Women in Mining

Wars, blood minerals, diseases and sexual violence. For the majority of public opinion, this is what the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is all about. But, today, in the eastern provinces of the Central African country, which is as large as the whole of Western Europe, we are witnessing some unexpected changes. In the midst of one of the richest areas in the world for subterranean resources, but where the GDP per capita is one of the lowest, women – despised and discriminated against for centuries – are leading a revolution that is helping not only to change the image of this country, but also that of the artisanal mining sector (AMS). So far, the latter has only been known for its outpouring of corruption and the many atrocities, hidden away and later forgotten, that have been committed under its name. However, since 2006, women have started to unite in associations and ten years later have gotten together around a tightly-knit network known by the French acronym of RENAFEM (National Network of Women in Mining). Within this net are some ambitious, sometimes privileged, women who, thanks to the mineral business, have reached economic and social standards that pair those of their male counterparts (e.g. Angelique Nyirasafari, Yvette Mwanza and Emilienne Intongwa). Others who started from a more disadvantaged position have gradually caught up and today don’t withdraw before men’s attempts to discriminate them (women such as Murekatete Beatrice or Mwamini Makanyaka). Finally, there are those who understood the relevance and centrality of the women miners’ struggle and, despite their initial distance from this world, left everything behind to embrace the cause (such as Viviane Sebahire or Veronique Miyengo). Focusing on the opportunities the AMS can offer to women doesn’t mean forgetting that they are still too often vulnerable victims of a system based upon male hegemony (e.g. mama twangaises). But, rather, than due to economic, political and social circumstances, women feel the need to demand their own rights and, by escaping the dominating framework of total subjugation towards men, change a secular and malfunctioning balance. The journey Congolese women must undertake to fully emancipate within the AMS is long, and doesn’t end here. RENAFEM has proven to be a powerful network, helping thousands of women self-determinate and liberate themselves from stereotypes and misconceptions. In order for their social growth to rise at the same pace as economic growth – as well as to see a tangible improvement in the life of all women miners – it is the institutions that must intervene.
“Congo is a jungle, where impunity, bad administration and injustice are very widespread,” claims Angelique Nyirasafari, one of the women leaders. “Justice is part of the transaction and those who don’t have money don’t get to be listened to.” As long as the highest levels of this system don’t change, it will be women who once again are paying the highest price.

Angelique Nyirasafari

In Goma there are two paved roads. One leads to the international airport, the other runs along the coast, where the expats’ fancy compounds are located. All the rest, including Angelique Nyirasafari’s place, are only reachable by travelling on uneven tracks, constantly interrupted by massive, threatening rocks. In Nyirasafari’s case, as you pass a tiny metal door, which is the only thing that can be glimpsed from the outside, the dark volcanic soil typical of the city gives way to a grand villa, immersed within the exotic vegetation. Nyirasafari is a distinguished mineral trader and a member of COOPERAMMA. In 2011, it was the first mining cooperative to be established in North Kivu, in Masisi territory that is rich in cassiterite (tin) and coltan (tantalum).

“There are three kinds of traders. Those who work with the diggers, which means that they pay the diggers to do the work and then sell the minerals to the big companies or, else, to the transforming firms. There is a second category of traders, which consists in those who buy (minerals) directly in the mining pits. They go to those places, they purchase (minerals), and then they sell them. Finally, there is a third category of those who own a pit, work there, and once they find the minerals, they sell them to the big companies or to the transforming firms. A businessperson usually fits within either the second or the third category, but I fit all three.” (A. N.)

Nyirasafari is the second of eight children that her mother, the second of her father’s three wives, had. Her father was a big farmer. “My father had the means to send us all to school but, because of our culture, my sisters didn’t care about anything other than having kids and getting married,” she says. “I was the exception. I didn’t want to get married before finishing my studies and my father supported me.” Despite her privileges, Nyirasafari, like most Congolese people, endured some very hard times. During the first Congolese war, which erupted in 1996 as a direct consequence of the genocide that occurred in Rwanda two years earlier, Nyirasafari – who belonged to the well-off Hutu community based in the DRC – lost both her brother and his wife. In fact, during the ravenous hunt the Tutsi organised to eliminate their Hutu oppressors who had found shelter in Congo from Rwanda, those who only shared an ethnic lineage with the Hutu paid a hefty price. “Even if they told us that those who got kidnapped were later murdered, we can’t be 100% sure,” says Nyirasafari. “We never saw their bodies.” Since her brother disappeared, his children have been living with her.

Until 2015, Nyirasafari was involved in the humanitarian sector but, as she craved spending more time at home with her kids, she decided to quit. With the money she put aside, she started, first, buying minerals from small traders and selling them in Goma and later dealing directly with the miners in the mining sites. Although the mineral business is dominated by men in the DRC, it is still the fastest way women have to climb up the economic and social ladder. While Nyirasafari’s interest in this field is quite recent, women actually started entering the (mainly artisanal) mining sector in 1982, pouring into it in greater numbers in 1996 when the national mining company, SOMINKI, was shut down at the beginning of the war and thousands of men employed there became jobless. On entering the mining sector, Nyirasafari decided she would improve the working standards of her colleagues alongside her career. The turning point was the National Conference of Women in the Mining Sector held in Bukavo, the capital of South Kivu, in 2015, supported by the World Bank and the Congolese government. There, they set the foundations for what, two years later, became the National Network of Women in Mining (or RENAFEM). After attending that conference, Nyirasafari decided to form an association named Dynamics for Women in the Mining Sector (FEDEM), which flanked COOPERAMMA in the protection of women in Masisi territory. “In Congo being a woman is the greatest challenge,” Nyirasafari says. “Often it’s women themselves who feel inferior to the men and men feel legitimised to behave, as if they were really superior.” For this reason, joining an association for many women becomes the only way out from the constant pressure the society exerts upon them.

“In 2016 we got invited at an international conference focused on women in mining in Bukavo. After attending it, we realised that it was about time to get involved and protect women in this field. That’s how we created FEDEM. What I learnt is that, as women who work in the same mining sector, we must support each other, because if we don’t, women who are still exposed to abuses won’t ever get their voice heard. If we are closed, communication gets easier and more effective.” (A. N)

Today, Nyirasafari is also involved in DRC politics and will soon be running as a national deputy for the Senate, to give voice to the trampled on rights of the women of Masisi. “Inside COOPERAMMA I am the only woman with a diploma,” she says somewhat disappointedly. “Women from my area only think about getting married and, if things keep going this way, soon there will be no more literate women in Masisi.” Since local miners feel frustrated about the privileges granted to outsiders such as Senator Mwangachuchu, they all too often join armed groups to make up for their subdued sense of injustice. By doing so, they leave an often too heavy burden upon the women.

