by Greg Klein | December 28, 2018
Yet another postponement to already overdue elections can only aggravate the Democratic Republic of Congo’s humanitarian plight. To Westerners remote from danger, the conflict also emphasizes the precarious nature of critical minerals necessary to modern society.
Rich in copper, gold and diamonds, as well as critical metals including cobalt, tin, tantalum and niobium, the country typically chooses governments through coup, rebellion or sham elections. Current president Joseph Kabila has ruled unconstitutionally since December 2016, when his mandate ended. He belatedly scheduled an election for December 23, then pushed it back a week, citing the destruction of ballots in a warehouse fire. On December 26 the government announced voting in the northeastern region would be postponed until March.
The additional delay sparked violent protests in a month that’s already experienced over a hundred deaths in ethnic warfare, as well as battles between police and protesters.
The government blamed its latest postponement on the northeastern region’s Ebola epidemic, the second-worst outbreak in history, the DRC’s tenth since 1976 and the country’s second this year. The previous epidemic, which killed dozens in the west-central province of Equateur, officially ended in July. Confidence in the excuse given for the latest voting delay wasn’t helped by the fact that the health ministry officially recognized the current epidemic on August 1.
Responsible for hundreds of deaths so far, this outbreak takes place amid violence targeting aid workers as well as the local population. Like other parts of the country, the region has dozens of military groups fighting government forces for control, and each other over ethnic rivalries and natural resources. The natural resources can be mined, often with forced labour, to fund more bloodshed.
In 2017 the DRC supplied about 58% of the world’s cobalt, 34.5% of tin and 28.5% of tantalum, the U.S. Geological Survey reports. Both a critical and conflict metal, DRC tantalum presents an especially troubling example for the often unknown origins of its supply. Neighbouring Rwanda, another strife-torn source of conflict minerals, supplied 30% of 2017 global tantalum supply.
Katanga’s failure to disclose the risks related to the nature and extent of its reliance on the Gertler Associates is unacceptable. Investors cannot be given anything short of accurate and truthful disclosure.—Jeff Kehoe,
director of enforcement,
Ontario Securities Commission
Some of the major companies operating in the DRC have failed to rise above the country’s endemic problems. In mid-December Glencore subsidiary Katanga Mining TSX:KAT and its officers agreed to pay the Ontario Securities Commission a settlement, penalties and costs totalling $36.25 million for a number of infractions between 2012 and 2017.
The OSC said Katanga seriously overstated copper production and inventories, and also failed to disclose the material risk of DRC corruption including “the nature and extent of Katanga’s reliance on individuals and entities associated with Dan Gertler, Gertler’s close relationship with Joseph Kabila, the president of the DRC, and allegations of Gertler’s possible involvement in corrupt activities in the DRC.”
A member of a prominent Israeli family of diamond merchants, Gertler has been said to act as a middleman between Kabila and mining companies operating in the DRC. Kabila and his family hold interests in over 80 companies and businesses, according to a 2017 study by New York University’s Congo Research Group and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.