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Posted on: June 22, 2020

Girls In The DRC Are Choosing To Be Child Soldiers To Escape ...




bandicam 2020-07-02 09-11-32-943

12-year-old Charles Dickens working at a boot polish factory 






This issue is described by various authors in the bibliography below. A statement of this issue by Benjamin Sovacool [LINK] is as follows:

The transitions to low-carbon energy in the Global North is underwritten by serious social and ecological injustice in the Global South at the mines providing cobalt from DRC and at the facilities handling streams of electronic waste in Ghana. Low-carbon transitions may paradoxically contribute to environmental destruction, air pollution, water contamination, and the health risk of cancer and birth defects, deepen gender and racial inequalities, and encourage exploitation of children exposed to extreme risks of death and injury while mining for cobalt and in the e-waste scrapyards of Ghana. The assumption that low carbon trajectories represent a more just way of producing energy is undone in the mines of the DRC and the scrap yards of Ghana. Decarbonisation to cleaner air and cleaner production in the Global North comes at the cost of environmental and social harm in the Global South. It is the “decarbonisation divide”. Cleaner technology is deployed in the Global North while its ecological and health costs are borne by the Global South. Not only that the DRC and Ghana “sacrifice zones” for low carbon technologies but also they will thus become more difficult to decarbonize as they are locked into embedded flows of pollution and dependent on the very processes of dispossession that victimize them. We must resist the temptation to only examine low-carbon transitions, and the particular innovations underpinning them, at their point of deployment. We need to assess the entire lifecycle of these innovations.

Full text of the Sovacool and Kabemba papers are included at the end of this post following the bibliography.



  1. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is rich in minerals such as cobalt, tin, tantalum, tungsten, copper, and gold. Such is their mineral wealth, that if not for their social dysfunction, the DRC would be the richest nation on earth on a per capita basis.
  2. The relevance of the DRC and its huge cobalt deposits to the climate change issue is that essential minerals such as cobalt needed by the renewable energy initiative of climate action is sourced almost exclusively from there. Critics have pointed out that cobalt mines in the DRC use child labor working long hours under abusive circumstances and in extremely polluted environments with the implication and the accusation that the use of these minerals by the renewable energy business is tantamount to child abuse.
  3. The essential issue in mining for cobalt there is that the DRC is a failed state. It suffers from profound human rights, institutional, and structural weaknesses that prevent it from benefiting from the opportunities offered by its mineral wealth and foreign investments mostly from China. At the same time the country is embroiled in a civil war with no end in sight. It is a lawless place given to exploitation of children and women.
  4. The structural weakness of the DRC from which all its other problems derive is a weak, corrupt, patrimonial, and dysfunctional government combined with years of neglect and war. The DRC is incapable of planning, financing and building its own development infrastructure despite the abundant natural resources.
  5. However, rather than making them rich, their mineral wealth that is sought after by the West and by China, has engulfed the country in civil war, social breakdown, child abuse, child labor, and child soldiers to fight in the civil war. Millions have died and are dying in this ruthless civil war that is partially the creation of DRC’s mineral wealth.
  6. This situation is often interpreted as an evil for which the demand for minerals such as cobalt by the renewable energy industry is blamed. Renewable energy is in demand for the move to a non-carbon economy to control anthropogenic global warming.
  7. A simplistic solution to the DRC tragedy suggested by this evaluation is to eliminate the demand for DRC minerals – specifically, a charge by critics that the renewable energy movement of climate change is guilty of supporting and financing child labor and child abuse by doing business with those cobalt mines.
  8. Yet, the DRC’s mineral wealth is the only silver lining in this horrific failed state.  To attack that business because it does not meet western standards would deepen, not relieve the DRC tragedy. Without the renewable energy demand for cobalt and related minerals, the DRC economy and the welfare of the children and women we say we care about will be adversely affected as the economy sinks from child exploitation jobs to utter poverty and much worse.
  9. The civil war itself is a complicating factor with many different armed groups at war with each other and engaged not only at the mines but also in roadblocks at some distance from the mines. The complex lawlessness and societal dysfunction in which the army is fully engaged as robbers cannot be fully understood in terms of similar issues in civilized societies. The complexity can be appreciated in its different interpretations described in the bibliography below.
  10. The solution to this dilemma proposed by some analysts are that the government should impose and enforce western standard rules and regulations such as “1. track and monitor waste flows 2. Force e-waste exporters to better sort and separate waste flows 3. Appreciate the necessity of cobalt mining for community livelihood 4. Encourage upcycling and repair to minimize e-waste flows 5. Tackle e-waste as part of an integrated waste management program 6. Target National and regional Government bodies such as the Ministry of Mines for Gender, Child and Social Protection, 7. Enforce better occupational standards for ASM mines 8. Undertake improved customs screening and classification of imported waste flows. 9. Implement enhanced waste sorting and separation of wastes streams and implement better dust and tailings management, 10. Formalize e-waste activities and build recycling centers. These proposals assume western standard governance capabilities in a failed state and are entirely irrelevant. 
  11. An alternative that has not been tried is for western importers to buy or lease the mines and participate in their governance and operation. This approach was tried by the Chinese but it failed because the Chinese were too close to the government particularly President Kabila and that turned the people against the Chinese. But the deep intervention by the Chinese into complete takeover of mine operations suggests that as an option, though a more expensive one, for western cobalt buyers concerned about working conditions.
  12. In any case, the simplistic response proposed by renewable energy critics that the renewable energy business must not buy cobalt from the DRC because of its child exploitation would make things even worse for the children that the critics are ostensibly trying to help.
  13. To close, it must be emphasized that the underlying problem is that the DRC is a failed state without a state structure that can fix things. Whatever intervention can be made to help these children, whether they work in the mines or serve in the army in a civil war, must be designed to work in that realistic setting.
  14. If no such solution exists and our options are either to buy cobalt from them or to not buy cobalt from them, the children we are trying to help will be worse off if we don’t buy cobalt from them. In other words, that the demand for renewable energy imposes child exploitation in the DRC is not a useful argument against renewable energy. Those concerned about the plight of child labor in polluted mines can either help these children by buying the cobalt or throw them into total desperation or death by not buying the cobalt. Banning cobalt mined by child labor in polluted mine environments is not a way to help these kids. 
  15. The additional argument made against these mines is the pollution they cause. The response by the rich countries of the Global North that polluting mines such as these must not be allowed to operate is cruel and self serving. Before the rich got rich they polluted to get rich and once rich developed the value system and the wealth to follow a more pollution free development plan. This value system of the rich cannot be imposed on the poor. If pollution is an issue in the mines, the answer is not to tell the poor they can’t mine the cobalt or the lithium because of the pollution but to help them to solve these pollution problems. The charges by the rich Global North against the poverty stricken Global South with regard to pollution and child labor must be evaluated in light of the history of the Global North. The history shows that pollution and child abuse are also found in their path to economic development, wealth, and the high standard of living from which they now judge the poor of the Global South. 








