Congo Gold

A Southern Africa Resource watch project

Gold mining in Orientale Province

Nowhere is artisanal and small-scale gold-mining anchored more deeply into the history, economy and suffering of the Congolese people than it is in the Ituri District, the western section of Ortientale Province. Over the past 15 years, beginning with the First Congo War, Ituri’s gold-mining regions spiralled into uncontrolled ethnic violence. During the Second Congo War, when Ugandan and Rwandan troops occupied and thoroughly pillaged most sites, the remaining infrastructure of the major parastatal company OKIMO was dismantled, and whatever pieces of value that were left were hauled off across the border to Uganda. For three years, a succession of warlords battled each other for temporary control of the gold mines around Mongbwalu and Watsa. Beginning in 2004, the UN and the Transitional Government of the Congo made a determined effort to bring peace to Ituri. Eventually, the leaders of the most violent militias were sent off for prosecution at the ICC in The Hague, others were incarcerated in Kinshasa and international mining companies were invited back to restore the dilapidated operations. At that point, OKIMO existed only as a terribly undermanaged entity, with its staff in Bunia thinking and operating as if they were independent of the company’s headquarters in Kinshasa

During the post-war period, exploration agreements between OKIMO and international joint venture partners, such as Anglo Gold Ashanti and Motogold, were signed under less than transparent conditions. A third international partner, Mwana Africa, obtained exploration rights. However, the terms of these contracts soon became subject to contentious renegotiations because the DRC government discovered a number of unfair terms. By 2007, the original permit holders had to surrender their rights and make room for new international partnerships:

  • The only major gold operation left unscathed was Mwana Gold, owner of the Zani-Kodo project situated west of Aru, whose contract was signed in June 2005. Mwana controlled 80 percent and OKIMO retained 20 percent of the project. The sites on which the company conducted its exploration were mined industrially until 1964. Currently, there is no timetable for commencement of industrial mining and processing.
  • The Mongbwalu project downsized to half its original territory and is now called Ashanti Goldfield Kilo (AGK) with 13.78 percent still controlled by OKIMO. The project is commonly referred to as AGK. The joint venture partners project the treatment of 500,000 tons of gold ore per year over five years at their first subterranean exploitation site at Adidi-Kanga. The date of inauguration of that mine has not yet been set.
  • The Kibali project replaced Motogold and is now operated as a 90/10 joint venture between Randgold, Anglo Gold Ashanti and OKIMO. The project is advancing rapidly towards operationalising one open pit and one underground mining site, as well as one processing plant. Limited production is expected to commence by 2014 with 600,000 ounces of gold ore at 4.1g/t gold per annum for the first 12 years. Camps for construction workers, who will be recruited from nearby communities, and the resettlement of 15 communities are progressing according to the social contribution plans approved by all partners.
  • Kilo Goldmines Ltd is a Canadian gold exploration company that has secured an exploration permit from OKIMO for a 7000 square km area to the west of the Kibali project. No data is yet available about exploration or exploitation.
  • In July 2010, OKIMO signed an agreement with the Swedish junior gold-mining company, Mineral Invest International AB, for a 1442 square km area, which is known as the Wanga deposits. They are situated south of the road connecting Faradje and Dungu. So far, the company has conducted preliminary exploratory steps only. It intends to develop the property, possibly in a joint venture with a large gold-mining company. The company, which is listed on the Swedish Stock Exchange, is involved in the mineral trade, but it is uncertain whether they will engage in gold trade or export in the DRC.
  • Negotiations for a number of additional exploration permits to junior mining companies were ongoing during late 2011 and into 2012. 

International gold-mining companies have also shown increasing interest in gold deposits located outside the OKIMO properties. Loncor Resources has acquired several exploration rights in the province, one of which is located at Ngayu, 270km northeast of Kisangani. Around Yindi, important gold deposits were historically exploited by Belgian enterprises.