Technical Sheets

1) Looking Backwards. Mineral extraction in Congo has a long history which dates back to colonial times. Cassiterite (tin) and coltan (tantalum) were first discovered in the Kivus in 1910 and, since then the tin sector has become exclusive property of the Belgian companies. Investments within the industrial exploitation intensified in the 1940's and 50's and led to a sharp boost in the production in the 1950's and 60's. The country’s independence from Belgium in 1960 didn’t hold any immediate consequences for the Belgian mining companies that continued to keep control over the sector. The situation changed radically 35 years later, when the industrial exploitation of the 3Ts (tin, tungsten (wolframite) and tantalum) ceased, as a direct effect of both the global economic crisis and the Congolese government’s failure. The patrimonial government of former President Mobutu had some disastrous effects upon the country’s economy and the crisis intensified so much that several Belgian investors were forced to reconsider their mining activities. This situation led to the establishment of the Société Minière et Industrielle du Kivu (SOMINKI), owned by a mix of shareholders, with 28% retained by the Congolese state. Since the liberalisation of the mining exploitation pursued by Mobutu in 1982 and, most importantly, since the liquidation of SOMINKI in 1997, the gradual decline of the industrial sector has gone at the same pace of the steady growth of artisanal mining (AMS). Since the early 1990's, with a sensible intensification during the two Congolese wars, the latter has replaced all forms of formal extraction. Although tracking the evolution of the role of women within the AMS is hard, due to the lack of documentation, the two documented waves of female workers into the sector – that occurred, respectively, in 1982 and 1996 – induce analysts to think that their involvement hails from a combination of economic difficulties and the ever fewer appealing opportunities offered by traditional sectors, like agriculture. Poverty seems to have been the driving force behind women’s final decision to join the AMS, especially when men lost their jobs or abandoned their families to join the armed militias. In these regards, if the AMS has often fed and funded various conflicts (from there hails the popular term “conflict minerals”), not all the communities involved into artisanal mining took active part in the country’s violence. A demonstration of - the not always - criminal and chaotic nature of the AMS is its well-organised structure and the tight net of social relationships it revolves around.

2) The mining cooperatives. The legal recognition of the artisanal extraction (included within the mining code of 2002 and the Mining Regulations of 2003) is a significant step forward for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) but, at the same time, as Maya Kale explains in her report, the restrictions it lays upon limit the benefits on male and female miners alike. Mining cooperatives stem from the government’s will to expand its control upon the artisanal miners. Since the end of the second Great War, informal workers started to unite and applied for the licence of either exploration or extraction, or both. The process to obtain the documents to form a cooperative is long, expensive and, often, useless. When it works, the diggers and site managers of each cooperative are required to sell their minerals and precious stones only to authorised traders and must respect precise environmental, safety and health standards, imposed by the government. In addition to this, the law sets some prescribed zones reserved only for artisanal mining but, given the huge amount of people involved into this sector (the number varies between 500,000 and 2 million individuals), as well as the often inaccessible location of the allocated sites and some other uncomfortable limitations, many miners prefer to work in areas that are deemed as technically illegal for the extraction, despite risking hefty penalties.

COOPERAMMA, which counts Angelique Nyirasafari amongst its most distinguished members, is the first cooperative to be established in North Kivu, in Masisi territory, by the artisanal miners of Rubaya, in the aftermath of the government’s decision in 2006 to allocate over 25 km2 area to the mining company MHI (Mwangachuchu Hizi International), belonging to non-native Senator Edouard Mwangachuchu, for industrial exploitation. Since 2001, when Mwangachuchu was granted the control of Bibatama mining site, probably because of his strong connections with the Hutu elite intimidated by the larger local Tutsi majority, the relationship between COOPERAMMA and MHI, which later converted into SMB (Societe Minerarie of Bisonzo), was tense at the least. Last August the conflict between the two sides was dodged at last and, again, in October, when over thirty artisanal miners from COOPERAMMA were brutally murdered. In December, the situation degenerated, to the extent that a new civil war was predicted. 
Sometimes women flank their husbands at the lead of the mining cooperatives, but the case of Germaine Bumbu, President of a cooperative in Shabunda, in South Kivu, as well as the legal councillor of a whole network of cooperatives, is very peculiar.

“I have a law degree and I took the oath of attorney at the South Kivu Bar. I got interested in the mining sector because in Shabunda, where I’m from, there’s plenty of minerals but people’s life is very mediocre. Hence, entering this sector for me was a way to help them open up their eyes on the opportunities offered by the mining sector, and help them organise. I’ve always wanted them to take advantage of this sector but we faced many difficulties because, after we formed our cooperative, the state gave the concession of the same area to a mining company. Now there’s loads of problems of cohabitation between us and them. They claim that they have a licence that gives them full control over the exploitation of the area and that we artisanal miners can’t continue operating there. This is what prevents us from looking forward and making plans for our future.” (G. B.)

Bumbu raises one of the founding issues behind the cooperative system: “The government, on the one hand, created the cooperatives and, on the other hand, handed out the best parts of the mining sites to the mining companies. They don’t care if the cooperative part of the site is not fruitful, because they have other interests at stake and, most of the times, cooperatives aren’t even given the chance to check, if their piece of land contains minerals, before they get to buy it.”

3) RENAFEM. Between 2012 and 2014 the World Bank and Harvard University carried out research on the impacts the artisanal and small-scale mining (AMS) was having on the people in North and South Kivu. That program focused on how decades-long conflicts contributed to both exacerbate the conditions of women involved into the AMS and their rights and shed light on the various levels of vulnerability women miners were subdued to. Moreover, it tried to single out positive examples of resilience amongst them. Following the results of this research, the World Bank, along with DRC’s Ministry of Mines, convened the first National Conference on Women in Mining. The event highlighted some of the key findings and data on the scale of women’s issues in the mining sector and there was significant discussion about how movements that were already active within the mining sector could be strengthened. From this cycle of intense discussions, which brought together 165 participants – mainly women – from the nine provinces, stemmed the idea of RENAFEM. “The beauty of this initiative is that women were already self-organised,” explained the Senior Director of the Energy & Extractive Industries Global Practice of the World Bank, Riccardo Puliti. “What we did was help elevate their profile and issues thanks to a national network.” RENAFEM was born in the absence of a united female voice. “Talking to the women, we found out that more than 350 associations and cooperatives focused on female issues within the mining sector already existed,” Puliti continues. “That number was only based on five of the nine provinces, which means that it was actually higher.” Other associations – like Nyirasafari’s – were created as a direct impulse of that first conference. Riccardo Puliti stresses the value of “the network”: “Our experience taught us that Congolese women’s capability to self-organise, even in other sectors like small trade and agriculture, is often the key force for the country’s development. This, together with the World Bank’s will to help women empower themselves, was a perfect match.” Between conferences, reports, researches and the funds to sustain the Comite of Pilotage, the World Bank has already invested approximately £895,000. Yet, Puliti advises, the situation for many women miners in the DRC is still critical. “Improving the opportunities of women within the mining sector is a job for many; the World Bank cannot do this alone. As of today, the Bank remains the only technical partner active in this area, but we remain optimistic others will join the effort.”