  1. IPIS {Ken Matthysen, Peer Schouten, Steven Spittaels}, Mapping artisanal mining areas in eastern DRC. April 9, 2019, Online Report [FULL TEXT] : IPIS assesses the impact of responsible sourcing initiatives in DRC, designed to address armed interference in mineral supply chains. The report illustrates that responsible sourcing has improved the personal security of groups of artisanal miners in several provinces. However, these are relatively fragile gains and the underlying problems remain unchanged. IPIS also establishes that most of the armed conflicts appear to be unrelated to mining activities. Armed interference in artisanal mining relates to ‘protection rackets’, while armed confrontations largely take place elsewhere and for other stakes. Nevertheless, these protection rackets do contribute to the overall insecurity in eastern DRC and further stigmatizes the region to be an impossible to conduct ethically responsible business. IPIS’ data on roadblocks illustrates that artisanal mining is only one of the many sources of financing for conflict actors in eastern DRC. Furthermore, the research on roadblocks demonstrates that armed actors do not need to have direct control over mining sites to benefit from the artisanal mining sector. IPIS notes a consistent pattern whereby the army consistently erects roadblocks some distance away from the mines.
  2. Sovacool, Benjamin K., et al. “The decarbonisation divide: Contextualizing landscapes of low-carbon exploitation and toxicity in Africa.” Global Environmental Change 60 (2020): 102028[FULL TEXT PDF]   Much academic research on low-carbon transitions focuses on the diffusion or use of innovations such as electric vehicles or solar panels, but overlooks or obscures downstream and upstream processes, such as mining or waste flows. Yet it is at these two extremes where emerging low-carbon transitions in mobility and electricity are effectively implicated in toxic pollution, biodiversity loss, exacerbation of gender inequality, exploitation of child labor, and the subjugation of ethnic minorities. We conceptualize these processes as part of an emerging “decarbonisation divide.” To illustrate this divide with clear insights for political ecology, sustainability transitions, and energy justice research, this study draws from extensive fieldwork examining cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the processing and recycling of electronic waste in Ghana. It utilizes original data from 34 semi-structured research interviews with experts and 69 community interviews with artisanal cobalt miners, e-waste scrapyard workers, and other stakeholders, as well as 50 site visits. These visits included 30 industrial and artisanal cobalt mines in the DRC, as well as associated infrastructure such as trading depots and processing centers, and 20 visits to the Agbogbloshie scrapyard and neighborhood alongside local waste collection sites, electrical repair shops, recycling centers, and community e-waste dumps in Ghana. The study proposes a concerted set of policy recommendations for how to better address issues of exploitation and toxicity, suggestions that go beyond the often-touted solutions of formalisation or financing. Ultimately, the study holds that we must all, as researchers, planners, and citizens, broaden the criteria and analytical parameters we use to evaluate the sustainability of low-carbon transitions.
  3. Art Hansen/USAID, “Planning Educational Response Strategies for the Reintegration of Demobilized Child Soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Final Report (2001). The Education to Combat Abusive Child Labor (ECACL) Activity is a major component of the Basic Education and Policy Support (BEPS) Activity, a multi-year, worldwide, indefinite quantity contract from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Center for Human Capacity Development (HCD). The BEPS activity is designed to be responsive to USAID’s overall goal of “human capacity built through education and training” by supporting improved and expanded basic education, especially for girls. ECACL focuses on building the capacity of USAID to respond effectively to the problem of abusive child labor through basic education policies and programs. Mission and Strategy The mission of the ECACL activity is to provide technical, management and program assistance to USAID Missions, Regional Bureaus, the Global Bureau, and organizations in non-presence countries to combat abusive child labor throughout the world. Using basic education as the principal tool, ECACL will address and combat abusive child labor.
  4. Rakisits, Claude. “Child Soldiers in the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” Refugee Survey Quarterly 27.4 (2008): 108-122. Approximately 300,000 children are part of regular and irregular armies worldwide, either as combatants or as support personnel. Their numbers are growing. However, the truth is that no one really knows the actual number of child soldiers fighting in some seventy-two government or rebel forces in about twenty countries. This is simply because field work on this subject is notoriously difficult. And as it is in breach of international humanitarian law to engage a child under the age of 18 years, regular armies and guerrilla forces are hardly going to publicize the number of child soldiers in their ranks. Whatever the true number of child soldiers may be, the fact remains that child soldiers have become a principal component of military forces across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For Africa alone, estimates suggest that there are 120,000 children, 40 per cent of all child soldiers. Moreover, not only has Africa experienced the fastest growth in the use of child soldiers, but the average age of the children enlisted in some African countries is declining as well. And this is despite the fact that there are a number of international treaties and principles that prohibit the use of child soldiers. Successfully bringing peace, security, and the rule of law in the Kivu provinces, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), will be a massive challenge that will require domestic and regional measures implemented over probably several years. This will necessitate the continued active political and financial support of the international community.
  5. Lischer, Sarah Kenyon. “War, displacement, and the recruitment of child soldiers in the democratic republic of Congo.” Child soldiers in the age of fractured states (2010): 143-159bandicam 2020-06-22 07-21-44-348
  6. Enne, Erica, Giacomo Galanello, and Eliana Marino. “Drivers of Change in the Democratic Republic of Congo: The Role of China in Re-Shaping the Country.” Transition Studies Review 17.2 (2010): 297-310Africa has always been potentially one of the richest continents in the world, but, due to a series of causes (colonization and decolonization process, wars, dictatorships etc.) it has never reached its full potential. The fight against poverty has been carried out by different institutions at the multilateral and bilateral level during the last 30 years, but the route toward economic development seems to be still long for African countries. This paper will focus on the analysis of the new approach to international cooperation introduced by the People’s Republic of China in order to exchange rights of exploitation of Africa’s mining and natural resources with large amounts of capital without any conditionality. The case-study which will be considered is the agreement concluded between the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  7. Nduwimana, Donatien. Reintegration of child soldiers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo: Challenges and prospects. Nairobi, Kenya: International Peace Support Training Centre, 2013.  The International Peace Support Training Center (IPSTC) has made considerable contribution in research and training on peace support issues. The IPSTC produced seven Occasional Papers in 2013. Five of them focused on Somalia while the others dealt with drivers of conflict and integration of child soldiers in eastern DRC. Reintegration of Child Soldiers in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo: Challenges and Prospects, provides insight into the plight of children in conflict prone Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
  8. Kabemba, Claude. “China-Democratic Republic of Congo Relations: From a Beneficial to a Developmental Cooperation.” African Studies Quarterly 16 (2016). The relationship between China and the Democratic Republic of Congo
    (DRC) provides a unique case to test China’s win-win policy with African
    countries. A recurring question is how can a win-win partnership be realized
    between very unequal partners? China is a global power ideologically, economically, militarily, and financially. The DRC is known for its weak state characterized by years of instability and mismanagement. China claims to pursue a win-win relation with the DRC. The DRC’s political economy has been dominated since 1885 by an economy of extraction built on the legacy of the Free State. According to this legacy, the DRC serves as an open source of capital accumulation for foreign powers. This pattern of colonial extraction, where the DRC is a source of cheap strategic mineral resources that serve the narrow interest of Western capital remains largely unchanged today. China entered the DRC with a promise to break with this exploitative economic relation. China has acquired financial and economic strengths, which it is using to position itself as an alternative to the West. The paper discusses whether or not a win-win cooperative relationship is possible between China and the DRC. [FULL TEXT PDF]
  9. Maiza-Larrarte, Andoni, and Gloria Claudio-Quiroga. “The impact of Sicomines on development in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” International Affairs 95.2 (2019): 423-446.  The main motivation of the Congolese government in signing the Sicomines deal, the most important Sino-African resource financed infrastructure (RFI) agreement, was the creation of a set infrastructure elements with a long-term positive impact on the population’s living conditions. In this article, we present the results of an intermediary assessment of the main socioeconomic consequences of the so-called ‘deal of the century’. Additionally, we also provide relevant evidence about China’s resource-financed infrastructure (RFI) model, which is key to determining China’s potential role as a valuable strategic partner in building a better future for Africa. This analysis compares objectives and evidence in the main areas of the agreement: mining production, infrastructure, debt, economic growth and development. The appraisal has been carried out on the basis of a combination of evaluation tools, relying on extensive data collection from the most relevant DRC and international sources. In addition, several data sources have been checked to mitigate the unreliability of statistics and relevant qualitative information has been included with the objective of going beyond quantitative statistics. We conclude that in this first decade the Sicomines deal has not had the beneficial socio-economic consequences that were promised; the evidence shows that the DRC is exchanging part of its mineral wealth for deficient roads and poor equipment. This is a relevant conclusion since the outcomes of major pioneer RFI initiatives such as Sicomines may well determine the success of China’s new financing and development paradigm in Africa.
  10. Wang, Duanyong, and Pei Zhao. “Mismatching Structures: A New Explanation for the “Unsatisfactory” Labor Conditions in Chinese Mining Companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Chinese Journal of International Review 1.01 (2019): 1850005.  Ever since the Minerals-for-Infrastructure Deal valued at $6 billion was signed between Chinese companies and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Government in 2008, there have been criticisms on both the agreement itself and the working conditions for Congolese and Chinese workers in Chinese mineral enterprises in the DRC. Based on our fieldwork in Katanga Province of the DRC and interviews with dozens of local Chinese workers and managers in Chinese-run mining companies as well as staff working at the civil society organizations and governmental departments there, this research tries to investigate the real working conditions in Chinese mining companies. This paper concludes with three points. First, the so-called “wage gap” always asserted by the local workers is rather a phenomenon of employment structure than discrimination. In non-English-speaking African countries, a gap has actually emerged between the insufficiency of local human resources and the lack in localization capabilities of the Chinese multinational enterprises. Second, the compliance dynamics and mechanism of Chinese-run mining companies in the field of labor conditions were driven by local pressure groups including legislation, governments and NGOs, rather than by Chinese government or legislative system. What is interesting is that the rigid discipline of local laws and the abuse of discretion in the process of implementing laws have created a special pressuring structure and resulted in some complex consequences. Third, many Chinese-run mining companies in the DRC have quite different business structures from their branches in China. This is because of their financial investment aims and for the ease of enterprises’ transition. Therefore, it has led to their different perspectives of labor conditions and human resources strategy from mature MNCs. In summary, the research cannot draw a conclusion that the labor conditions are really terrible in Chinese-run mining companies in Katanga Province. However, it reveals that the Chinese government and Chinese enterprises are still not fully prepared for direct investment abroad, although “Going-out” strategy was raised 13 years ago.
  11. Sovacool, Benjamin K. “The precarious political economy of cobalt: Balancing prosperity, poverty, and brutality in artisanal and industrial mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” The Extractive Industries and Society 6.3 (2019): 915-939.  This study examines the political economy of cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There, a veritable mining boom for cobalt is underway, driven by rising global demand needed for batteries and other modern digital devices. Based on extensive and original field research—including expert interviews, community interviews with miners and traders, and naturalistic observation at 21 mines and 9 affiliated mining sites—this study asks: How is cobalt currently extracted? What benefits has cobalt mining brought communities? What risks has it created? And, critically, what policies need implemented to make mining there more equitable and sustainable? It documents six interrelated benefits to cobalt mining, including poverty reduction, community development, and regional stability, alongside six serious challenges, including accidents and occupational hazards, environmental pollution and degraded community health, and violent conflict and death. It then proposes seven policy recommendations for different stakeholder groups such as local and national government, industrial (and often foreign) mining companies, miners and their communities, and the manufacturers of electronic products using cobalt. The study primarily seeks to humanize the lived experiences of Congolese cobalt mining, and to reveal the tensions and tradeoffs associated with the recent mining boom.
  12. Soufi, Yasid. “Strategic Raw Materials, International Mining Firms and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” International Mining Firms and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2020).  The Democratic Republic of the Congo represents one of the world’s most important sites for mining activities. Strategic raw materials, such as cobalt and tantalum, fuel the global electro-mobility movement and high-tech industries. Located in the heart of Africa multinational firms from Canada, China and other countries do currently find themselves in a run for resources. Quantifications of interdependencies between disruptions in the former Belgian colony and associated real and financial economic values of international scale are largely nonexistent and aimed for in this study. Using SVAR models and the classical event study methodology we find that risk in the Congo and events, influencing the local competitive structure of multinational firms, do significantly influence prices of strategic raw materials and internationally listed stocks.
  13. Wegenast, Tim, et al. “At Africa’s expense? Disaggregating the employment effects of Chinese mining operations in sub-Saharan Africa.” World Development 118 (2019): 39-51China’s increasing investments in African countries have attracted considerable media attention and are the subject of scholarly debate. However, the socioeconomic impacts of China’s presence in Africa remain poorly understood. While some case studies maintain that Chinese projects have an enclave character and have largely failed to promote economic spillovers and local employment, others claim that Chinese activities have in fact encouraged infrastructural development and local economic activity. Focusing on the labor market effects of foreign mining investments in Africa, this article examines whether Chinese-controlled companies generate fewer local jobs compared to non-Chinese mining operations. Theoretically, we argue that—due to a competitive advantage in the employment of expatriate workers and a lower readiness to invest in local skill formation—Chinese firms are less likely to foster regional employment. Relying on novel data on the control-rights regimes of diamond, gold, and copper mines and georeferenced information from Afrobarometer surveys, we test the effect of mining contractors’ nationality on local employment rates. Our individual-level logistic models show that respondents living close to Chinese mining areas are more likely to report being unemployed compared to individuals living in the vicinity of non-Chinese mining operations. Times-series cross-sectional estimations employing district-level data from the Demographic and Health Surveys for 20 sub-Saharan countries over the period 1997–2015 corroborate these findings. Furthermore, we find evidence that negative perceptions of China among indigenous populations are largely driven by the belief that Chinese workers are crowding out local employment.
  14. Kafarhire, John Bintu Bantu. “China’s investment in the Democratic Republic of Congo: The impact of the 2007 Sino-Congolese agreement in a postwar period.” (2019).  Over the past 10 years, China has become a major actor in African politics and development process. It has invested significant amounts of money in infrastructure in mineral-rich countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. In return, China secures the exploitation of main resources, necessary for its own economic development, such as cobalt and copper. In 2007, a consortium of Chinese enterprises signed a ‘resource for infrastructure’ agreement with the Congolese government. The parties agreed that China would export and sell Congolese cobalt and copper and, in return, China would build a number of infrastructure projects in the Congo. To guarantee reimbursement of Chinese loans, a Sino-Congolese joint venture was created in the Katanga province where the mines are located. This thesis aims at contributing to the discussion regarding the agreement’s impact on living conditions in the Congo. To what extent does China’s Chinese investment and the mineral exploitation in the Democratic Republic of Congo benefit the country? I look at internal and international debates around the agreement and works done so far by China and the joint venture in the Congo to assess the impact of the agreement.
  15. Rubbers, Benjamin. “Mining boom, labour market segmentation and social inequality in the Congolese Copperbelt.” Development and Change (2019).  The study of the impacts of new mining projects in Africa is generally set in a normative debate about their possible contribution to development, which leads to a representation of African societies as divided between beneficiaries and victims of foreign investments. Based on research in the Congolese copperbelt, this article aims to examine in more detail the inequalities generated by the recent mining boom by taking the processes of labour market segmentation as a starting point. It shows that the labour market in the mining sector has progressively been organized along three intersecting lines that divide it: the first is between employment in industrial and artisanal mining companies, the second is between jobs for mining or subcontracting companies and the third is between jobs for expatriates, Congolese skilled workers and local unskilled workers. Far from simply reflecting existing social inequalities, the labour market has been actively involved in their creation, and its control has caused growing tensions in the Congolese copper-belt region. Although largely neglected in the literature on extractive industries, processes of labour market segmentation are key to making sense of the impacts of mining investments on the shape of societies in the global South.
  16. Gnassou, Laure. “Addressing renewable energy conundrum in the DR Congo: Focus on Grand Inga hydropower dam project.” Energy Strategy Reviews 26 (2019): 100400. As the DR Congo has experienced a severe energy crisis, the paper analyzes its energy policy. It examines the Grand Inga hydropower project, including the Inga 3 dam. The Inga 3 dam’s development is confronted with political, geostrategic, and financial challenges, notably the suspension of the World Bank’s funding in 2016. Due to the electro-mobility’s development, the downstream companies intend to secure cobalt from the country. Mining companies of the copper-cobalt belt might fail to respond to the downstream companies’ needs, given the lack of a reliable and affordable energy supply. Policy recommendations suggest that further transparency in implementing the Grand Inga project is required for restoring donors’ confidence; while the country strives for political stability and sustainable development.