Thanks to the strong interest of industrial mining companies, the region should experience significant growth in the coming years. For artisanal and small-scale miners, however, this is a time of heightened concerns. For some, eventual displacement and loss of access to traditional artisanal mining might be inevitable. Others might be affected in more positive ways. Social impact mitigation schemes require that all companies wishing to engage in industrial mining in the DRC provide employment, resettlement in furnished housing, schools and improved medical care for local residents and artisanal miners. But for the time being, a sense of insecurity (and sometimes anger at the foreign companies) dominates the discourse.

In large part, the insecurities result from very poor communication strategies by the joint venture partners. While the companies appear to live up to all legally mandated disclosure statements, operating plans, socio-economic assessments, papers and studies that discuss eventual displacements and resettlements of villages, or employment opportunities, none of these important documents are published in the local languages spoken by the affected populations. The lack of correct information extends to the most elementary level. For most locals, the correct names and roles of OKIMO and its joint venture AGK are shrouded in mystery. There is ongoing confusion about the name of the company. The fact that SOKIMO (the legally correct name for the company) is no longer a parastatal but is a public company has not yet registered with the informal mining community of Ituri District.

For artisanal and small-scale miners, it matters a great deal whether they operate on property controlled by SOKIMO or dig for gold on land under the jurisdiction of the Provincial Mining Division. Emmanuel Maki, the technical director of the small-scale mining operation at Kipe Yayo, which is within the SOKIMO-AGK land area said: “The company has signed an exploitation contract with me. In exchange they demand 30 percent of the sand we dig out and charge US$1000 per 500 square metres we use per year.” The remaining output of the mine is for the contractor, his sub-contractors, their labourers, material and tools. On the other hand, an ‘Encadreur’, who operates as the primary contractor pays 30 percent to SOKIMO but keeps 30 percent and distributes the remaining 40 percent among his local sub-contractors or mine manager, also known as ‘De Trou’. He in turn decides how much to pay his labourers.

The labourers are hired to dig, carry and wash the sand. For these workers, the income they earn under the SOKIMO system can vary significantly. On one site SARW researchers found women carriers at Iga-Barriere who earn as little as 200 FC per day, whereas at another site nearby the diggers take home 8000 FC per day (converted into weekly pay this is approximately US$50). Despite these local variations the conditions that artisanal and small-scale miners find outside the SOKIMO-controlled area are much more favourable. The lawful annual fee for the artisanal mining permit is US$25. In principle no other charges should apply – a huge advantage over their colleagues labouring inside the SOKIMO perimeter. They are very much aware of these differences, as Basa Mateso, manager of the Nizi IV mine and chief of Baluma Village confirmed: “… the barrage of bribes, taxes and other demands by government agents add up so that we cannot afford them.” Unfortunately, Mateso is caught inside the SOKIMO territory.


What is commonly referred to as the Mongbwalu gold-mining site encompasses a large area where informal or formal mining has been in existence for over 100 years. It is estimated that about 80 percent (or 36,000–42,000) of the people living in Mongbwalu depend on artisanal and small-scale gold mining. There are hundreds of other mining communities within the permit area of the Mongbwalu project, each with a significant population of artisanal and small-scale miners.

Operating as artisanal or small-scale miners on the Mongbwalu site imposes different conditions compared to other parts of the DRC. As a parastatal, OKIMO has the privilege of licensing artisanal and small-scale mining operators wishing to be active on its properties. In order to better assess the relationship between OKIMO and its private sector partners and between Anglo Goldfields Kilo and the artisanal mining community, the SARW research focused both on outlying areas and mining sites in the immediate vicinity of the future Mongbwalu industrial zone.

Lebi Faruku, a manager of a mine in Pluto highlighted the ambiguity in which the artisanal and small-scale miners must operate: “AGK has suspended the issuing of mining licenses. However, the company pretends to be blind when thousands of artisanal miners continue to exploit gold. Traditional chiefs are selling them these rights even in contravention of AGK’s property rights.”