Yvette Mwanza

Yvette Mwanza insists that we meet neither at her place, nor in the firm specialising in the transformation and sale of minerals that she runs, when she’s not too busy dealing with her more important official tasks. Instead, we drive beyond the chaotic city centre of Goma, until we reach a quiet and charming lodge a few kilometers away from the Rwandan border. As we walk down the terraces that gradually lead to the shores of the Kivu Lake, we glimpse a well-built woman, wearing a green silky dress that matches a set of shiny jewels that catch our attention. Yvette Mwanza is the Vice-President of the Mining Operators in the Chamber of Commerce of the DRC, as well as the President of its North Kivu branch. She is also a role model for most Congolese women and, certainly, for those women involved in the mining sector.

“In the Committee I am the only one (woman) for the North Kivu province. If we compare (North Kivu) with the other provinces... the president of South Kivu is a man, of Maniema is a man...I think, maybe, I am the only woman who has this position, as the President of the Committee of the Mining Operators in one province, in the mining sector. I am maybe the only one.” (Y. M.)

The mission of both the Chamber of Commerce and Mwanza is to identify risks within the mining sector, in order to regulate the sale and export of minerals from post-conflict areas that, like North Kivu, are still strongly unstable and characterised by a high presence of armed militia. “Despite the obstacles, I make sure that the supply chain of the minerals destined to go to foreign trade is responsible and that, at least for the 3Ts, the international standards of traceability are implemented,” Mwanza explains, referring to the basic minerals the growing electronics industry relies upon, such as tin (cassiterite), tantalum (coltan) and tungsten (wolframite). “Since both gold and precious stones slip away from the regulations imposed by the official market, and are often exposed to trafficking and smuggling, I am also backing the authorities in the creation of a Stock Exchange.” Mwanza has a very clear vision of the direction the mining sector must take in order for the resource-rich North Kivu to become competitive on a global scale. “The first thing that needs to be done to increase the still insufficient level of production,” she explains, “is pushing miners to form cooperatives, which in turn need to receive material support from the State to get mechanised and be able to exploit larger areas in a shorter time. This way they can make bigger profits.” Things should be the same for women, even if they often cover marginal roles otherwise performed by the machines. “It’s not true that illiterate women risk losing their job, if mining gets mechanised,” claims Mwanza.

“They (Women) must be formalized and have a cooperative with all due documents. Also, they need to get capacity building in terms of management. In order to get some financement from either a bank or some other institution, they must show that they have good management. Now we have an advantage with the new mining code, because it gives the cooperatives of miners both the possibility and the opportunity to get a mining title and a permit for exportation.” (Y. M.)

The women’s issue has become pivotal since the RENAFEM network was formalised in 2015. “I attended both conferences in Bukavo and Lubumbashi,” Mwanza says. “For a while the World Bank had been trying to present my case as an example of a success story, to encourage the other women to believe in themselves and never renounce to the idea of growing within the mining sector.” Mwanza is the first to admit that she is not like any other woman, though. “Probably, if I had stayed in the village in Kasai where my father was born, I wouldn’t be like this,” she says. “The environment I was raised in helped me become the woman I am today.” Mwanza is the first of eleven children her mother had from a well-renowned judge of the Supreme Court. The Congolese legislation dictates that people pursuing this career must change place every couple of years, to avoid conflicts of interests, which is why Mwanza’s first memories are blurred. Given the high social status of her parents, though, no one in her family had to give up their career to build up a family, or vice versa. “According to our local mentality, being a woman is a misfortune. But my parents were different,” she says frankly.

“We women must be involved and be part of the solution. We can’t always be the victims but we must look forward and try to find solutions to the problems of gender, as well as of governance and security. We must be part of the solution.” (Y. M.)

Like the other women, Mwanza suffered the advent of the war in her own way, too. “I feared for our lives but I was also very concerned that, if I stayed in Congo, I would have to make compromises,” she says. “So many people offered me bright careers, but I didn’t want to work for the rebels controlled by foreign powers.” Mwanza left Bukavo – where she lived at the time – with her husband and found shelter in Rwanda, where she spent ten years until 2006, when she returned to Congo to vote at the first free multi-party elections in 46 years. She moved to Congo for good in 2007 when she was offered the management of the firm she still runs. As soon as her managing skills were ascertained, she was asked to cover more challenging roles, too. Today Mwanza wants to beat another record and become the first woman in North Kivu to hold a licence not only to export, but also to cut and sell finished jewels, designed by herself.