To examine the contours of upstream and downstream impacts of low-carbon transitions on mining and waste processing communities, we selected two case studies based on their current and projected significance in material flows: the Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Agbogbloshie and Accra districts in Ghana. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was selected because it significantly dominates the global production of cobalt. In 2018 the DRC produced 90,000 tons of unrefined cobalt, or 64.3% of the world’s total, and it had 49% of the world’s known cobalt reserves—more than the next top ten countries in the world combined (U.S. Geological Survey 2019). Despite the limitations above, the three methods together, and the photographs, resulted in the collection of a rich, unique qualitative dataset that extensively document the costs and risks to cobalt mining and e-waste recycling and reclamation. Four sets of vulnerabilities seem most acute in this so-called “decarbonisation divide,” and will be discussed in the sections to come: environmental and public health risks; gender discrimination and the marginalization of women; child labor and exploitation; and the subjugation of ethnic groups. Environmental and public health Even though the Congolese and Ghanaian communities end up either supplying critical metals to low-carbon technologies, or processing their waste flows, the environmental and public health risks associated with cobalt mining and e-waste processing are sizable, multifaceted, and persistent. In the DRC, it is important to distinguish between two types of cobalt mining, large-scale industrial mining (often abbreviated as LSM, and owned by foreign firms), and artisanal and small-scale mining (abbreviated as ASM, and usually owned by local communities). LSM cobalt mining techniques account for about 80% of national production, employ much larger machinery and a high degree of mechanization and automation, usually using a mix of surface scrapers, bulldozers, and diggers, as well as excavators, dump trucks, dynamite, and acid (Sovacool 2019a). A single LSM cobalt and copper mine can produce more than 8 million tons per year (though most of that is copper). ASM, by contrast, accounts for 20% of production but 98% of the workforce. It is low-tech, labor-intensive, and highly dangerous for the miners. CCR8, a miner, told the authors that: We mine cobalt in teams, usually 5–6 in a team though sometimes they can be as small as 4, or as large as 15. We use simple tools, such as a shovel and a pick axe. We mine at night, usually beginning at 5pm and going all the way until the sun rises the next day, around 6am, so a 13 h shift. We dig a large room to ‘live’ in and then we remove side blocks or ‘rooms’ of cobalt and copper. Sometimes we just stay in the mine. CER4, an industry expert, cautioned that “I wouldn’t even call artisanal mining, it’s really collecting or scavenging, they don’t have equipment to mine, they just dig.” Fig. 5, for example, shows two ASM cobalt mines near Kasulu and Kawama that were little more than holes in the ground. Such mining techniques pose a severe risk to both the miners themselves and the communities they support. CCR2, who had decades of experience in the cobalt mining industry, stated that: Cobalt mining here in all its varieties has massive environmental consequences, and very little attention from government as to what is going on. Those impacts are underestimated, with no comprehensive view. People mainly look at dust and water, and plant contamination. If you visit in the dry season, it’s like living in a permanent sandstorm, a cloud hangs over the collective mining properties. Technically companies or mining cooperatives should water the roads to minimize dust, but they don’t. Then you have pollution of fruits and vegetables, other studies looking at urine concentrations at artisanal sites, as well as high rates of heavy metals in urine and blood, especially children. Numerous articles have confirmed the depth and extent of environmental pollution associated with cobalt mining, including the exposure of mining teams to uranium and toxic metals (Banza Lubaba. Nkulu et al. 2018), as well as the pollution of drinking and bathing water with heavy metals (Tsurukawa et al., 2011). The World Bank (2008: 23) called the environmental impacts of ASM in the DRC as “deplorable,” and it noted the multifaceted way that such activities can ravage the local environment. This includes direct biodiversity loss and deforestation through mines and disposal sites, as well as air pollution through emissions and discharges. Processing slimes (thick sludge from mining operations) and tailings damage wetlands and change the flow modification and sedimentation patterns of rivers. Mining tunnels contribute to soil erosion, land instability, and ground subsidence, and toxic dust coats everything around a mine. Indeed, although the mine is only one vector, pollution also occurs across other aspects of the lifecycle including slurry sites, trading depots, and processing stations. Fig. 6 attempts to visualize the multiple externalities associated with cobalt mining. These factors culminate in a toxic environment. And yet communities have become addicted to mining. As CER5 put it: The cobalt boom has created a social norm that to escape poverty you must mine. The entire community however becomes a mine, people just start digging, everywhere, under churches and farms, under homes and cafes. They know they can earn more money in mining than agriculture, so it diverts resources, and creates more mining. People are proud to have several family members working in mines, you are seen as stupid if you don’t do it, parents are even proud if they have children at mines. Mines are not seen as harmful, they are seen as an elevator lifting them out of poverty. In reality, however, mining prevents families from diversifying their incomes, or creating small businesses, or investing in education or alternatives. It traps them into a life of cobalt. It lures them into a lifestyle that will ultimately kill them. This complex social norm in favor of mining likely explains why more communities do not reject mining activities. The environmental and health calamities of e-waste in Ghana are just as stark, given that e-waste contains hazardous and toxic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and flame retardants alongside valuable minerals such as gold or copper. The Ghanaian Environmental Protection Agency warns that a host of toxic elements reside within e-waste streams, including capacitors containing polychlorinated biphenyls, gas discharge lamps, batteries, plastics containing brominated flame retardants, liquid crystal displays, external electric cables and electrolyte capacitors. These often also contain asbestos, mercury, refractory ceramic fibers, and radioactive substances In particular, the practices used in battery disposal and recycling are extremely hazardous. At Agbogbloshie, batteries from electric vehicles and other devices are subject to uncontrolled acid drainage, as well as hazardous methods for breaking batteries with machetes. Insufficient dust-control measures exist in recycling and smelting facilities, with broken and uneven ground-cover that prohibits disassembly and cleaning, nonexistent washing of secondary plastics resulting in cross-contamination with lead-oxide, insufficient personal protective equipment for workers, and the complete absence of health and safety monitoring for workers and neighboring communities (Atiemo et al. 2016). GER4 linked these environmental impacts to the health of the local population: “when one assesses the determinants of health, many illnesses have environmental causes. Mortality is due to one’s neighborhood environment, where they live before death, and it is here where e-waste acts as one of the most potent sources of morbidity.” GER4 went on to explain that: At Agbogbloshie, they use only the most rudimentary means of e-waste processing, such as acid leaching, manual dismantling, and burning, which creates serious health problems among the workers themselves. However, children are also vulnerable. Young children live or attend schools close to the site that have many heavy metals in their urine. Children between ages 12 and 15 already have kidney failure, body systems like 90 year old adults. Pregnant women are also vulnerable, with linkages to cancer and birth defects emerging. Environmental impacts are worsened because those working in the sector do not have access to, or follow, environmental standards. As GCR1 explained, “communities have tried to give hand gloves and protective clothing, but they tend not to use them, just resell.” Worsening matters, the sites at the scrapyard where acid leeching, burning, and dismantling take place are located adjacent to a series of food markets, and some of the scrap itself is recycled into cooking pots and kettles, which respondents argued then further release toxics into THE community. One study found that, unexpectedly, blood levels for lead were higher in e-waste non-workers (i.e., community residents living nearby) than for that of e-waste workers at Agbogbloshie probably because the workers are onsite only during shifts, but the community residents live there. Other health monitoring has indicated that polychlorinated biphenyls exposure of people living in Accra not involved in e-waste activities were higher than those directly involved. These health dynamics pose a distinct moral hazard to e-waste activity because they engender undue burdens on those who have nothing to do with its processing, and do not necessarily consent to being involved or polluted. Most worryingly, as in the DRC and mining, such health risks are tacitly accepted as “worth it” and necessary to climb to a higher standard of living. GER 4 explained that: It [Agbogbloshie] is a huge market for a population otherwise with no means of survival in the urban environment. These people are not stupid, they know the health risks, but they think: isn’t dying slowly better than already dead? Such a statement implies that better information and education, by itself, will do little to minimize hazardous e-waste activities because many community members already understand a degree of the risks involved and see them as tolerable. A second area of vulnerability relates to marginalization and disempowerment of women, as well as the entrenchment of patterns of patriarchy and gender inequalities. In the DRC, respondents argued that women were legally forbidden to mine—it was believed by many experts to be illegal under the National Mining Code, although this fact was contested in the literature. In reality women often do mine, performing some of the most difficult or intensive tasks for less pay than men. As CER8 explained: Cobalt mining activities are very gendered: For example, you rarely find women going into the pits and digging, but they play a central role in cleaning, processing, transporting, and trading. Prostitution is rife in mining camps, and sex workers are among the most vulnerable to poverty, and also violence, in particular because they are often internal migrants with few local connections or support networks. CER20 argued that women generally “don’t get access to the best don’t get paid equal revenue, they don’t have the physical strength of men, they fall sick more often or are more easily harmed.” The site visits confirmed these findings, with dozens of women (and girls) observed digging for cobalt, carrying and sorting the minerals, and conducting support activities such as selling vegetables to miners and hauling water. Congolese women constituted a growing proportion of miners and workers but, due to their low status, were generally forced to undertake the most strenuous or poorly paid activities, or become involved in mining under pressure from their husbands or families. The literature also notes a collection of other indirect effects of ASM mining on gender relations that aggravate gender inequality. many of the health impacts from mining are gendered, with women facing specific illness, injury, and stress as well as extreme exertion and exhaustion from very labor-intensive activities (i.e., digging for several hours, hauling heavy loads long distances, bending over in awkward positions). Moreover, women in mining communities in the DRC, especially sex workers, face the ever present risk of contracting dangerous contagious diseases being spread by miners, many of them migrants, including HIV/AIDS, diarrhea, hepatitis, meningitis, cholera, typhoid, tetanus, typhus, malaria, yellow fever, and tuberculosis (Tsurukawa et al., 2011). These health risks are gendered because women are more likely than men to be prostitutes, and also given they are at the lower rungs of the mining hierarchy, women are more exposed to unsafe conditions and chronic injuries. Women’s gendered and centrally-important roles at Agbogbloshie also expose them to additional risks. GER10 noted that “women are exposed to all of the same toxins and risks as men, but are forbidden by culture to actually do the sorting or burning—instead they do menial tasks such as selling water or cooking food.” Fig. 9 shows two women onsite preparing fruits or selling snacks. As a consequence, mothers within Agbogbloshie have been shown to have high levels of PCBs in their blood as well as very high rates of endocrine disruption and neurotoxicity in addition to abnormally high rates of spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, and premature births. It also falls on women to continue to care for children, manage a household, and assist their husbands, or parents, all the while conducting ancillary e-waste activities, all without pay. A third disturbing finding is that both cobalt mining and e-waste processing depend significantly on child labor. In the DRC, children work extensively in the cobalt mining sector due to the absence of available schooling, and/or the need to support siblings or themselves (as many are orphans). CER2 remarked that “children are in artisanal cobalt mines as the only way to feed themselves or their family. Child mining for cobalt is one of the worst forms of child labor since it exposes children to physical, psychological, and sexual abuse; requires working underground, underwater, at dangerous heights, or in confined spaces; involves dangerous equipment and tools as well as the manual handling of heavy loads; places children in unhealthy work environments that expose children to toxic substances, agents, and processes; working for long hours or at night. Children are required to routinely carry sacks of ore that weigh more than they do. Children are often exposed to physical abuse and beatings, whippings, and attempted drownings from security guards, as well as drug abuse, violence, and sexual exploitation. Some children are reportedly exploited financially by traders and bosses who refuse to even weigh their products, instead paying them substandard rates for sacks of cobalt based on visually under estimated weights. The cobalt mining sector is littered with children. And these child miners are in such bad shape that many will die before they ever become an adult. They will get buried alive in an underground tunnel, or drowned in a waterlogged pit. In the slightly longer term, they can even develop cancer, things like pneumonia, malnutrition, or they start dying from AIDS. There is so much prostitution as well, spreading these diseases. Why do the children do it? They may make twice to three times what they could earn in another job. These young miners are not exceptions. CER8 estimated that “child labor is practiced extensively.” Based on surveys in 150 mining communities in the Katanga region of the DRC, Faber et al. (2017) estimated that about 23% of children worked in the cobalt mining sector. A research team from BGR (2019) also visited 58 copper and cobalt mines in the DRC, and they detected the presence of children at 17 mines (=29% of the mines). In 11 of these mines, children carried out fairly heavy labor including handpicking, washing, sorting ore, and working underground. Only in 8 of these mines were parents of the children present. Similar conditions can be found in Agbogbloshie, Ghana, with children making up a large proportion of the labor force working at the site, with some directly working as e-waste collectors, some indirectly supporting the waste workers by selling food or providing services, and others merely residing there. The e-waste problem’s getting bigger by the day, which means the future is very bleak for the children of Agbogbloshie. Second hand electronic material continues to be dumped in the area from around the world. Children are seen sleeping on scrap, eating with e-waste, coughing intensely, bleeding. They are dying. A child dismantler of e-waste had been working at Agbogbloshie for two years. He started working when he was twelve; he has no family. He stated that “copper from e-waste is my livelihood. I like what I do, it was better than working in the fields in a farm or selling water at the side of the road. I get skills. I get respect. I can make $100 a month. I live like a king. Another child, a burner, said he was 14 and that he had been working there for five years, meaning he started when he was 9. He says “No, I don’t like my job, who would like this? But, it keeps my family fed, and that is what matters.” There is a football pitch inside the scrapyard and little boys and girls are known to work alongside collectors and burners. More than 100 children were observed. Subjugation of ethnic and migrant minorities: A final concern is how cobalt mining and e-waste processing further worsen ethnic inequalities and exacerbate the marginalization of particular ethnic groups and refugees. In the DRC, millions of people have had to survive two civil wars, repeated invasions by foreign armies, epidemics of diseases such as cholera, malaria, HIV/AIDS and Ebola, militia activity, and ethnic conflict. The DRC is home to 4.5 million displaced persons and more than 530,000 refugees. This has collectively created an extremely large population of displaced persons and ex-combatants who constitute a surplus labor pool of migratory workers. Consequently, migrants and some ethnic groups are the most vulnerable in the mining sector. New miners, often migrants or refugees, find themselves extremely vulnerable when they start cobalt mining, as they need to learn a new set of skills in a very dangerous environment. There are ethnic dimensions to vulnerability, also, as the system is predicated on displaced persons. Certain ethnic groups are more psychologically vulnerable, some better off than others, some have family connections with security people or traders who can give them money but the refugee miners are at the bottom of the pile. They are hidden and invisible, since extraction is often clandestine. While cobalt mining practices may not create new inequalities, they worsen existing inequalities and patterns of discrimination. Those most exposed to exploitative use of labor are those already most marginalized within Congolese societies – for example the pygmies displaced by mining. The inequalities in terms of work conditions reinforce existing inequalities of ethnicity, race, class, and social status. The persecuting culture leads to ethnic discrimination even by foreign firms, mining bosses, local trading companies, the mining police, the local police, and the national secret service. Migratory workers to the site are given the worst jobs according to their religion or ethnicity. Migrants are exposed to persecution by mine employers. When they arrive, they are placed at the bottom of the scrapyard hierarchy and are given the most toxic jobs, such as burning. The sheer growth in e-waste has attracted large numbers of refugees and migrants, who have flocked there for the employment opportunities. The size of operations at Agbogbloshie has doubled in the past 10 years. We have seen this in a doubling of the volume of waste being handled, the waste being stockpiled and repaired. We see this in the tripling of the people now living here, as well as the revenues we generate. But we have also seen this in the number of different ethnic groups—we had fewer than 6 ten years ago, but now have almost 20. Newer arrivals from the Northern Provinces of Ghana, Benin and Togo were seen burning, the worst job.Such migrants lack the social ties of longtime residents, face language barriers, and are easier to exploit. The sleeping quarters for new workers also consisted simply of collections of metal pipes with bricks for an armrest or pillow. Other new arrivals were so marginalized they were not even permitted to burn, with the “lowest” members of the hierarchy searching through the dump after things were burnt for the scraps of the scraps.

