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This article is second in a two part series. Read the first article here.
Despite eight years of war in the Congo (from 1996 to 2003), with a death toll estimated at between four and ten million, and the continued risk of conflict today, Canada’s interest in the country since 1995 has been almost completely restricted to Congo’s mineral wealth.
Canada plays a major role in mining in Africa, says Denis Tougas, who is a staff member of l'Entraide Missionnaire, an international solidarity organization based in Quebec. Tougas has worked and lived, on and off, for 15 years in the Great Lakes region of Africa. As a resource-based economy, he says, Canada has a developed mining sector, one that accounts for over 30 per cent of all investment in prospecting on the African continent, a portion rivaled only by South Africa.
Before the war and the installation of Laurent Kabila as president, Tougas was working in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and remembers being asked why Kabila was meeting with Canadians. At that time, many of Congo's mining companies were government-owned. According to Tougas, "Kabila was using the plane of [mining company] American Mineral Fields to fly around the county... he was showing that he could make deals with the international community... even though he was not yet president. One of the people Kabila was meeting with was Joe Clark, former Canadian Prime Minister. In the mid 1990s, Clark was both leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and a special advisor on Africa for the mining company First Quantum Mineral. Records show that Canadian mining companies American Mineral Fields and Tenke received large contracts soon after these meetings.
When the Congo war broke out in 1996, a number of small Canadian mining companies were active in the DRC. In 2002, eight Canadian companies were implicated in the UN report entitled “Report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Congo”. In it, the UN panel said that American Mineral Fields, Banro, First Quantum, Hrambee Mining, International Panorama Resources, Kinross Gold, Melkior Resources and Tenke had violated OECD guidelines in mining activities during the Congo war. The report recommended investigations by the Canadian government into their actions.
“The Panel insists that they [the Panel] have concrete evidence of violations,” Mining Watch reported. “The companies vehemently deny the charges.”
The report generated a large backlash within the UN, says Tougas. "A number of UN representatives were angry that the panel [responsible for the report] did not ask for information from the companies involved." In response to the complaints, the panel received explanations from 119 of the 157 companies involved, and in 2003 it released its final report on the exploitation of the Congo, claiming that the allegations for seven out of the eight Canadian companies had been ‘resolved'.’ Many companies alleged they were cleared of wrongdoing but Tougas points out that the report’s use of the word ‘resolved’ “should not be seen as invalidating the Panel’s earlier findings with regard to the activities of those actors.”
In response to the UN report, l'Entraide Missionnaire filed a complaint to the Canadian National Contact Point for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to confirm the allegations against First Quantum. Quantum had been accused in the report of bribing officials in Katanga province to get land. However, says Tougas, the strategy of the mining companies had worked, since the complaint was refused because it was deemed to have been ‘resolved’ by the UN Panel.
Part of the problem for solidarity organizations that want Canadian mining companies to change is that, strictly speaking, Canadian companies never broke Congolese law, says Tougas. “These companies were allowed to be [in the Congo] according to the new mining code... signed during the war.” For example, Banro was operating on occupied territory but had signed a contract with the DRC government in Kinshasa allowing their presence in the region.
Eight to ten small Canadian mining companies are in the DRC today. The Montreal Mirror reports that accusations against Anvil Mining Ltd., which mines copper and silver in the DRC, may result in a lawsuit. The Australian-Canadian company is accused “of helping soldiers end an uprising in a village near an Anvil mine... in an assault that killed more than 80 rebels and villagers. Foreign Affairs Canada refuses to comment on whether Canada has been contacted by the AFP or the Australian government for the Anvil investigation,” the Mirror reported.
Le Monde Diplomatique reported that Canadian mining companies Barrick and Banro had been "funding military operations [in the DRC] in exchange for lucrative contracts." A report in Z Magazine in 2006 said Barrick still “operates in the town of Watsa, northwest of the town of Bunia, located in the most violent corner of the Congo. The Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF) controlled the mines intermittently during the war. Officials in Bunia claim that Barrick executives flew into the region, with UPDF and RPF [Rwanda Patriotic Front] escorts, to survey and inspect their mining interests.”
Over the years advisors and directors for Barrick have included George H.W. Bush, Brian Mulroney, Edward Neys (US ambassador to Canada), Howard Baker (US Senator) and J. Trevor Eyton (Canadian Senator), among others.
Aside from direct links to politicians, Canada has other reasons for not monitoring or trying to stop Canadian exploitation of resources in the DRC. In a recent article in the Georgia Straight, Mining Watch pointed out that governments have allowed mining-friendly tax laws and a “long and lousy tradition of poorly regulated penny-stock companies.”
According to Tougas, “Most of the known resources [in the DRC] are now being found by junior (under $4 million) Canadian companies who were able to take risks... and take advantage of the war.” Today, Tougas says these same companies have a major interest in the South-West province of Katanga.
Though the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade released a report last year, the government has refused to implement its recommendations regarding better monitoring of Canada’s mining firms abroad. Today, the committee says questions about Canadian companies in the Congo are “now under the jurisdiction of the Standing Committee on International Trade.”
Though the mandate and the powers of the Standing Committee on International Trade can be requested via e-mail, repeated requests for these documents were not met.
Tougas says that although the Canadian government occasionally talks about aid to the DRC, more often than not, what the Congolese receive are more Canadian mines, not aid dollars. 75 per cent of mining resources in the DRC are owned by foreign companies. Congo is rated 142nd worldwide on the human development index and 158th for GDP per capita. “The profit is only going to the companies, not the Congoese people,” he said.
However, the Congolese government may be taking matters into its own hands. A report released last year by the DRC looks at mining deals made by the president between 1996-1998. It recommends that deals between the president and 6 Canadian companies and a host of others be ‘revised’ in order to benefit the Congo. The recommendations may not be adopted, however. “It has certainly divided parliament,” he says.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.