Technical Sheets

1) Traceability. Massacres, atrocities, mass graves… in each and every tragic episode of the last twenty years of Congolese history, minerals had a central role,” says Fidel Bafilemba, coordinator of the Platform of Support for the Traceability and Transparency of the Management of the Natural Resources (GATT-RN). “Since 2011 we have been advocating this.” GATT-RN is a coalition of twelve organisations of the Congolese civil society, which fights to transform the wide mining wealth contained in the eastern part of the country into a fruitful resource for its own people. In the aftermath of the successful campaigns that banned the exploitation of “conflict diamonds” at the beginning of this century, a first campaign against the trade of bloody minerals occurred in 2001 and concerned coltan, in the first place. “Mobutu’s liberalisation continued at a faster pace under Kabila father,” Bafilemba continues. “With the boom of coltan in 2001 (a kg of coltan increased in price from £16 to £277) more and more people poured into the mining sector and it was when our drama restarted.” It was in that period too that some initiatives, which have been better outlined since 2006, started to be discussed. It was also the time when the electronics industry really kicked off, thus larger efforts were put on controlling the 3Ts (tantalum (coltan), tin (cassiterite) and tungsten (wolframite)), such as that industry’s backbone. Later on, some interest was raised around gold as well but, today, gold is still a very volatile mineral and escapes most controls. The implemented initiatives consisted in promoting transparency and traceability of the mining exploitation, as well as banning the import of resources, linked to the conflicts. In the specific, traceability means tracking minerals along their supply chain, by monitoring their chain of custody. Although this practice carries some undebatable benefits, Bafilemba is sceptical about it. “It’s shameful even talking about traceability, because it’s something that stems from 1502 Section of Dodd Frank Act (nda passed into law in 2010, it dictates that American commercial companies can’t use raw materials linked to conflicts in Congo and must track their supply chain) and the European legislation. Traceability wouldn’t exist, if Congo had full authority upon its territory,” he claims. “Congo has its own mining code and its own laws and, if they were correctly implemented, traceability wouldn’t be needed.” According to Bafilemba, this is just the umpteenth attempt of the West to exercise control upon the mining resources of the DRC, with the silent complacency of part of the Congolese elite. “It’s the mining industry to decide how much minerals should cost and how much they want to purchase them for. It’s not the producing country,” Bafilemba explains. “The extraction in Congo is a form of slavery: a miner from Rubaya earns no more than £8 a day and dreams to buy himself a mobile phone or send his kids to school… GATT-RN adheres to traceability, because it’s the only way Congo can get into the global trading network but, until the West doesn’t humanise and those responsible for these illicit traffics aren’t held accountable, minerals won’t be a tangible source of revenue for the Congolese miners.”

2) The gemstones stock exchange. Goma Stock Exchange is one of the greatest innovations that will storm the artisanal mining sector (AMS) in 2019. “We need it because we have a huge problem with gold and gemstones,” says Yvette Mwanza, specialised in evaluating the risks behind the mineral trade. “It’s very hard to track them and most of their exploitation occurs out of the official market. One of the few solutions we have to stop smuggling them is to create a Stock Exchange, which has to abide by the Congolese legal framework.” Artisanal miners should be progressively helped out their current state of precarity and become leading actors in the sustainable development of the AMS. The artisanal sector is behind the fiscal fraud, which is widespread on a national level and deprives the Ministry of Treasure and the Central Bank of Congo (BCC) of the ultimate control upon resources that should contribute to reinvigorate the national economy. Moreover, it’s been often one of the main reasons for the instability of eastern Congo. As if this wasn’t enough, the eastern provinces of the DRC are affected by the economies of their neighbouring countries. “If the official records report that every year we export 1000 tonnes coltan and 1,500 tonnes cassiterite abroad,” Mwanza says, “amongst the estimated 20 tonnes of gold, obtained by the artisanal production, the mining authorities can barely control 300 kilos. When it comes to gemstones, the gap is even wider.” The steps to turn the idea of a Stock Exchange into concrete action started in August 2017, when it was first decided to collect the available figures on the gemstones in the province and establish how much the gap, they left in the market, weighed upon the revenues of the whole country. BCC was given the role of regulator on all transactions concerning precious stones and minerals, because, according to article 128 of the mining code, it wasn’t legitimate to establish a Stock Exchange for the purchase and sale of gold, diamonds, minerals and gemstones, without this body’s approval. Moreover, the BCC was tasked to provide institutional support on the mining regulations contained within articles 266-268 of the same code. To manage the Stock Exchange will be a joint committee, composed by representatives of both the BCC and the governorate of North Kivu. During the Summer of 2018 several studies were conducted to investigate the following issues: minerals certification, responsible supply chains, the financial statement for gold mining and the resolution of problems like fraud and smuggling. In December the Committee started to attract the first mining companies and to tie up profitable relationships with similar bodies already operating in other countries.

3) The mining code. People would be tempted to assume that the artisanal mining sector (AMS) in Congo eludes all forms of regulation. But the first mining code was already drafted in 2002 and the following Mining Regulations were out in 2003. The existence of hundred pages written in French, which are incomprehensible for most of the illiterate mining class, doesn’t, of course, mean that they got ever respected. The code describes the mining activity like “every activity, where a person from Congolese nationality performs either the excavation or concentration of mineral resources, using artisan tools, methods and procedures, within an area characterised by a limited size and a depth that can’t be over thirty meters.” On 9 March 2018 President Joseph Kabila introduced a new mining code that modifies, instead of replacing, the former one. Compared to the earlier code, the new one includes the following mining rights: a permit for the exploration standardised for all minerals, which lasts for five years and it’s renewable once a year; and a permit for digging, which lasts for 25 years and can be renewed every 15 years. Permits can but be granted only to legal entities and not to physical people. “The new code promotes the establishment of cooperatives, which could be a good thing, without but imposing on either the government or the foreign companies to help miners financially to create them. Can you tell me, how would a poor miner cope with it alone?” asks Fidel Bafilemba, the coordinator of GATT-RN. Among the 54 cooperatives operating in North Kivu, I think there are no more than ten that escape the control of either politicians or army men.” Mining policies focus only on diggers, site managers and traders, without ever mentioning the intermediate roles performed by women and, by doing this, they reveal a discriminatory nature. Furthermore, if in the old code, “pregnant women couldn’t engage in tiring tasks”, the new version prevents them, from entering the underground pits tout court, and, often, since it is hard to say whether a woman is pregnant or not the first six months, this law can be manipulated.

One of the main novelties of the new code is the increase in the royalties and taxes. For instance, there are new taxes on “strategic substances”, which are defined as “the minerals that, according to the government’s opinion towards the surrounding economic climate, are deemed as interesting due to their critical nature and the geo-strategic context.” Even if there isn’t any reference to any specific minerals, the government later suggested that cobalt, coltan, lithium and germanium would be included. It doesn’t come as a surprise, since the DRC is the largest producer of raw materials, destined to the electronic industry, worldwide. To remark the government’s will to give better opportunities to the local communities, 10 per cent royalties will be allocated to a fund, specifically created for future generations. “If the royalties will help hinder foreign investments, I will thank God,” Bafilemba jokes. “Our people have never seen any benefits from the boom of the mining industry in Congo. It was always and only the government to take advantage of it. We lack roads, electricity, running water, schools… basically, all services. I am pro minerals embargo, if that means holding the government accountable for what it has done to its country.” If from now on the number of Congolese nationals amongst contractors and members of the mining companies will promptly increase, it doesn’t mean that this policy will translate into better or direct opportunities for either male or female miners. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Viviane Sebahire

Sometimes a person’s destiny is written from his very first day. This is surely the case for Viviane Sebahire, a doctor specialising in sexually transmitted diseases and reproductive issues. She is also the coordinator of the SOFEDI (Women’s Solidarity for the Integral Development)association, focused on the crucial battle to protect women miners’ rights in Walungu. At the final exams of her primary school, Sebahire already stood out from her school mates. Her dissertation titledThe prevalence of the HIV virus between 1990 and 1994 was so articulate that it drew the attention of a doctor from Kinshasa who was visiting Bukavo in search of material to launch a program against AIDS across South Kivu. With a paper handwritten by a young girl, who had been able to sum up a very complex issue in a witty and straightforward way, the doctor flew to Belgium where he got the funds to kick start his research. At 15-years-old, Sebahire entered the first research team specialising in reproductive issues in South Kivu. In the meantime, she continued studying, got married and had kids. “I already had a boy and a girl when my mother, who was very progressive not only for that time but also for today, pushed me to go back to attend the university, saying that she would look after my children,” Sebahire explains. “She was the one who insisted that I took the contraceptive pill, to dedicate the following four years only to my studies and my career. I owe everything to her.”

