DRC mines minister
Martin Kabwelulu
Lubumbashi, DRC — 27 March 2013 – The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) mines minister has reassured investors after separatists attacked the capital of mineral-rich Katanga province, raising concern among analysts that the region faces increased conflict.

Bloomberg News reports that at least 35 people died over the weekend when 250 Kata Katanga militants battled soldiers and police here before surrendering to the United Nations. The government introduced a curfew and some businesses and schools closed early on Monday in the city, which is home to the offices of some of the biggest mining companies operating in the DRC.

“I’m personally reassuring miners that these events are temporary and will be completely put to a halt,” mines minister Martin Kabwelulu said by mobile-phone message. “A psychosis will reign for several days, but that will pass as well.”

After years of conflict and instability, the DRC’s mining industry has flourished since 2009, with copper production doubling to about 600,000t last year, most of it coming from Katanga in the southeast. The central African country was the eighth-largest producer of the metal in 2012, accounting for 3.4% of world output, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It also produces half of the world’s cobalt.

Lubumbashi is a hub for copper and cobalt miners operating in the DRC, including Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Incorporated and Glencore International plc.  The city of about 1.5 million people, less than 30km from the border with Zambia, has largely escaped the violence that plagues most of the country’s eastern frontier.

Investors are concerned that may be changing, said Jean- Baptiste Bouzard, Africa analyst at Maplecroft, the England-based risk analysis company.

“The scale of the attack is of particular concern to the business community,” he said by e-mail. “Although the group was mostly armed with rudimentary weapons and was rapidly suppressed by the security forces, the involvement of an estimated 300 militants demonstrates the Bakata Katanga movement’s capacity to cause large-scale disruption.”

Fewer than 10% of the Congolese have formal jobs, according to the World Bank. Minister Kabwelulu said the government needs to do better.

“The government must clearly take care of the social needs of the population,” he declared, adding that he would “intensify the creation of mining cooperatives,” which would offer more jobs to independent diggers who use pickaxes and shovels to mine ore.

Source: Bloomberg News. For more information, click here.