four injustices manifest in the extraction and disposal of low carbon technologies.
1. deteriorating environmental health
2. enhanced gender inequalities
3. child exploitation
4. ethnic or religious discrimination
These minerals are a critical and necessary component of low-carbon transitions but are invisible to most policymakers or consumers. Awareness of this topic is lacking. Issues of e-waste are some of low in the policy agenda compared with say plastics. In addition, these risks are interlinked. The health of communities is under siege due to cobalt mining. These interconnected risks cut across issues in health, gender, child labor, and ethnic persecution and require a policy for interventions as a response. Reforms and policy changes needed to make cobalt mining and e-waste processing more sustainable are: 1. Pursue broader and more robust community benefit sharing agreements 2. Establish better inventories and data repositories for tracking and monitoring waste flows 3. Recognize the limitations of traceability schemes and formalization 4. Force e-waste exporters to better sort and separate waste flows 5. Appreciate the necessity of cobalt mining for community livelihood 6. Encourage upcycling and the right to repair to minimize e-waste flows 7. Implement stronger reverse logistics and extended producer responsibility policies 8. Tackle e-waste as part of an integrated waste management program 9. Target National and regional Government bodies such as the Ministry of Mines in the DRC, or the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Protection, Environmental Protection Agency or Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation in Ghana, municipal authorities such as mining cooperatives in the DRC, or the Accra Metropolitan Assembly 10. Enforce??? better occupational standards for ASM mines 11. Undertake?? improved customs screening and classification of imported waste flows. 12 Form joint ventures between ASM and LSM interests 13. Implement enhanced waste sorting and separation of wastes streams 13. Implement better dust and tailings management?? at LSM mines 14. Increase financing flows and levy more substantial charges on e-waste?? 15. Formalize some e-waste activities and build more recycling centers 16. Complement any such formalization with poverty reduction programs 17. Support training for alternative livelihoods and awareness of health Risks 19. Offer targeted medical and health care 20. Implement gender sensitivity and child protection educational programs 21. Introduce education about e-waste and waste sorting in schools 22. Facilitate community involvement and ownership 23. Incentivize stakeholder input into data collection 24. Create better training programs for e-waste sorting and dismantling, as well as gender relations and child protection 25. Provide protective gear and equipment to e-waste
worker. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS This article has shown how ongoing transitions to low-carbon societies are being underwritten by serious but rarely acknowledged social and ecological injustices at opposite ends of the supply chain – at the mines providing cobalt from DRC and at the facilities handling streams of electronic waste in Ghana. Without careful attention, low-carbon transitions may be paradoxically contributing to environmental destruction, air pollution, contamination of water, and the health risk of cancer and birth defects. They can deepen existing gender inequalities. They depend on exploitation of children and their exposure to extreme risks of death and injury while mining for cobalt, drowned in waterlogged pits, or worked to death in the e-waste scrapyards of Ghana. Low carbon transitions are also worsening the subjugation and exploitation of ethnic minorities and refugees. Perversely, in both cases, the dispossessed communities of Congolese cobalt mining and e-waste processing in Ghana come to rely on harmful activities. One core conclusion is that patterns of injustice and domination are embedded in existing processes of decarbonisation, in spite of the assumption that low carbon trajectories represent a more just way of producing energy. While decarbonisation may thus contribute to cleaner air and cleaner production in the Global North at the cost of environmental and social harm in the Global South. We term this phenomenon the “decarbonisation divide. It is an epistemic divide. Much research in the Global North focuses on the diffusion and use of decarbonisation technology and systems, but ignores harmful impacts and the inequalities in the Global South. Cleaner technology is deployed in the Global North while its ecological and health costs are borne by the Global South. It reflects an environmental divide, in that the Northern natural environment gets cleaner while the Southern environment gets dirtier and even locked into more polluting and at times carbon intensive activities. The irony is not only that the DRC and Ghana become “sacrifice zones” for low carbon technologies but also that they will themselves become more difficult to decarbonize as they are locked into embedded flows of pollution and dependent on the very processes of dispossession that victimize them. We must resist the temptation to only examine low-carbon transitions, and the particular innovations underpinning them, at their point of deployment. We need to assess the entire lifecycle of these innovations, from the front end where metals and minerals are extracted, to the back end where waste streams reside. END OF THE SOVACOOL 2020 PAPER.