Gender based violence and systemic rapes started in the 1990s, spiked during the second Great War (which formally ended in 2003) and became routine between 2006 and 2007. “Back then, I used to work at Doctors Without Borders and I called for the authorities to become grantors of the antiretroviral therapy programs aimed to slow down the spread of the virus,” Sebahire says, still visibly shaken. “Also joining that program was the Rwandan commander who led the revolt, himself HIV-positive. But I couldn’t know that his involvement was a farce.” One night, in fact, the commander sent some of his men to kidnap Sebahire with the probable intent being to abuse her. But her husband managed to hide her and organise an escape. “Having seen so many women broken by the war, and knowing that I could have been one of them, contributed towards making me more committed to what I do,” Sebahire claims. “But my interest in this field precedes all this.” Since 2006, Sebahire has also started helping women miners by handing out contraceptives to limit the spread of sexual infections and diseases in the mining pits. It was when she first set foot in the sites that she became aware of the physical abuses women are constantly subjected to and decided to create a program to promote their rights.

“We found out that women were prevented from entering the mining sites, because they didn’t have visit cards. Visit cards, in this case, means that women should have been regularly tested to make sure they didn’t have sexually transmitted diseases or HIV/AIDS. Instead of proceeding this way, someone started to sell non-authorised cards (at the black market), where it was only written: name, sex, HIV-positive or negative. We noticed that this procedure would discriminate women, because they were the only ones required to show, and buy, the card, whilst men were not asked to.” (V.S.)

As Sebahire managed to uproot this and other wrongful practices, new ones would spring up to replace them. For instance, at some point the site managers prevented women from accessing the mining pits unless they paid 15,000 francs (roughly £8). Traders, pickers, washers… everyone was subjected to the same treatment. The only ones who didn’t have to worry about sharing their profits with anyone were, as usual, men. “Women miners earn up to £2.70 a day, if it’s a good day, and you ask them to pay an entrance fee?” asks Sebahire, opening her eyes wide. “This is pure discrimination. We divided women into groups and, amongst them, we chose and trained a representative. After this, with the help of a legal councillor we gathered the local chiefs, the police and the site managers, we proved, laws in hand, that the tax was wrong and had to be blocked. We still do this every three months.” The conditions of women miners in the area have steadily improved and, if men don’t stop trying to step upon their rights, women have developed better awareness and have become more resilient to their provocations. Sebahire’s choice to focus on Walungu as the first area of intervention was random. “We were contacted by the site managers because they feared the HIV contagion,” explains Sebahire. “When we arrived, we noticed other problems too.”

The lives of women miners are hard and at each and every level men subject them to different forms of discrimination. An example of this concerns women who are forced to negotiate their access to the mining sites through sexual activity. Sebahire believes – and she’s not the only one – that: “If they must be protected from a medical point of view, they are but not to be considered more socially vulnerable than other women.”

“Sex is a mining activity like any other. We have two people based there (in Walungu), who hold awareness and communication sessions to promote behavioral changes. In those occasions, we distribute free condoms and we set up a private space for all those who want to get tested for HIV. We consider this as some kind of prevention measure. If someone enters this box and finds out that he/ she is HIV-negative, he/ she will take better care of his/ her health and will always use condoms, which - by the way - are distributed freely.” (V. S.)

Technical Sheets

1) Women miners: the main challenges. Women account for 40% labour force in the AMS but are still strongly discriminated. Veronique Miyengo, a researcher at RIO, such as the Network for the Organizational Innovation based in Bukavo and funded by the Church of Christ, explains how the problems women miners face within the mining sector have a triple nature. In fact, they similarly concern their working, economic and health conditions. “Women are neither protected by the law nor by their society and, for this reason, they work in deplorable conditions,” Miyengo says. “They work to sustain their families financially, but they don’t have the tools to carry out their work properly.” If men are equipped with helmets and protective jackets, women have nothing. For instance, the mama twangaises crush the stones by hand, using huge, heavy and risky hammers, whilst the transporteuses carry up to 25 kg sacks on their back and walk shoeless on long unpaved and slippery tracks. “Women don’t have economic power and they don’t own anything; thus, they fully depend on men,” Miyengo continues. “In the AMS men can rent plots of land to seek the minerals, whilst women can’t even dig underground – although the law says that it’s only pregnant women to be banned – because, according to our culture, minerals will vanish, as soon as women appear.”

Moreover, women miners are underpaid in proportion of the amount of work they do. The transporters cover long distances, and, for each route, they never earn more than £1.20. This means that, in order for her family to fulfil its daily livelihood, which is around £2.70 per day, she must repeat the same operation at least three times. Not to speak about the twangaises, who get paid only if the site managers find gold within the stones they crush, or the mama bizalu, who purchase sand that has been already filtered, without knowing whether it will contain any precious fragments. Often, in order to buy it, they get into debt with their creditors, to whom they are eventually forced to hand out their house property. Last and perhaps the least: women’s health. If the stone crackers breath the toxic fumes of quartz and end up contracting TB, the bizalu spend long periods of time in dirty water, under the hammering sun or the pouring rain and surrounded by dust and are often afflicted by infections and diseases. On top of all this, “many women miners don’t earn enough to look after their families and end up prostituting themselves to get extra money,” Miyengo explains.

Women don’t have any economic power, and this is at the base of all forms of discrimination they are subjected to. To this we should add a social factor. Our culture and traditions have been discriminating against women since a long time. In many mining sites, for instance, men don’t let women enter the pits, because they believe minerals will vanish, as soon as women appear. (V. M.)

