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Conflict Diamonds: DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo)

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Congolese Diamond Mining in Bakwanga

Article Copyright © 2009

Diamond mining in the Belgian Congo — now known as the "République démocratique du Congo" or the "Democratic Republic of Congo" — dates back to the early 1900s, when substantial placer diamond deposits were discovered along the Bushimaïe and Lubilash Rivers, near the town of Mbuji-Maye (Bakwanga) in southern Kasaï-Oriental Province.

The infamous "conflict diamond" debate started in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is also known by the acronyms DRC, DROC or RDC. After gaining independence in 1960, the DRC's short history has been one of civil war, corruption and mass-suffering by its population. Early on, the mineral-rich province of Katanga made an attempt at secession, and prime minister Patrice Lumumba was kidnapped and murdered by military troops that were loyal to army-chief Joseph Mobutu. Rebel forces controlled some of the diamond mining areas, selling the rough stones illegally to finance insurgent activities.

Map of Democratic Republic of the Congo

   Artisanal Diamond Mining

Artisanal Diamond Mining (Photo: Public Domain)

In 1961, the Société Minière de Bakwanga (MIBA) was formed by the DRC government in Kinshasa (formerly Léopoldville), as a state-run mining operation with 75% Congolese ownership, and 25% foreign investment from companies like Sibeka and Umicore Group in Belgium. MIBA produces approximately 25% of DRC's total diamond output, with independent artesianal miners making up the difference.

Artisianal Diamond Mining in Congo

Artisianal mining of placer diamond deposits in the DRC takes place along the Bushimaïe and Lubilash tributaries to the Sankuru River (Bakwanga Mine) near the town of Mbuji-Maye (formerly Bakwanga) in the Kasaï-Oriental province of souther-central DRC, and along the Tshikapa River (Forminière Diamond Mine) in the Kasaï-Occidental province. After a wave of Luba tribesmen flooded into the Kasaï province for mining work, the region seceded from the Congo, becoming the independent 'Mining State of South Kasaï,' between 1960 to 1962.

DROC Mechanized Diamond Mining

Mechanized Mining (Photo:

   Map of Kasaï-Oriental Mining

Map of Kasaï-Oriental Mining Region

In the early 1980s, a young girl found an 890 carat rough stone near the town of Mbuji-Maye. It was found by accident while she was playing in a mound of tailings from the Bakwanga diamond mine.

As a 29 year-old major general in the army, Joseph Kabila succeeded his father (Laurent-Désiré Kabila) as president of Africa's third largest country, after his assassination in January 2001. Kabila was re-elected in 2006 with a broad mandate to improve conditions and build a coalition government with former insurgents. The DROC government is now receiving broad support from the United States, South Africa and Angola and from mining magnates who have signed multi-million dollar trade deals.

In 2002, the DRC government fired the MIBA management, charging that they, along with the Zimbabwean soldiers who were hired as guards for the mines, had been systematically stealing up to $25 million in diamonds per year. MIBA is now one of the world's largest producers of industrial grade diamonds.

Conflict Gold in DRC

As conflict diamonds have been successfully filtered from the legitimate diamond pipeline a new mineral has surfaced as a source to fund conflict — gold. In the easter part of the DRC, artisanal miners dig for the precious metal to earn as little as one dollar per day, fueling an estimated production of $50 million per year.

The DRC's Orientale province — the eastern province in the country's "Great Lakes" region — sits atop the Kilo-Moto gold-belt (aka "gold seam"), and its source of potential wealth has sparked a widesread regional conflict thet has earned the nickname of "the first African world war" [9]. It is estimated that some 60,000 lives have been lost since 1999, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced, thousands of women have been raped, and whole villages have been destroyed.

Much of the conflict gold (aka "dirty gold") produced at mines such as the Kaniola mine in South Kivu province is smuggled into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda, where it is then sent on to processing facilities in countries such as Dubai. Jewelry industry trade groups such as CIBJO (The World Jewellery Confederation) are attempting to source gold using similar methods employed by the Kimberley Process and the KPCS certification scheme [11]. Unlike diamonds, once gold is alloyed it is nearly impossible to identify its original source.

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Bibliography on Conflict Diamonds and Congolese Diamond Mining

1. MIBA, Société Minière de Bakwanga .

2. Robert Weldon, G.G, Conflict Diamonds - Rough & Tumble .

3. United Nations, The U.N. On Conflict Diamonds .

4. Pervenia P. Brown, Conflict Blood Diamonds .

5. Tom Zoellner, The Heartless Stone: A Journey Throught the World of Diamonds . St. Martin's Press

6. Greg Campbell, Blood Diamonds . Westview Press

7. World Press, Blood Diamonds .

8. Mining Technology, New Techniques in Mining Technology . SPG Media Group PLC

9. Stefano Liberti, Congo and Uganda: A Rush of Gold .

10. EIN News, How Gold Pays For Congo's Deadly War .

11. Global Witness, Jewellery Industry to Combat Conflict Diamonds & Dirty Gold .

12. CIBJO, The World Jewellery Confederation .

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