“We don’t experience many difficulties,” stated Eric Ukumu, an artisanal miner who works at the Pluto site, “except that we are on OKIMO’s property and it is impossible to obtain a mining permit from them.” Ukumu and other artisanal miners in Pluto are seriously bothered by the amount of exaggerated tax-schemes that state agents impose on them, notwithstanding the fact that none of them have any legal mining permits. Government services such as the Ministry of Economy, Mines, or the Environment are only acting as tax collectors. “It is disproportionate, particularly compared to the old times when we would give OKIMO 1 gram of raw gold every 2 weeks,” said Faruku. He then went even further: “We are victims of veritable organised extortion by the civil servants.” Why, he asked, do the miners have to pay taxes to the officials from the Ministry of Environment when they do absolutely nothing to protect the environment?

For Matthieu Ovoa, the co-ordinator of CEMAO, there are even more principled issues at stake: “We are all unemployed Congolese who have been abandoned by the state. We must find a way to survive and exploiting our natural resources is what we can do.” That is why his cooperative has been fighting over the last five years for the protection of the interests of artisanal miners and to modernise their work. This primarily means finding financial resources that will be used to introduce safer mining techniques. Ovoa explained: “We have to work without legal permits, without support by the state or any other organisations.” However, his members are all exorbitantly taxed by a growing number of governmental organisations. “It’s always about money they want from us.”

All artisanal miners agree that the physical threats from militias are clearly in the past. “The military is in charge and does effectively protect the population,” said Ovoa.

Gold traders who either act as independent buyers of artisanal gold or more often are agents of larger gold traders situated in Bunia, Butembo or Aru, are also tolerated by AGK – and extorted by government employees for whatever they are worth. Traders and merchants are well aware that they are targets of state agents and that they should maintain a quiet existence. One trader, who wished to stay anonymous, stated: “To government officials we are chakula yetu – our Swahili expression for ‘from where you eat’.”

Although they trade gold produced by artisanal miners who lack proper permits, the traders are still required by the Ministry of Mines to buy permits at US$190 per year. Other agencies also raise money from the traders without giving any reasons for the tax. “What ANR is doing, is anyone’s guess,” said the trader, “as is true for others, such as DGI. Very often, they don’t give us any receipt for our payments. That’s our country.”

Hubert Ngabu, another trader who works in the Mongbwalu area, blamed AGK: “They are putting artisanal miners under pressure and make only those zones available that have already been exploited.” This situation stands in stark contrast to what many miners and gold traders fondly recall as the belle époque before the war, when Kilo-Moto employed local residents, paid good salaries and constructed roads, hospitals and schools.


Iga-Barrière is situated midway between Bunia and Mongbwalu, at a crossroad that also leads to Fataki, Mahagi and Aru. This privileged geographic position has turned the formerly small mining site into an important trading hub for consumer goods, foodstuffs and gold. The chief of the Groupement estimates that 18,000 artisanal and small-scale gold miners are currently working in Iga-Barrière. They exploit tailings along the banks and in the Nizi River. Significant mining is also going on in the surrounding hillsides, which are exploited by small-scale mining operations, often involving several dozens of employees.

A mini gold rush was recently triggered in Mbudu, a village to the northeast of Iga-Barriere, when a local resident was digging a septic tank and hit upon a very rich gold vein. In a short period of time, the entire village of farmers began digging in their backyards and fields and even ripped their houses apart. Not much is left of the original Mbudu except pits that indicate a major occurrence of artisanal gold-mining.

Such mad rushes on their land may be explained by the extraordinary difficulties and confusions concerning property rights and access to gold deposits. “Who owns the land? OKIMO, SOKIMO or AGK?” asked Généreuse Lotsove, who works with a small-scale mining operation in Mbundu, “No representative told us anything about the future of this space.”

Many suspect that the confusions and the pressures that SOKIMO exerts on the local communities with the help of ANR agents is designed to drive people off their land, which is considered a historic right by many Congolese. “On one site managers of SOKIMO frequently buy our gold because trading with artisanal gold is still their most important source of income,” explained Ngona Lossa, a catechist in one of the local villages. At the same time, many SOKIMO managers appear to take advantage of the miners to the point that they can barely survive. “They take the little that is left to the artisanal miners when in fact all we want is to use the land that belongs to Baluma, our ancestor.”