China has become an important player in Africa’s economic activities since the turn of the century. It is aggressively competing with the West for the control the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) huge strategic mineral reserves. The DRC is high on China’s list of African strategic partners. The DRC is also aiming to attract China to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure destroyed by years of colonialism, dictatorship, corruption, and war. China argues that its win-win economic approach and its non-interference in internal affairs of the DRC are the basis of relations between the two countries. China–DRC relations represent a major shift from that of the West-DRC relations. China privileges economics over politics, and its promise of massive economic investment in infrastructure and mineral extraction is based purely on economic principles without political conditionality. China is a critic of the West’s approach of linking economic support to the promotion of democratic principles and values, for it is a proponent of a home-grown political system. China believes the imposition of Western democratic values on Africa in general, and the DRC in particular, is one of the causes of political instability and economic stagnation. In an effort to set itself apart from what it considers as the West unequal political and economic relations with Africa built over centuries, China has set its Africa relations on the basis of what Chris Alden and Daniel Large call “Chinese exceptionalism.” This exceptionalism is geared toward ensuring mutual benefit and win-win outcomes at the continental and bilateral levels. The DRC is a dysfunctional state par excellence, lacking capacity to organize and conceptualize its future both politically and economically in a manner that differs from its past. China-DRC trade relations are taking place within the confines of a fragile Congolese state lacking in capacity to optimally benefit from opportunities that China brings. The DRC, after years of dictatorship and war, has been working with great difficulties to install democracy as a stabilization tool and a source of economic progress. The main challenge for the DRC is how to build a functional and responsible state without which every development effort whether internal or external is bound to fail. The question is: does the win-win as applied currently by China contribute to state building in the DRC?

