Securing insecurity: Semi-industrial gold mining and violence in Mwenga, South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo

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Since 2011, gradual introduction of novel mining equipment such as crushing mills has led to the increasing mechanization of artisanal gold mining operations in Mwenga territory (South Kivu), including the arrival of semi-industrial mining companies. This report is part of a USAID-funded project examining the linkage between armed conflict, insecurity and natural resource exploitation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Based on interviews, testimonies and geospatial data analysis, it assesses the effects of semi-industrialization on security in the Mwenga Territory. 

This report uses the concept of ‘practical norms’, which refer to the gap between actual informal practices and the legal provisions that regulate the mining sector. It helps to explain how semi-industrial mining companies have been able to establish and secure their operations in Mwenga.  

Official Congolese mining-sector norms are not respected by semi-industrial mining companies. And instead of consulting local actors prior to gold extraction, these companies resort to opaque networks involving state, customary, and military authorities. Allowing them to militarize gold mining sites, solicit the support of local authorities, and subvert official requirements to provide local communities with compensation. 

Semi-industrial miners ignore local discontent, instead dividing local civil society and pitting traditional chiefs against their own populations. In turn, local communities turn to (violent) resistance, and militia attacks have occurred on mine companies’ employees. As semi-industrial mining companies militarize further in response, prolonged conflict is a growing concern. 

The report indicates that the process of semi-industrialization comes with various risks for local communities. It involves opacity, undermines governance, incites social destabilization and creates long-term security risks. These risks urgently need to be addressed if the gold sector is to be beneficial to the DRC and its people. 

Report findings: 

  • Semi-industrial gold mining actors operate in well-established, powerful networks that enable predatory behavior against local populations.
  • Semi-industrial mining undermines governance, by creating areas where the State cannot control activities and production, by fostering suspicion over corruption by state and customary authorities, and by making the gold trade more opaque. 
  • Social cohesion is undermined, as semi-industrial gold mining creates deep divisions within local civil society, and pits traditional chiefs against their own populations. 

Supported by USAID, Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) project.