Small-scale miner Richard Ngbemu explained: “In order to work a mine, one pays 30 kitcheles of raw gold that is currently about US$1290.” After that there are quantities of sand with high gold content that are given to the police, soldiers, ANR, and other government and non-government employees. Tsala Dhekana, the mayor of Iga-Barriere and a contractor on mining sites, described the full picture of economic deprivations: “The price we have to pay for the rights to mine the land from SOKIMO is beyond our means and still we are required to pay and obtain the same rights from the traditional leader. Now, once we have the permit, the government services knock on our door to get what they consider their share. The demands by the local ANR intelligence agents are particularly odious. No local miner sees any benefits from their presence. There are a lot of misgivings about these so-called taxes, but we pay them in the hope that we will not be squeezed further.”

For female miners, the economic pressures are particularly difficult. In many cases their husbands were killed during the wars and militia violence, they were displaced or they were otherwise separated from their men and families. Without any capital, there are very few opportunities for survival left for them. The relationship with the government agencies and the joint venture partners is crucial to their survival. “SOKIMO has always bothered us because they have never tolerated our presence unless we paid them,” explained Pascaline Ndjangusi, a female miner and stone collector working on the Sombe-Dimo mine, “But AGK is much worse – they have prohibited everything we do.” The exploitation of single women can take many other forms too. Généreuse Lotsove recalled how a policeman recently fined her for allegedly not respecting the traffic rules while she walked away from a gold buyer. “He knew that I had cash because I just sold a little bit of gold.”

All miners report real improvements regarding the elimination of physical threats and attacks by militias or renegade FARDC forces. “We have no militias left in the region,” stated Issamba Jado, a farmer and part-time artisanal miner from Mbudu. “We have total peace; nobody has to fear for his life anymore. The security situation has improved to the point where our most serious problems are now with AGK.” Some miners have even pointed out that they rely on FARDC to protect their mines and gold when they transfer it to the buyer. A catechist, Dieudonné Bapu, confirmed that whatever precarious situations created by the joint venture partners might exist, the military has no part in it. “We are at peace with the soldiers who are here, they just do their work.” Virginie Love, who runs a little shop in Iga Centre pointed out that recourse for victims of violent crimes is now available: “The police will take violent crimes seriously and there is now also a special court for legal issues related to children.”


In contrast to Iga-Barriere, Mabanga is far from the main roads that connect Bunia with Mongbwalu or with Mahagi-Aru. The road to Mabanga is in a deplorable state and even with a good 4-wheel-drive vehicle during the dry season it takes over one hour to navigate from the main road to Mabanga. During the rainy season Mabanga is often inaccessible. Notwithstanding these problems, the gold rush has attracted over 2000 miners and their families, who have built makeshift houses near the three principal mining sites.

Mabanga is part of the territory granted to AGK, but the joint venture partners have not initiated exploration drilling in the immediate vicinity. That does not mean that AGK – or maybe OKIMO – has not established a revenue sharing system with the local gold miners. “According to OKIMO’s rules we are supposed to pay 30 percent of our gold sand, but on average we end up paying 40 percent of our revenues because that’s how much they take from our excavated sand,” explained Gratien Ndahora, a local miner. “It is an abusive system because on top of these payments, agents from ANR, representatives of the Ministry for the Environment and even the FEC are demanding a share of our gold.”

The relationship with the military, on the other hand, brings practical and positive benefits to the miners. In Mabanga, gold is mined in open-pit mines. Substantial amounts of sand, all with a high content of gold, are dug up and stored until the crew can start to wash out and divide the gold. “Storing so much valuable sand is risky,” explained Philippe Lokana, a sub-contractor in charge of a mine in Dimo. “It can be stolen, or even our workers may start to wash it out prematurely.” To prevent theft, most miners rely on the military to guard the gold sand deposits day and night, seven days a week. The fee for the soldiers is customarily around 10 percent of the production, which is considered a good investment by most miners. “Their presence on our site has absolutely no negative impact on our work or the security of our families,” assured Lokana, “because they leave once their work is done.”