The Strengthening of China-DRC Relations

China and the DRC are capable of maintaining a beneficial and interdependent economic relationship because they both have goods that they need to trade with each other. The main interests for the two countries in their relationship are clear. For China, the DRC is a secure source of strategic natural resources, market for its manufactured goods, and space for investment in infrastructure development. For the DRC, China is a source of finance and know-how for its infrastructural, and a source of manufactured goods. This is what China has called a win-win arrangement: “you give me the minerals I desperately need, and I build for you the infrastructure you need.” The DRC fits well into China’s trade policy of securing supply of minerals and energy products and encouraging export of finished products. China offers considerable opportunities to the DRC, and the DRC is attracted to China for its civil engineering to help with the reconstruction of the shattered infrastructure. The DRC government sees China as an opportunity to help lift the country’s productive capacity, a source of funding for infrastructure development (road, railway, and mining infrastructure), and to strengthen public private sector partnership information and technology investment. The fascination with China has been about how it has succeeded in a relatively short period of time in moving so many of its people out of poverty and modernizing its cities so rapidly. For most Africans, the thinking is that because “China has managed to overcome so many similar problems, it knows what it is doing.”3 The economic transformation it has achieved is attractive, and the DRC wants to learn and benefit from China’s successes. The DRC’s fascination and increased cooperation with China are rational especially after years of failed Western imposed interventions. President Joseph Kabila’s model of development “la Modernité” is copied from China’s economic miracle, which is a result of China’s much vaunted priority of modernization. The admiration with China’s successes is fuelled by scepticism of Western development approaches, which many Africans have described as neo-colonialism and exploitative. Intensifying China-DRC relations coincide with China’s economic upswing on the one hand and an economic decline in the OECD countries on the other hand. The DRC has for a long time looked for opportunities to escape Western control.

Since the 2006 elections, President Kabila has worked “to demonstrate progress on the reconstruction of his country’s shattered by two decades of war.”4 The DRC’s expectation for China to help with reconstruction has been on the high side but trade between the two countries has been defined by mineral exports from the DRC to China. Minerals are the DRC’s main export to China. The DRC mineral potential, especially copper and cobalt, are attractive and China wants a secured provision. In 2016, 67.5 percent of China’s cobalt production relies on concentrates imported from the DRC.5 The table below shows the changing nature of China-DRC trade relations in terms of export between the two countries. In 2014, there were fourteen mining projects that contributed to the increase in exports from the DRC to China.6 The total investment for the mining projects was projected at $3.72 billion, including $320 million for a hydroelectric power station.7 These figures are expected to increase even more considering that Sicomines is planning to increase its copper production from the current 100,000 tonnes to 250,000 tonnes when the Busanga Dam starts to produce energy.8 Also, in 2014 China’s total import of timber from Congo basin reached 2.9 million cubic meters representing 47.5 percent of the region’s entire timber export, far exceeding the 2 million cubic meters entering the EU (equivalent of 33 percent).9 The recent DRC economic growth has been attributed to China’s importation of minerals, mainly copper and cobalt. The DRC posted an annual average economic growth rate of 7.4 percent during the 2010-13 period and 8.7 percent in 2014, both of which are well above the average in sub Saharan Africa.10 These figures may suggest that China’s impact is unquestionably positive. However, a closer look shows that the growth has not provided a significant level of employment jobless growth and it has not changed the poverty level in the country. The DRC ranked second in the Human Development Index (186 out of 187 countries) in 2014, and its per capita income, which stood at $380 in 2014, is among the lowest in the world.

China’s Ambition in Africa and the DRC

The rapid economic development China has experienced in the last four decades has shaped its appetite for foreign investment and political power in the world in general and specifically in Africa.12 If China’s aspiration is to become the world hegemonic power, the control of strategic spaces in different continents, as the United States has done, is imperative. The interest of China in the DRC is multifaceted and not, as it has been described, driven by a single motive—access to mineral resources.13 The DRC occupies a strategic position in China’s geo-strategic consideration because of its geographic position, abundant arable land and mineral resources, huge forest reserve, and the size of the population.

The DRC is the fourth most populous African country with an estimated eighty-five million people. It constitutes a big market for Chinese finished products, with exports to the DRC including machinery, textiles, clothing, and consumer electronics. The DRC is also the second largest African country in land mass after Algeria. It is in need of reconstruction after decades of neglect and war. The DRC provides China an opportunity to benefit from massive infrastructure investment in roads, railways, energy, dams, river navigation, and airlines. The DRC is also home to abundant natural resources of various strategic development considerations. These resources have undergone a long history of plunder and mismanagement, coupled with widespread strife caused by years of conflict. Despite this loss, the DRC still has vast untapped reserves of minerals that need to be optimized. It is estimated that the country’s 2.3 million square kilometers of the national territory contains more than 1,100 different mineral substances.14 The World Bank estimates these mineral resources to be worth $24 trillion, which is the combined GDP of Europe and the US.15. Apart from minerals, China is also interested in timber. The DRC has the second largest forest in the world, which has become a primary source of China’s wood logs. The DRC is also possesses extensive arable land with rich rain seasons. It could play an important role in resolving China’s increasing food insecurity, an issue with which China is increasingly concerned.16 China has already acquired 2,800 million hectares of land in the DRC to cultivate palm oil.17 China wants to export to the DRC its agriculture model by positioning itself upstream in the seed production and rice hybrid, research and development, and rural infrastructure.18 By investing in land and agriculture, China seeks food security for its domestic market. Clearly Beijing’s larger interests in safeguarding economic development and increasing political influence drive China’s emerging security interests in Africa.

History of China’s Relationship with the DRC

China has always maintained close and cordial diplomatic relations with the DRC well before the country’s independence. During Africa’s struggle for independence, China presented itself as a partisan of the world’s oppressed and exploited. It is therefore not correct to see China as a newcomer and opportunist. Already in 1965, the Chinese Communist Party told the Congolese people: “They were not alone in their just struggle against capitalism. All the Chinese people are with you. All the people opposed to imperialism are with you…. American imperialism will be concurred.” China was a staunch supporter of Africa’s liberation movements. China used radio programs, propaganda, books, and supplying arms to promote and support African revolts against colonial rule.21 China provided an intensive training sabotage, guerrilla warfare and political subversion to young Africans fighting colonial rule.22 In the DRC, China supported “the Simba rebellion” of July 1963 led by “Pierre Mulele.”23 China also supported Laurent Kabila when he created a secessionist Marxist movement, the People’s Revolutionary Party (PRP) in 1967. While supporting the rebellions, China also provided social support to the government of President Mobutu. Between 1970-1990 China supported Congo’s government with small investments linked to education, science, culture, health, and social services.24 In the education sector, China provided schoolbooks. During this period China also provided financial aid to the tune of $3 million.25 China also invested in agriculture focusing on rice in the Bumba region of Equateur Province.26 In terms of infrastructure, China built symbolic buildings such as the parliament and the national football stadium. The relationship slowed down in the early 1990s due to increased political instability and the decline of the Congolese state. Relations between China and the DRC regained new momentum when Laurent Desire Kabila took power in 1997. Considering the continued instability during this period, however, China followed an approach of slow penetration preferring to rely on individual Chinese traders to purchase copper and cobalt directly from artisanal miners in the DRC mineral rich Katanga Province. There was an influx of Chinese in the Katanga province in early 2000, which coincided with the commodity boom. By 2011, it was estimated that over sixty of the province’s seventy-five copper processing plants, around 90 percent, were owned by Chinese nationals.27 In 2013, the two countries signed an economic and technical cooperation agreement amounting to of $9 million which was given as a donation to the Congolese government.28

China-DRC relations are epitomized by the Sicomines deal. Following the DRC’s successful general elections in 2006, the Chinese government took a more proactive step to engage its government. This culminated in 2008 in a massive resources-for-infrastructure deal worth $6 billion.29 According to the deal, China will invest $3 billion in mining and $3 billion in infrastructure development—construction of roads, railways, hospitals, schools, and dams, as well as mine development. This agreement remains an emblematic step in the China-DRC relations. The deal gives China access to huge high-grade copper and cobalt reserves. China is expected to get in return 10 million tonnes of copper and 600,000 tonnes of cobalt. The $3 billion to be invested in infrastructure will be repaid by the benefits from minerals. From 2008 when Sicomnies was signed to 2014, the total expenditure on infrastructure development stood at around $459.764 million.30 In 2015, $250 million was earmarked for infrastructure projects.31 At present the total spending on infrastructure is around $750 million from a total of $3 billion earmarked.