2) Transactional Sex. The dissemination of transactional sex across Sub-Saharan Africa and, in particular, across the DRC contributed to the creation of a new definition for this practice, which challenges the stigmatising features typical of both commercial sex and prostitution.
In what has now been defined as “transactional sex”, according to what expert Mark Hunter says, “the participants look like an informal couple and the gifts donated in exchange of sex are part of a wider set of, again informal, obligations that may not include a final payment.” Contrarily to what prostitution dictates, in the daily relationships based on transactional sex, “the exchange doesn’t necessarily consist in an immediate money transaction and sex is not performed in a professional way.” The same thing applies to the AMS. In the AMS, like in other sectors where it’s performed, transactional sex hails from the privileged position men have both on an economic and social level. “When miners see women in the sites, on the one hand, they develop a paternalistic approach towards them and treat them as if they were their wives or sisters, but, on the other hand, they also realise that the family burden weighs upon these women,” explains Marie Rose Bashwira, a well-known researcher. “They take advantage of their position and they only let women into the mining pits, according to their mood. As for women, they are often forced to negotiate their access to the pits, by using sexual performances.” The problem is both cultural and legislative. “The law doesn’t say women can’t work in the mining sector, but it doesn’t really define, what rights and obligations they have, too. Being open to different interpretations, the code risks to marginalise women and forces them to constantly renegotiate their position.”

Many associations, especially in South Kivu, where sexual abuses, transactional sex and sexually transmitted diseases are very widespread, have entire programs dedicated to these issues. “Until women continue to earn such a little amount of money, abuses and sexual transactions won’t stop,” states, resigned, Fideline Mubukyo, President of Asyak, such as an umbrella group, gathering all female mining associations in Walungu.

We tackle all gender issues, but we mainly speak about sexual exploitation and the way women can protect themselves. Before women considered sex only as a tool to make money, but now they also think about themselves and their health. (F. M.)

Although most women who rely on transactional sex to get work or money in exchange, do it to escape extreme poverty, women are not only passive victims within this system. Rather, since they deal with sex, as if it was a mining activity like any other, they challenge and, somehow, overthrow the existing patriarchal framework.

Emilienne Intongwa

The rainy season should be long over but heavy showers keep damaging the already non-existent road infrastructure. Every time the 4x4 vehicle stops shaking and lets itself go onto the muddy quicksand that covers the overhanging track, our muscles hurt. If the tragic end that befell the rusty frames abandoned on the road edges is miraculously escaped, a 180km journey that would normally take few hours will last up to an entire day. Kamituga is the third largest city in South Kivu but contains no more than a handful of mountain tracks. Hundreds of shacks are squeezed along the main road, selling fried snacks alongside the basic working tools for the backbone of the regional economy – the extraction, treatment and sale of gold.

All of a sudden, in the middle of a junction, where old Jeeps challenge motorbikes and pedestrians to see who will reach the nearby mining site first, two old ladies in traditional dresses appear. They both point at the wooden ALEFEM (Association against the Exploitation of Women and Children in the Mining Sector)sign standing on the opposite side of the road, and wave to follow them. ALEFEM was founded by Francoise Bulambo and Emilienne Intongwa in 2006, a few years after the end of the second Congolese war, which hit Kamituga with particular intensity.

Like a phoenix that obtains new life by rising from its own ashes, Intongwa has re-elaborated her own tragic past and carved out a leading role for herself. “As we were seeking shelter far from the city, the Mai Mai armed militia kidnapped my husband. Since that day I haven’t heard from him. I kept running but they robbed me of everything,” she tells. “When I returned to Kamituga, I had nothing with me and, since, until that moment, I had worked in the field that had passed under the control of the militias, known to kill and rape each and every woman attempting to get her property back, I decided to move to another sector.”

“I chose that job because, if I had wanted to do something different, I couldn’t have. Back then, there was nothing but mining. Moreover, the only society that was providing people with jobs was SOMINKI, which was destroyed by bombing during the war. Another thing is that my husband was kidnapped by a militia and I stayed behind with 7 children. I had to find a way to survive and give them food. The only answer was AMS.” (E. I.)

Intongwa obtained a loan from a trader to explore her own mining pit but, in exchange, she was forced to hand him her house documents. “If you find minerals, the trader will be your only buyer; if you don’t, you’ll either pay back the loan or you will have give him your property,” she explains. “In my case, I found the minerals but I came across a much bigger problem. It was the first time men saw a woman managing a pit and they started spreading a rumour that I was a witch. To save my own life, I had to contract further debts and pay the local chiefs to protect me.” Back then, being accused of witchcraft meant being buried alive. Likewise, working in the mining site proved to be anything but easy. “The biggest challenge for me was working with so many men,” she says. “Until I tied up a strong relationship with some of my workers, many of the diggers would steal from me and I had to pay extra money to find someone who could check on them.” Moreover, further problems arose when men and women started working side by side. “The reason I co-founded ALEFEM was that many women miners after few months fell pregnant,” Intongwa says, grumbling. “Hence, I decided to create a network where I could also tackle their reproductive rights.”
Intongwa’s mining pit is located in the southern part of the Kamituga site, where artisanal mining is flourishing despite the industrial concession, in violation of the mining code. With men engaged in the underground digging and women exhausted from long hours spent dealing with all the remaining tasks, the industrious microcosm that revolves around Intongwa mirrors the complexity of the giant machine, which is Kamituga. At this point, Intongwa is eager to add something.

“There is a difference between the working conditions in my site and the other sites. A very huge difference is that I talk to women and I try to explain to them what rights they have and how they must demand to be treated by men. In the other sites, they don’t do this and women get much more discriminated against.” (E. I.)

Besides getting her hands dirty, Intongwa is also one of the few female entrepreneurs Kamituga can brag about and she knows that, in order to grow and reach a position of economic solidity, she needs to form a cooperative. “Men don’t want to share with us the revenues they make from mineral sales and they do everything they can to hinder our access to the cooperatives. For this reason, I want to establish a similar organisation for women only,” Intongwa explains. “Sadly, in order to get the authorisation and be able to support this cooperative, we need money, and it’s hard to get the endorsement of women miners who struggle to even make their daily ends meet.” Despite all the difficulties, Intongwa is aware she owes everything to the mining sector. “Even if the men here first accused me of being a witch, I thank God for the opportunities he gave me,” she concludes, as her eyes start filling up with tears.