Table 6: Retail prices in Bunia and mining sites of Ituri District

Tools, consumer goods, foodstuffs




Large chisels




Hand chisel


$ 10






Motor pump



  US$$ 365













2 small batteries

200 FC

200 FC

200 FC

2 large batteries

500 FC

500 FC

600 FC

1 pair of boots




1 bottle of Fanta

600 FC

1000 FC

700 FC

1 bottle of Primus (beer)

1400 FC

1800 FC

1800 FC

1 bottle of Mutzig (beer)

1800 FC

2200 FC

2000 FC

1 measure of rice

1 kilo of rice

1 bag of rice (250 kg)

550 FC

1100 FC


600 FC

1200 FC


700 FC

1300 FC


1 measure of manioc flour

250-500 FC

250-500 FC


1 salted fish

3500 FC

4000 FC


1 measure of green beans

1 kilo of green beans

1 bag of green beans

800 FC

1600 FC


900 FC

1800 FC


800 FC

1600 FC


1 measure of peanuts

1 kilo of peanuts

1 bag of peanuts

300 FC

2200 FC



1700 FC

$ 190

300 FC

2100 FC

$ 240

Can of palm oil

23 000 FC

24 800 FC

25 000 FC


Bondo/ Banalia

Mining sites in the two territories of Bondo and Banalia are very isolated and only connected by poor roads to the southeast where the next trading centre is in Kisangani, 600 km away. Baye and Seminor are the principal gold-mining sites in Bondo, while Panga and Mangi are the centres in Banalia. Some industrialised gold exploitation began in this area during the colonial period, but the Belgian installation quickly fell into disrepair after independence. The current, informal artisanal mining started in the early 1980s as part of the Zairianisation of the mining industry.

Over ten thousand artisanal miners have been drawn to these remote regions. In the minds of the gold miners, the record prices quoted on world gold markets make it practical to travel these distances and endure the hardships. Government services and oversight functions have not kept pace with the massive influx of artisanal miners. Although SAESSCAM has deployed 150 agents to all areas of the province, not all of them are formally under contract and most of them see monthly salary payments only a few times per year. On the rare occasions when salaries are paid, even senior agents receive a mere US$30 per month.

The deplorable state of government oversight extends to CEEC, an agency that generally tends to be proactive. According to the head of the Kisangani bureau of CEEC, none of the gold exporting firms that operate in Kisangani have requested legal licenses to do business. The entire output from the artisanal miners is therefore leaving the country illegally and without having been properly taxed.

The unpaid agents responsible for the oversight and law enforcement of the province have turned into hungry predators, who regularly descend upon the artisanal mining camps with fictitious orders and payment demands. “The glaring contradictions in their so-called taxation systems and the multiplicity of government services do not keep the officials from proceeding with whatever they want on any given day,” said a miner from Buta by the name of Bruno Masebu Ngboyo. “SAESSCAM agents are not bothering to help and instruct artisanal miners. They are just here to ask us for money – often without giving us any receipt.”

According to the miners, even the government agent’s thievery is not organised properly. “They charge us an exorbitant US$25 for an artisanal mining permit,” stated Ismaël Marmalaba, a miner from Baye, “but frequently they are out of forms.” Artisanal miners are supposed to pay anyway. Miners who wish to obtain evidence for their payment receive no help. For Marmalaba the conclusion is inevitable: “There is nothing legal here.” Another miner, Jean Ngbangbo agreed: “We are abandoned by the state and no laws protect us.” The lawlessness extends deep into the working lives of each miner, as Ngbangbo and Marmalaba explained: “As soon as we start to find gold in a newly dug mine, a local administrator may show up on behalf of the landowners to chase us off.”

The miners also have to consider that the Disciplinary Brigade is sent against them. These are poorly trained police officers who tend to create a lot of problems. FARDC soldiers and normal police can cause even more serious security problems. Bruno Masebu Ngboyo told SARW: “The soldiers are not permanently deployed to our mining sites. But every time they show up, they start to loot and pillage our camps and if we object, their answer is arbitrary arrests. This is always a time of terror for our families.”

One miner stated laconically: “This is the law of the jungle.”

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