The DRC as a Failed State and its Implications

A failed state is a danger to itself and its partners. The DRC suffers from profound internal human, institutional, and structural weaknesses that prevent it from benefiting from the opportunities offered by China. These internal weaknesses are a manifestation of a weak, corrupt, and patrimonial state plus years of neglect and war. The DRC is incapable of planning, financing and building its own development infrastructure despite the abundant natural resources. Claude Ake in Democracy and Development in Africa writes:

The assumption so readily made that there has been a failure of development is misleading. The problem is not so much that development has failed as that it was never really on the agenda in the first place. By all indications, political conditions in Africa are the greatest impediment to development. Maybe neither the West nor China is entirely to blame if the DRC is failing to stabilize and develop. The DRC is simply too weak to maintain cohesive and sustained important trade or political relations. The lack of ideological orientation and the corrupt nature of its society allow for the state to be captured by both internal and external forces working in connivance. This nature of the state poses a great danger to Chinese interests in the country. It also opens an opportunity for China to exploit these weaknesses for its benefit. China cannot claim to be pursuing a win-win relation with the DRC by working with a corrupt elite that has no interest in uplifting its own people. China cannot pretend to have high moral standing when it deals with an elite that abuses and steals from its fellow citizens. China’s approach to cooperation and doing business with the Congolese elite no matter what it may privately think about their virtues and conduct is an obstacle to a win-win partnership. There is no doubt that the choice as to whether the benefits of cooperation are widely spread among the populace or concentrated in the hands of a “happy few” will also determine the durability of the dynamics, at least in its current form. This is why China’s principle of non-interference makes little sense. While China enjoys accolades from the Congolese political elite, the overall population is turning its anger on Chinese citizens living in the DRC each time an opportunity presents itself. Congolese have attacked Chinese businesses on at least two occasions. In December 2010, after the local team TP Mazembe lost to the Italian Club Inter Milan, mobs in Lubumbashi angered by the calls made by a Japanese referee who they had mistaken for a Chinese referee attacked Chinese businesses in the city. Between January 19-20, 2015, following the attempt by the National Assembly to change an electoral provision which would have extended President Kabila stay in power beyond 2016, protests erupted that targeted and destroyed Chinese businesses in Kinshasa neighborhoods.34 The Congolese people’s dislike of the apparent support China gives to the regime of President Kabila was the motivation for their violence against individual Chinese. The unconditional character of Beijing’s support for Kabila’s regime is creating tensions in Congolese civil society that is anxious about the government’s persistence in restricting the political space in the country as President Kabila attempts to retain power. The motivation for violence is also about resentment by local businesses towards Chinese, who violate Congolese law by engaging in small businesses, reserved for locals. Congolese accuse the Chinese of undercutting the prices of local producers and businesses which put them out of business. The violent attacks against Chinese who have chosen to settle in the DRC are an indication that China’s claim of having established relations as equals with Congolese is more political than social and economic. It is clear China does not understand when Africans reject something because the Chinese Communist Party is used to suppressing its people’s demands and freedom of expression. This point supports the view that China’s presence in Africa may be increasingly rejected unless the Chinese recognize the importance of taking into account what the majority of Africans want for their continent. While in the short- term economic cooperation is helping China to secure mineral resources and market for its manufactured good in the DRC, it is not sustainable in the long run if the DRC remains dysfunctional. China should encourage and support the reconstruction of the Congolese state to create conditions that support its own investment.

Why China’s Non-Interference does not Benefit the DRC

China’s policy towards the DRC will make a difference only if it represents an alternative to the current corrupt management of the state and state–society relations in the DRC. It is a contradiction for China to suggest that it is helping the DRC through commercial ties and not paying attention to the importance of building vital democratic, functional, transparent, and accountable institutions that are supposed to manage the benefits of the same commercial ties. China cannot simply pretend that these problems do not exist or if they exist they do not undermine the win-win relationship. The weakness of the Congolese state requires that international partners pay attention to these soft issues. This is the biggest failing of China’s “minerals for infrastructure policy” in the DRC. The only time a relationship of unequal partners’ turns into a win-win relationship is when the dominant partner deliberately takes steps to empower the weaker partner to participate meaningfully in building ties that are mutually beneficial.  The opportunities offered by China are significant, but insufficient to help the DRC on a path to sustainable development. The main reason, as established above, is that the DRC is a failed state and lacks capacity to deal with China as an equal partner. The DRC will not benefit from the opportunities offered by China if the state is not reorganized in one way or another to function as a normal state with capable institutions where corruption is seen as a problem and not as a norm. Put differently, the internal weaknesses of the Congolese state are an obstacle to China’s win-win model. Despite claims by China that its relations with the DRC are built on a win-win model, in reality the DRC loses significantly because of internal weaknesses. These weaknesses include weak state capacity, corruption, instability, and lack of planning and poor management. Corruption has been one of the fundamental causes of Congo’s disastrous economic situation over recent decades.38 China–DRC relations are not rooted in democratic, transparent and accountable governance. One cultural dimension that has undermined the state in the DRC is corruption and lack of transparency. As Bruno Hellendorff argues: “The mutually beneficial label of Sino-Congolese cooperation has nowadays become rather lackluster. Opportunities and challenges in the political, economic and reputational realms have not been similarly managed by China and the DRC, resulting in differentiated impacts which often proved detrimental to the African country.”39 China’s soft power strategy must also entail the promotion of transparency and good governance, especially in fragile states. Unless the Congolese state is fundamentally transformed and acquires sufficient capacity to design a China engagement policy that protects Congolese interests, the relationship will remain a one-way street. The Congolese government does not have a national strategy plan to facilitate and coordinate the relationship. In its current situation, the DRC is a recipient of China’s policy. The argument here is that the massive Chinese investment in the DRC, especially in the mining sector, can only acquire a transformative agenda for the Congolese society if the Congolese state is empowered to play a central role in defining the nature and the direction of the partnership. By supporting the reconstruction of the state we are not proposing that China transfers its model to the DRC or imposes itself on the DRC. China could support elements that could shape the transformation of the Congolese state by investing in building strong, functional, and transparent institutions; supporting social forces in an effort to increase constructive bargaining between state and citizens; and work to break the elite capture of both the economy and politics. The DRC has embraced liberal democracy, which it is struggling to consolidate. It will be suicidal if it attempts to abandon it now. China could support the consolidation of this system. Contrary to the system of balance of power with strong states that emerged from the Cold War, which dominated international security issues for some time, today the problematic has been replaced by fragile states and the threat they pose to global security. China cannot abdicate the responsibility that comes with being a superpower. The rebuilding of the Congolese state into a functional, transparent, and accountable institution with the capacity to negotiate and protect its interests is an impetrative and a mandatory step toward the effectiveness of the win-win partnership between the two countries. The China–DRC relationship rests on the flawed assumption that massive investment in infrastructure is sufficient to rebuild the DRC. Rebuilding is only possible if the state is capacitated in a way that it is able to play its role efficiently. Beijing’s spirited defense of elite sovereignty certainly runs counter to the growing international consensus that political leaders cannot escape justice for violations against an emerging, if fragile, global norm.40 This paper’s contribution to China-Africa relations is the point it makes that for the DRC-China relationship to be a win-win one, China must adjust its foreign policy in a way that contributes to solving the fundamental problems that have kept the DRC dysfunctional and unstable, producing poverty, inequality, and unemployment. The point made here contradicts Jeffrey Sachs view that “Beijing’s reluctance to interfere was an asset not a liability.”


