The horror for children working at Kambove defies the imagination. Of the 53 children surveyed, 19 percent reported seeing another child die on the site, 53 percent report being injured, 42 percent report seeing other children injured and 87 percent experienced body pain that was not there prior to their backbreaking labor.

In this study the answer to the question of how they ended up working there for most is crushing poverty, but many other such studies have turned up more treacherous tales, such as brutal kidnappings and child slavery.

While many, in support of “resource nationalism” dismiss as evil the influence of multinational corporations, artisanal mining is also fundamentally imperfect.

In addition to the limited types of mining that can be done by individuals, the system under which artisanal miners operate is rife with exploitation.

The ability of individuals, with limited capital investment, to take valuable minerals from the soil with just their hands or rudimentary tools has resulted in child labor, enslavement, intimidation and has funded some of the worst crimes committed on the continent.

While many MNCs may fairly be accused of plundering the land without regard to the people who occupy it or the environment, such international corporations are subject to some laws or public opinion campaigns. The warlords and rebel armies that have too often committed atrocities in the name of profit or prolonging wars have even less accountability.

Artisanal mining has the potential to be a spectacular means to ensure the spoils of the land put funds into the local hands that often need it most. However, the lack of oversight and grey market nature of the transactions has allowed unscrupulous actors, from warlords to corrupt trading houses to infiltrate the process.

While many of the transparency and oversight methods that are used for MNCs operating in African mineral exploitation have dismissed the artisanal trade as too difficult to regulate, it is important that this be reconsidered. Otherwise the potential for artisanal mining to do good in putting wealth in the hands of local populations may never be realized.

 

Andrew Friedman is a human rights attorney and consultant who works and writes on legal reform and constitutional law with an emphasis on Africa. He can be reached via email atafriedm2@gmail.com or via twitter @AndrewBFriedman.