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Congo mining ban hurt more than it helped

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Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters

(Read caption) Gold miners form a human chain while digging an open pit at the Chudja mine in the Kilomoto concession near the village of Kobu, 100 km (62 miles) from Bunia in northeastern Congo, Feb. 23, 2009. Civil conflict in Congo has been driven for more than a decade by the violent struggle for control over the country's vast natural resources, including gold, diamonds and timber, most of which is exploited using hard manual labour.

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You may remember that a few weeks ago, Congolese President Joseph Kabila suspended all mining in the country's eastern North Kivu, South Kivu, and Maniema provinces. This ban was ostensibly undertaken to curtail the use of mineral exploitation as a means of financing the region's various and sundry rebel movements.

But then it turned out that it actually wasn't a ban on all mining; rather, only the activities of artisanal miners were put to a stop. And it turned out that predictably, this didn't go over well well with the 50,000 or so people who suddenly found themselves out of a job. That's because mining in the eastern Congo is not simply an activity in which warlords engage; it's part of the regional economy. Without mining, people don't eat. And that includes people who are in no way directly involved in the mining industry. As one Western donor told Reuters, "It's already damaging the economy in the East so badly we are considering humanitarian aid."

Now Martin Kabwelulu, the minister of mines, says that he will allow mining to resume in the provinces around October 15. He says this can be done because "... We have stopped some of the illegal mining and put in place measures so that when we re-start we want to be sure that the production is coming from one known source and going to the next stage. We had to improve our control because there was total chaos."

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