Not a Win-Win Situation

The Sicomines deal epitomizes China-DRC commercial relations, for it presents a number of problems. First, it lacks transparency and equity. The Sicomines deal was signed in an environment of great opacity. It quickly created significant outcries from the Congolese and the international community. The secrecy surrounding the deal prompted the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and local and international civil society to request that it be made public. The analysis of the deal shows that “it will increase the DRC’s potential foreign debt to an unacceptable level and the IMF demanded that it be reduced in size.”42 After a period of resistance, the two partners agreed. China revised its investment amount downward from $9 billion to $6 billion. This act vindicated the critics that the deal was largely unfavorable to the DRC. This reduction did not resolve the imbalance, however, but rather made it worse because the other dimensions of the deal were not revised in line with China’s reduced capital investment. Logically, the reduction of the capital investment should automatically lead to the reduction tonnage of minerals for China. As one Congolese expert explained:

The IMF intervention which changed the terms of Sicomines did more harm to the DRC than to China. The reduction from $9 billion to $6 billion investment “reduced the Chinese obligations by 33 percent and the infrastructure benefit to the DRC by 50 percent while China still get access to minerals worth over $50 billion. . . .The reserves ceded to China under the first deal remained unchanged. China will still receive 10 million tonnes of copper and 600,000 tonnes of cobalt.In this case, the problem lies not with the IMF but the DRC. The IMF created an opportunity for the DRC to renegotiate the development agreement, but the DRC failed. This situation could only mean two things either it is symptomatic of a Congolese state that does not have capacity to scrutinize complex development agreements or a reflection of a state that has compromised its responsibility to interrogate the deal because of corruption. I think it is the combination of these two things. But it is China’s behavior that is shocking, because it also failed to help its weak partner to understand the imbalance inherent in the deal. Second, Sicomines is not a departure from the type of mining contracts that the DRC has signed with western companies. Chinese companies through the contract have received required holiday, fiscal, and customs exemptions. We know that excessive exemptions deprive African resource rich countries from benefiting from their minerals. Fiscal revenues expected from deepened commercial ties with Beijing are diminished by tax exemptions granted to Chinese state-owned enterprises operating in the framework of the Sicomines deal and by Chinese private entrepreneurs operating mainly in the informal sector.Third, “neither the Congolese nor the Chinese parties have properly explained how the minerals are to be priced, nor infrastructure is to be built and at what cost.”45 The lack of clarity on the benefits that will accrue to the DRC and China is a serious concern. The available analysis of the agreement suggests that the Congolese government will lose out. The problem is that there has never been an internal discussion in the DRC on the political economy of costs and risks of this ambitious investment. The main benefit for the DRC government is that the deal has increased its bargaining power for its minerals by identifying other investment sources beyond the usual western investment. Fourth, the deal includes a clause exempting the venture from any new laws that might be introduced by the Congolese government. It means that if the DRC changes or reforms its legislation, whether tax, custom, or environmental legislation or its mining code as it is currently doing, Chinese companies will be exempt. Linked to this, the deal also excludes the DRC from benefiting from any possible windfall taxes. Sicomines exposes the DRC’s vulnerability to international finance.46 It also exposes the Congolese government’s weaknesses in negotiating development agreements and mining contracts and equally exposes China’s claim to win-win partnership.  Fifth, China administers the entire Sicomines project. The DRC state company Gecamines, which is a partner in the project with Chinese companies, is a passive partner and plays no role in the administration of the partnership. Chinese companies make the decisions regarding operations, including production and exports, the importation of equipment, and deciding on the use of Chinese personnel. The above discussion shows that the Sicomines barter deal, while a departure from the western model, has not fundamentally altered the colonial extractivism approach of the West. It is clear, despite China’s rhetoric about a win–win relation, that this partnership reflects pure international relations where only the pursuit of interests matters, and in which the powerful partner asserts itself and dictates the terms of cooperation. China’s intervention in the DRC is perpetuating the old extractivism approach that considers the DRC as reservoir of mineral resources to be accessed cheaply. The biggest problem is not for China but for the DRC, which has no capacity to define, engage and defend its interests. There is no doubt that the roads, railways, hospitals, and schools that China is building are changing the DRC landscape. Unlike Belgium, which “built roads solely for the extraction and evacuation of resources in the DRC, China is constructing or rehabilitating roads that are suitable not only for the transport of resources but which citizens can also use to travel and trade.”47 As such the massive investment in infrastructure is “helping to alleviate supply bottlenecks and increase competitiveness.”48 The infrastructure development is supporting internal production activities and intra-regional trade. But, the approach where China is building this infrastructure using Chinese manpower is problematic. It is perpetuating the dependency syndrome and does not empower Congolese to own their development. China believes that Africans cannot build their own infrastructure and prefers to send its engineers and a strong army of unskilled Chinese labor to build roads and bridges, develop mines, and extract minerals. China’s massive investment in the DRC has not been matched with capacity building of the Congolese. Chinese citizens run all major Chinese investments in the DRC. Generally, their investment is accompanied by a massive influx of Chinese citizens. In the process of building infrastructure, no efforts have been deployed to capacitate the DRC’s public agencies such as the Roads Office, the Office of Urban Roads and Canalization, and the Office for Country Roads.49 The use of imported Chinese labor, unstructured skills transfer, and lack of investment in the DRC institutions are among some of the factors that create scepticism about China’s development approach.50 The benefits of these mega infrastructure projects are diminished by the fact that most of the people who do the actual work are Chinese who in most cases repatriate their earnings back to China and eventually return home with their skills and expertise. As such, Chinese construction undermines sustainability and transformation of the Congolese society and undermines the win-win partnership. How China is treating the DRC differs from how it operates in other countries, suggesting that China does not have a standard approach. In Ethiopia the Huajian Group has opened a shoe 82 manufacturing plant in which Ethiopians are employed. In Tanzania Chinese private companies have created more than eighty thousand jobs according to the Chinese Business Chamber of Tanzania.51 These and other examples suggest that the nature of the state China is engaged with determines its behavior.

The Sicomines agreement is a thorn in a win-win partnership. It undermines it in all its dimensions. For example, one of the six principles that guide the Sicomines cooperation is the transfer of technology. This is not happening despite the claim that China is bringing technology and science to Africa. Contrary to what China is doing in other African countries, for example in Ethiopia where a shoe plant has been put in place and is exporting all over the world, in the DRC, it seems, China controls the technology it exports. IDS sums up this when it argues that “while the DRC economy benefits from improved infrastructure, the deal has resulted in closure of local civil engineering companies.52 Chinese investment in the mining sector fails to satisfy key requirements if mining is to benefit the Congolese. These requirements are clearly articulated in the African Mining Vision (AMV).53 They include: increased ownership, diversification, value addition (both downstream and upstream) to the minerals, community bbenefits, and environmental protection. The AMV envisages an African “knowledge-driven African mining sector that catalyzes and contributes to the broad-based growth & development.”54 It represents a paradigm shift away from the liberal foreign direct investment dependent and resource rent centered strategy that has governed African mining for decades. Whilst recognizing the need to improve the fiscal regime of mining, the AMV sets out a multifaceted framework for mineral-based industrialization and structural transformation of Africa’s mineral dependent economies. It also seeks improvements in mineral sector governance, including respect for and protection of human rights and the environment, and greater democratic engagement with and accountability of governments and mining companies to citizens. Unfortunately, the Sicomines deal has not integrated all these requirements, especially the need to use mining as a basis for industrialization. With the political support it receives, it has failed to consult adjacent communities as required in the country mining code; it has also been accused of polluting water. Yet, the DRC government has failed to question and sanction the company.

It is clear from the preceding that China-DRC relations, while beneficial to both countries, cannot be just and equal. As Alden and Large argue, “China’s exceptionalism is a modality of engagement that structures relations such that they may remain asymmetrical in economic content but equal in terms of recognition of economic gains and political standing.” A win-win relationship in which one partner decides the orientation of the cooperation is problematic. Because of the interdependence that exists between China and the DRC one would have thought that it would be possible to have a far more complex relationship between the two countries than a straight A-B trade asymmetry. We are in the presence of an asymmetrical relation of power. According to Johnson and Ford, “asymmetrical relationship may exist when there is an imbalance in the relationship characteristics and one of the partners is able to dominate the relationship and influence what happens in it for its own benefits for a very long time.”56 A complex relationship is only possible if the weaker partner, the DRC, with all its resources, has the capacities to define and defend its interests. The DRC due to its intrinsic weaknesses is unable to protect its interests, even to consolidate the gains from the collaboration. The DRC is massively losing in its trade relations with China. China-DRC Relations not a win-win partnership. The insistence by China that it is, even in the presence of evidence to the contrary, is worrisome.


There is no doubt that China and the DRC are benefiting from established commercial relations. But the DRC’s main challenge is not infrastructure development but rather state building. Without a functional state, the infrastructure being built will again collapse in a matter of time. The mega infrastructure that China is building requires a state to maintain it. For the win-win partnership to have any positive meaning for the majority of Congolese, it must be judged on the progress that the DRC makes away from protracted conflict and bad governance that have characterized it since at least the late nineteenth century. China has shown no willingness to help reconfigure the DRC state to become able to participate meaningfully in this relationship. China maintains close relations with the political elite and makes no effort to link its investment and the wellbeing of the Congolese people, which can only become a reality through transforming the nature of the state. In the current circumstances the only way for the DRC will benefit from its trade relation with China is if the state is reconstructed to some acceptable levels. What China could do, if it is genuine about the win-win partnership, is to deliberately desist from taking advantage of the DRC’s weaknesses and instead invest in efforts to build its state capacity to engage and protect its interests in global trade. China-DRC relations might be beneficial to both countries but do not represent a win-win relation. What the DRC needs now is a genuine partner that understands its weaknesses and is prepared to support its democratic transformation efforts by capacitating the state with human, institutional, and organizational capacity in order to ensure that it optimally benefits from opportunities being offered by external partners. China’s relationship with the DRC would have to achieve simultaneously two things: support the building of a capable state and build an economy that is inclusive and sustainable. The crux of the argument is the following: as long as China does not help the DRC to achieve stability, the infrastructure development approach is not sustainable. China has built its development on the basis of consistent stability. China must help to guarantee stability through the strengthening of democracy by combatting corruption and promoting peaceful transfer of power.


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