In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the mining sector has the potential to play a pivotal role in post-conflict reconstruction (World Bank, 2008), and artisanal mining sustains the livelihoods of millions people in the country (PACT, 2010). However, in the last 15 years, minerals from this artisanal mining have been ill-reputed. Eastern DRC has often been characterised by chronic instability and violent conflicts (Autesserre, 2010; Stearns, 2011) because it is widely believed that minerals in this region have attracted the greed of national and foreign armed groups, who benefit from the mining business.
Although this ‘greed hypothesis’ has been criticised for its inconsistent performance in explaining resource-related conflicts (Le Billon, 2010; Ross, 2006), various national and international reform initiatives have gained momentum (Verbruggen et al., 2011). These initiatives aim to make the Congolese artisanal mining sector more transparent and to prevent ‘conflict minerals’ from entering the international market. In 2014, 13 reform initiatives—10 focusing on 3T (tantalum, tin and tungsten) and three on gold—were operational in eastern DRC (Cuvelier et al. 2014: 5). The implicit assumptions are that mining reforms will fully ‘clean’ artisanal mining of violence and corruption and that this will contribute to sustaining people’s livelihoods (Garrett and Mitchell, 2009: 12).
This study investigated initiatives intended to ‘formalise’ artisanal mining in DRC—in other words, they aimed to bring mining under state control. The study especially focuses on the effects of one among these initiatives—the ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative (iTSCi)—on two groups of actors: miners (creuseurs) and middlemen (négociants). This thesis thus presents a fine-grained case study of the iTSCi. Designed by the International Tin Research Institute in 2009, iTSCi provides a means of determining the origin of 3T and documenting the trading chain for these minerals by ‘tagging and bagging’ the loads of 3T near miners’ shafts (at postes d’achat/selling points or buying stations), at counting offices (comptoirs) and in mineral depots, before the minerals are exported through the international market.
This is a qualitative study undertaken at three coltan mining sites of northern Katanga: Kahendwa, Kisengo and Mai-Baridi. Coltan has been extracted at these sites since 2007. From March 2013 to September 2014, data were collected using participant observation of people’s practices (extraction/sale of coltan and various types of interactions between trading houses, cooperatives, mineworkers (creuseurs) and middlemen (négociants), as well as detailed in-depth interviews with creuseurs, négociants and their households. Data were also collected from the staff of mining cooperatives, trading houses, state authorities and civil servants—predominantly of the Service d’Assistance et d’Encadrement du Small-Scale Mining (SAESSCAM) and the Division des Mines. The last group of informants were a group of clandestine coltan négociants (known as hiboux—literally, ‘owls’), who were followed in the study.
The purpose of this research is to study the micro-dynamics of changes after the reforms following the implementation of iTSCi. The study thus provides insights into how iTSCi is concretely implemented and how it has altered the organisation of mining and the trade of coltan. The study also aims to examine how this organisation affected creuseurs and négociants. The main research question of this study is as follows:
How have initiatives to reform artisanal mining (iTSCi in particular) affected institutional change, how does this relate to changes in patterns of coltan production and trade, how were creuseurs and négociants affected by these changes, and how did these groups respond in the coltan mining areas of Kahendwa, Kisengo and Mai Baridi (northern Katanga) from 2009 to 2014?
Analytically, the study adopted three main theoretical perspectives. First, an actor-oriented approach was taken, building on the premise that individual actors have the agency, knowledge and experience to reflect upon their situation and to respond to changes in their surrounding context (Giddens, 1984). Although the examined mining reforms consist predominantly of ‘ready-made’ techniques such as iTSCi’s ‘tagging and bagging’, analysing reforms with an actor orientation helps to highlight people’s reactions and responses. This includes how reform policies are applied in institutions (e.g. mining cooperatives), how they interact, how they are assigned meaning and how they are negotiated by social actors (Christoplos and Hilhorst, 2009).
Second, the study builds on the sociology of economic life, which holds that economic action is a form of social action that is socially ‘embedded’, meaning that it is linked with or dependent on actions and institutions (such as social networks) that are noneconomic in content, goals and processes (Granovetter, 2005). This perspective facilitates the analysis of the livelihoods of négociants, including mechanisms of smuggling minerals into and beyond the mining areas where iTSCi is in force.
Third, this thesis introduced the original concept of ‘enclaves of regulations’. These enclaves refer to the mining areas where iTSCi or other reforms are in force. This thesis has shown that, although these ‘enclaves’ appear to be ‘closed’ and insulated from the environment in terms of the locally applied rules for the mining and trading of minerals (e.g. ‘tagging and bagging’), in reality, such closure is not complete. This thesis has demonstrated that it would therefore be more appropriate to consider these ‘enclaves’ as semi-autonomous fields with porous boundaries.
Apart from the introduction and the concluding chapters, this thesis is composed of five chapters. Chapter 2 explores the evolution of the mineral sector in the Katanga province. It analyses the history of mining, the initiation of artisanal mining and how the ongoing reforms have been informed by this history. In this chapter, it is shown that there is a long history of the organisation of mining in the Katangese province. The reforms therefore did not enter into a stage of anarchy, or an institutional void, but they added a layer to already existing forms of organisation.
Chapter 3 focuses on mining cooperatives as newly introduced institutions aimed at governing the artisanal mining sites. Through a single case study, the chapter analyses how these cooperatives —especially the Coopérative des Artisanaux Miniers du Congo, CDMC—were introduced into the mining areas and how they interacted and blended with pre-existing miners’ organisations. This chapter demonstrates that cooperatives have been an emergent—rather than durable—solution in terms of representing the interests of artisanal miners.
In Chapter 4, I provide a different perspective on ‘conflict minerals’. I thus introduce the notion of ‘reform conflicts’ to emphasise that, although ongoing reforms aim to sever the supposed linkages between the artisanal mining business and violent conflicts, these reforms have become a driving force behind the emergence of new conflicts over property rights and access to minerals.
Chapter 5 is about livelihoods. It analyses how the reforms have influenced the livelihoods and socioeconomic position of négociants. This chapter also explores what kind of opportunities the reforms have offered to this group of mineral brokers often considered powerful in the mineral supply chain and explains what kind of constraints the négociants have confronted and why they have opted to diversify their livelihood portfolios. The chapter has shown that the reforms have affected this group of mineral brokers in different ways. Some négociants were well off, whereas others have been excluded from the mineral commodity chain. These findings contradict the widespread opinion that négociants are always abusive brokers in the mineral production and commodity chain.
Chapter 6 analyses the responses of creuseurs and négociants to iTSCi. Although the mining sites where iTSCi is in force appear to be ‘enclaves of regulations’, I explore the strategies of creuseurs and négociants to bypass iTSCi and the reforms, especially around the coltan trade. This chapter demonstrates that coltan smuggling is a deeply rooted practice. Despite the reforms, smuggling continues in different forms.
All of the elements highlighted above suggest that mining reforms have undergone a major shift, from addressing the initial problems associated with ‘conflict minerals’ to creating or reinforcing various types of problems, such as the influence of ‘big men’ in the mining business, coltan smuggling and the emergence of new conflicts over accessing minerals. This means that reform initiatives such as iTSCi should be based on knowledge about the actual situation. Thus, understanding and addressing these new types of problems calls for a comprehensive approach at both local and broader levels.Edit abstract