An investigation by non-governmental organisation, Global Witness, has revealed that armed groups in Shabunda territory, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), received gifts of arms and cash from a Chinese mining company and made up to $25 000 per month – extorted from local miners during a recent two-year gold period.
It is alleged that up to $17 million of gold produced by Kun Hou Mining went missing in the space of one year that is most likely to have been “smuggled out of Congo into international supply chains’’.
At the same time, the Congolese state lost out on tax revenues of up to $38 million of artisanal gold produced per year during the gold rush, due to smuggling and misconduct by provincial authorities. The gold rush focused on the Ulindi River reached its peak in 2014 and 2015 and continues to this day.
Evidence gathered by Global Witness shows a provincial authority colluded with armed groups in illegal taxation of miners while another altered official export documents so gold looked as though it was coming from legally-operating mines.
The NGO’s investigation shows the extent of the problems in eastern Congo’s artisanal gold sector where the region has seen an uptick in gold production in recent years, the revenues from which could have been used to address the region’s desperate poverty but have instead often funded armed groups and corrupt officials.
According to Global Witness, most of eastern Congo’s artisanal miners – around 80% – work in the gold sector and recent international reforms have aimed to stop Congo’s mineral wealth funding armed groups.
It also warns that the Congolese government needs to hold companies and government officials involved in such abuses to account in order for these reforms to work.
Global Witness’ report reveals that armed groups, known as Raia Mutomboki, received at least two AK-47 assault rifles and $4 000 in cash from Kun Hou Mining, which operates mechanised gold dredging machines along the Ulindi River in Shabunda territory, South Kivu province of eastern Congo.
Furthermore, the armed men taxed artisanal miners operating locally-made dredgers extracting gold along the river and local authorities also collaborated with the Raia Mutomboki, through a tax sharing deal. The taxes collected by authorities appear to have disappeared, depriving Congo of much needed revenue which could be used for health and education.
Sophia Pickles, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness says there were over 500 cases of malnutrition reported in Shabunda town and yet the significant revenues generated by this gold boom benefitted armed men and predatory companies instead of the Congolese people.
Global Witness has also found evidence that mining officials in the provincial capital, Bukavu, deliberately falsified documentation to obscure links to Shabunda. Officials changed the gold’s origin on official export documents to show instead it came from the handful of legally-operating artisanal mines in South Kivu
It’s reported that this pattern has been repeated with other mines in the province. As a result, it is much more difficult for international buyers to be sure that gold has not funded armed groups.
Global Witness’s report River of Gold also shows that South Kivu’s provincial government and mining authorities continued to support Kun Hou Mining despite repeated legal violations by the firm and repeated requests from Congo’s national government in Kinshasa to shut down its operations.
Mining officials in Shabunda town working for SAESSCAM, a governmental body mandated to support artisanal miners, ran an illegal taxation racket in areas where the local dredgers operated, including in collaboration with Raia Mutumboki armed groups.
Kun Hou Mining refused to comment in response to three requests from Global Witness.