(Image Source: File Photo)
By: Stuart Fieldhouse
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is moving forward with plans to establish the Enterprise Generale Générale du Cobalt, effectively a centralised set of standards for artisanal cobalt mining in the Congo. The country is becoming increasingly important, not only for the mining sector, but also for mining investors and the battery industry. It remains the world’s biggest producer of cobalt, followed by Russia, and its artisanal mining sector represents 30% of that output.
The Armchair Trader had the opportunity to meet with Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, director of the EGC, while he was in London, en route from COP 27 in Egypt. He outlined many of the issues which he feels have been hampering the smaller mining sector in the country to date. “Artisanal cobalt, or blood cobalt as it is sometimes called, is getting a bad reputation, with reports of child labour and poor working conditions for miners,” he said. “Also, many miners sell to middlemen who do not give them the best price for cobalt.”
The DRC is starting to press ahead with more efforts to regulate its mining sector, including artisanal mines, which produce other minerals as well, like tungsten and copper. The EGC has been established to ensure that Gecamines, the state-controlled buyer of cobalt, is being positioned to become the buyer of artisanal cobalt, cutting out the middlemen.
Mpanu-Mpanu confirmed that the Congolese government is looking to tighten up the regulation of this part of the mining economy in the country. This will include limitations to how deep an artisanal mine can go, a ban on digging tunnels, and procedures for handing over artisanal mines to larger firms once limits have been reached.
Challenges remain of course: it is still tough to glean basic data out of the artisanal mining sector, and beyond that, data that can be plugged into a sustainable mining reporting framework. It is a steep hill to climb. The EGC is looking at using new technology, like an app, to ensure artisanal miners who export through Gecamines will be reimbursed speedily, for example.
“Our standards are being inspired by OECD guidelines for the establishment of sustainable supply chains,” Mpanu-Mpanu said.
Katanga battery processing facility
Interestingly, the DRC is also planning to push for more processing of raw materials in Congo, rather than seeing mine offtakes exported to China for processing, a country which has effectively cornered the market in the DRC minerals export processing space. “It is important that we process the ore in the DRC,” Mpanu-Mpanu said. “If it is processed in China, then the overall carbon impact is going to be high. We want to partner with impact investors to ensure that more of this value chain takes place in the DRC.”
Plans are also afoot for the construction of a battery materials plant for preliminary processing in the Congolese province of Katanga. This follows the signing of an MOU between the DRC and Zambia. The cost of the project has been estimated as somewhere in the region of USD 40m, and the government has said it is interested in speaking to possible partners in the battery materials sector to support its design and construction.
There is also a move on the part of many Francophone African countries to see if they can build strong ties with the City of London. UK and US miners have created a vacuum in the DRC and elsewhere in the region which has been effectively filled by Chinese state-backed companies in the last decade.
Source: The Armchair Trader