Technical Sheets

1) Kamituga. With its over 280,000 inhabitants, Kamituga is the third biggest city in South Kivu and its economy largely depends on mining activities. When Nick Stoop conducted his research in 2012, he found that there were over 13,000 formally recognised artisanal miners. If, to these gold diggers, he had added all workers covering more marginal roles within the extraction chain (e.g. transport, washing…), their number would have certainly increased.
Kamituga is located on the gold belt that stretches up to the heart of neighbouring Maniema province. These gold deposits were discovered in 1920 but it was in the 1930's that the Belgian company Minière des Grands Lacs Africains (MGL) kicked off their commercial exploitation. With the passing of time, the MGL employees started to round off their meagre salaries, selling gold within an informal system that escaped the control of the company. MGL started to face even further challenges with Mobutu and the following economic crisis that hit the country. It was then that the mining companies were forced to reconstruct their activities and MGL fused with SOMINKI. The latter invested huge amounts of money in Kamituga, where it hired around 3,000 workers and provided basic social services. Despite the efforts, the informal trade had a significant boost after the liberalisation of the sector in 1982, which triggered the first wave of people from the countryside extending into the mining areas. The number of people seeking new economic opportunities increased again during the Congolese wars, as the industrial production halted. “Before the war, Kamituga was a sleepy town, inhabited only by SOMINKI workers and their families,” says Francoise Bulambo, ALEFEM founder. “After that, so many people from the surrounding villages stormed into our town, bringing death and violence within our native community.” During those troubling years, Kamituga had been occupied by several armed militias, which are held until today. They continue to take advantage of the area’s large subterranean resources. When SOMINKI was liquidated in 1997, thirteen exploring permits were sold to the Canadian mining company Banro but the agreement was breached by former President Laurent Kabila. Only after his death, his son Joseph, the DRC current President, decided to respect the commitment. Today, artisanal mining in Kamituga occurs within an industrial concession, in violation of the recently amended mining code.

2) ALEFEM. The Association against the Exploitation of Women and Children in the Mines (ALEFEM) was founded in Kamituga in 2006 to promote the rights of women and children in the mining sector. Like in other similar cases, the creation of this association – which today counts 613 members – was a direct answer to the problems derived by the incredible wave of people that had poured into the artisanal mining sector (AMS) since 1982 and, even more, since 1996. In Kamituga’s case, it was the digging and sale of gold to have attracted them. In particular, the decline in the agricultural production and the following prolonged famine, together with the high rate of illiteracy, early marriages and the spread of various diseases, had heavy repercussions on the vulnerable categories of women and children.

Our main goal is protecting women’s rights first. Since we can’t change things concretely, all we do is teaching women what our law says. In our country many women are illiterate and, since the law was thought and drafted in French, when politicians speak about it on TV, most of them don’t understand anything. We follow women in the mining sites, in the church, in the city… and anywhere we can find them, and we raise awareness about their rights, so that they’ll be able to protect themselves. (F. B.)

ALEFEM knows what solutions would be needed to improve the conditions of its beneficiaries, such as the mama twangaises, bizalu, kasomba and all the others, but they require financial means they don’t have and, most of all, some serious commitment from the government. For instance, some of the necessary steps that should be undertaken, in order to let women miners grow within the AMS, are to provide them with technical trainings, machinery and suitable equipment; as well as improving the environmental conditions of their work place. They should also promote their education and encourage their economic development through micro-credits. These issues haven’t been tackled yet and Bulambo helps women as much as she can.

Alongside her work at the association, twice a week Bulambo is on air at a local radio, where she answers the questions of women miners who, behind their real or fake name, ask her advice on how to respond to different forms of abuses and discrimination, they got to face. For a long while Bulambo has but convinced herself that: “Women’s conditions in the AMS can’t get any better. If women want to have a better life, they must change job. Perhaps, the women who handle little restaurants in the mining sites can manage to slightly expand their business, but the stone crushers or pickers need machines and we don’t have money to buy them.” If, on the one hand, we have people that can’t wait for women to leave the mining sector, on the other hand, there’s a whole new current that supports women’s emancipation within this field. Inside Bulambo, these two opposing souls fight against each other. “Our dream is to create a women-only cooperative and, with it, build a storage room for the transporteuses and a grinding machine for the twangaises,” Bulambo, in fact, says, “but we need all ALEFEM members to contribute to its realisation, paying a monthly fee of at least £1.5. So far only five of us have adhered.”

Mama Twangaises

Even if the artisanal mining sector is providing women with new opportunities, it’s still the case today that a great majority of women miners are victim of physical and psychological abuses. In the gold mining site of Kamituga, before walking down the steep slope that leads to the pits, there is a flat area where makeshift metal shacks have been shoved. From there, a repetitive hammering sound comes out non-stop. Inside, sitting shoeless on the ground, there are groups of exhausted women that hit fragments of quartz stones with heavy hammers, using the metal points. The site manager wears big rain boots and, from above, gives orders to the women with deliberate gestures. These women are the mama twangaises, a term that in Congo usually indicates all women miners but, in Kamituga, refers only to the lowest layer of the extraction chain, such as these “stone crushers”. “Forcing women to do this job is the umpteenth form of discrimination,” says Francoise Bulambo, founder of ALEFEM. “As happens in most households, where men stare at women carrying out all domestic tasks, here men don’t want to get their hands dirty and they stand still while women break their backs from the heavy work.” It’s not an euphemism. “Every day I wake up at 6am and I walk two hours to come here,” says 27-year-old Neema Muyengo with sweat dripping down her forehead. She looks at least ten years older than her age. “Every day the only thing I do is crush stones, but I don’t have a choice: I have to look after my family. Many times I don’t even get paid and this job gets useless.” If, after smashing the quartz stone into very fine dust, women find some trace of gold, they earn up to £0.90; if they don’t, they won’t get anything. “Whilst men in the pits always find minerals, even if just in small quantities, we can spend entire days crushing stones for nothing,” confirms Wabisa Masoga, a divorcee with three children. “I must work three times harder than the other women, because as a divorced woman I am constantly exposed to men’s abuses. If I lose a small stone, which perhaps contains gold, men will accuse me of being a thief and will either humiliate or beat me. Sometimes I stole, it’s true, but only out of necessity.” The mama twangaises often have to negotiate their position and access to the sites, offering their bodies as a form of exchange. Even in that case their payment isn’t guaranteed because money always depends on the amount of gold they can find. Making their work more appalling is the toxicity of quartz, whose inhalation – with the passing of time – can cause TB. “Many friends of mine got sick and some died too,” Muyengo says. “If you go to the hospital now, you’ll find many women on their deathbeds due to the quartz dust.”

Despite the efforts associations such as ALEFEM make to get the mama twangaises involved in their activities and, therefore, push them to raise their heads up against the abuses they experience every day, only few of them have joined this association so far. “When you earn something, you use the money for your kids and, when you come back the day after, you start everything from scratch,” Masoga says. “Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t save money for other things.” Although the monthly fee for the association is low (approximately £4.50), it’s still too high for women, who struggle to arrive at the end of the day. Like a cat that bites its own tail, if the associations function well, “as long as they are created by women miners themselves,” as researcher Marie Rose Bashwira says, the mama twangaises criticise them because they feel they don’t represent them and won’t ever be able to understand their real problems.

Technical Sheets

Who is Marie Rose Bashwira Nyenyezi? Assistant Professor at the University of Bukavo, Post-doc fellow at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Rotterdam as well as RENAFEM’s member, today Nyenyezi is holding her second PhD on the role of women within the mining sector in the DRC. “When I started my first PhD (2012-2017) it was hard to find studies on this topic and I was almost tempted to give up, because most of what I found depicted women as vulnerable victims,” Nyenyezi explains. “When I began my field research, people were really surprised because they ignored there were women, other than the prostitutes, working in the mining fields.”

The reforms that have affected the sector since 2002 contributed to change the image policy-makers had of the women miners. “At the beginning, they just wanted women to leave the mining sector because of all the abuses and discrimination they were subdued to,” she explains, “but since 2014 they have changed approach and said that women were adults too and could take their own decisions.” The most important thing is that they understood “the difference between women who were in the sector out of any better alternatives and those who craved for better economic opportunities. This new form of awareness pushed many people to change their strategies on the ground.”

Nyenyezi stresses how all women miners have different needs and, in order to help them, it’s important to know what specific category of women we are addressing. Women not only hold different positions within the mining chain, but they also tie up different relationships with the other women and with the institutions. “Some of them are really vulnerable and, no matter how much they work, they always struggle to make ends meet; others entered the sector pushed by their husbands but, if they could, they would leave it straight away; finally, there’s those who decided to climb up the socio-economic ladder,” Nyenyezi says. “The latter can count on a network of very strong contacts amongst relatives and friends.”

For vulnerable women, poverty and illiteracy are strong incentives to enter the AMS, but “the more the site gets mechanised, the more they become useless within the system, because what they usually do is replacing the work of the machines.” Nyenyezi puts a lot of attention on the fact that the existing laws and regulations are implemented differently from place to place and this affects women, too. In Kamituga, where miners understood they couldn't form cooperatives, because they were operating in an industrial concession, as well there is no gold traceability. It is clear that the number of intermediaries, such as of women that cover marginal roles throughout the extraction chain and are fully disregarded by the nomenclature of the mining code, is huge. According to Nyenyezi, policy-makers know the importance of establishing women-only cooperatives but, until now, there has been neither the will nor the means to financially sustain them. For what concerns the associations, “I believe they are very useful for women’s social emancipation, because women get to meet and learn from more experienced peers, but only if it’s women to self-organise,” Nyenyezi says. “However, even prostitutes say that what makes the real difference in the mining sector is having an objective. If you don’t have it, you won’t go anywhere.”

Women Miners

At the end of both Congolese wars, there was a huge increase in the number of women joining the artisanal mining sector (AMS). This was due to two main reasons: the economic downturn that spread throughout the eastern provinces, and the decline in the amount of opportunities rural communities were offered by traditional sectors such as agriculture. Women stormed the AMS with relative ease, as doing so didn’t require any particular capital and/or specific skills and education. The truth is that, bearing in mind all the difficulties and problems it still generates, the AMS offered women opportunities they would have never found anywhere else. The main tasks carried out by women in the mining sites can be summed up by the word droumage. Droumage includes different activities, such as crushing, picking and washing minerals, to which the sifting of the minerals reduced to dust, the waste treatment and the sale follow on from. The women that manage the different phases that follow the minerals being dug out of the pit each have a specific name.

The transporteuses (or maman kasomba) carry 25kg sacks of sand or stones from the mining pit, to where either other women (the twangaises) or mining machines grind them. For each run they get paid £1.20. The hydrauliques fetch water to keep the presses cold; the laveuses filter and wash the dust; the bizalu collect the discarded sand; the souteneuses deal with side tasks such as scoring fuel, working tools and food for the miners. Finally, the negociantes deal with the buying and selling of minerals and precious stones. All these activities depend on the daily supply and demand and can vary from day to day. To these women, we must add those responsible for the small restaurants, and the prostitutes. Women miners’ revenues can be as low as £0.45 and, except for traders, seldom go beyond £8 per day.

At the end of each working day women miners of Walungu raise up and sing together a chant that tells a lot about their lives, their struggles and their daily achievements.

Technical Sheets

Tourmaline. Tourmaline has attracted gemstones’ lovers since early 2000. It was around the start of the century, in fact, that, after analysing some samples coming from the Kivus, experts noticed the potential Congo had as a source of tourmaline, alongside other minerals it was already famous for. Sadly, the lack of an official trade counter for the purchase and export of gemstones, which added to the overall normative neglect, lured the trade of stones, to develop only within an informal circuit. Here, most of the mining exploitation is illegal and the derived production leaves the country illicitly and gets sold in neighbouring countries like Rwanda and Tanzania. Through these channels, Congolese stones reach the international markets.

Recently, as a consequence of the tangible increase in the exploitation and trade of tourmaline in eastern Congo, policy-makers and researchers started to understand the benefits of a more responsible supply chain for these gemstones. At the end of 2015 SaveActMine (SAM) and IPIS kicked off a research joint mission to explore this field further. If, in North Kivu, the best-known area for tourmaline is Ngungu, in the Masisi territory closed to the southern border, most of the internal trade between the Kivus starts in Numbi and ends in Goma. “Usually, it’s forbidden to carry minerals from North to South Kivu, but tourmaline can be transported because there is no authorised entity responsible for the export of tourmaline in South Kivu,” the report states. In Numbi, the trade of tourmaline is rather localised, too. In fact, there is an entire road, filled by counters specialised in dealing with tourmaline. In the evening, miners walk down this track, to sell the stones they dug during the day, which can either be part of further transactions amongst traders or be transported elsewhere, mainly to Goma. From there, if they aren’t handed to other traders, they get exported beyond the border. Since 2012 there’s been a sharp increase in the cost of tourmaline. This means that, placing better controls on the exploitation of this precious stone, would create more jobs and would contribute to the economic development, the improvement of the miners and traders’ livelihood, as well as to the prevention of cases of fraud, corruption and money-laundering. The upcoming Stock Exchange of Goma will serve this purpose.


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