In 2019, the links between the extractive industry and the escalation of conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were documented in a report to the UN Security Council. For over two decades, experts on the Great Lakes region, including diplomats, researchers, NGOs, and journalists, have identified the looting of mineral resources in the DRC as a structural cause of conflict. The Catholic Church in the DRC has made a significant commitment to promoting good governance and policy change within the mining sector in order to help halt conflict and consolidate peace and stability.
The National Episcopal Conference of the Congo (CENCO) has always been at the forefront of social and political engagement, and the impact of extractive industries on conflicts has been a major concern since the early 2000s. In July 2007, CENCO decided to create a commission in charge of natural resource governance, the Episcopal Commission for Natural Resources (CERN). CERN has been an important organ for CENCO’s policy advocacy on natural resources, and it also works to inform and train citizens at the local level about responsible resource management and ecological lifestyles. It works with local, national, regional, and international civil society organizations with similar objectives, as well as with other politico-administrative and economic bodies. CERN has established natural resource observatories in dioceses that document cases of human rights violations against communities and promote public awareness.
CENCO’s deep engagement on the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Protection Act is a key example of the systematic, transnational approach the church has taken on mining. This US legislation included landmark provisions to ensure greater transparency in the supply chain of minerals. During the time when the legislation was taking shape, Bishop Nicolas Djomo Lola, the president of CENCO, was deeply involved. He testified before Congress in 2010 to support the law’s passage, and again in 2012 during a hearing about the law’s effects. At that 2012 hearing, he argued that the law should not be softened to make the regulatory process easier on businesses.
The impact of Dodd-Frank has been a matter of debate. Negative assessments, at least in part, arise from the difficulties involved in building the capacity for regulating mining operations to validate their adherence to transparency expectations, including the large artisanal mining sector. Small-scale miners could be blocked from market participation, and thus from livelihoods that help bring economic stability, because of being unable to navigate transparency regulations. CENCO has responded to this challenge to make policy practical. In 2019, CERN published a study on the impact of artisanal mining on local development. They then organized a workshop in 2020 with government and civil society representatives to examine how artisanal mining can be integrated into transparency regulation. The recommendations emerging from the workshop included calling on the government to make sure technical assistance for transparency regulation is made available to these miners and that transparency frameworks are created that are specific to the artisanal sector. These kinds of initiatives led the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) to highlight CERN as one of the leading Congolese organizations engaged in advancing EITI standards. And CERN collaborated with EITI-DRC in October 2021 to disseminate an updated transparency report in the province of Eastern Kasai. This effort fit with CERN’s goals of sensitizing communities to mining wealth, educating local officials about mining laws and regulations, and supporting multi-stakeholder dialogue on mining.
The experience of the DRC shows that a better understanding of mining’s influence on conflict could help improve interventions to prevent and reduce conflict, and build lasting peace. That experience also shows that policy advocacy is a crucial component. The Church in the DRC’s action for conflict transformation and peacebuilding in the mining sector is accordingly multifaceted. It involves monitoring and capacity building at the local level, advocating at the national and international levels for governance and policy improvements, and using its structures to tie those interventions together and work toward a truly integral peace.
Father Rigobert Minani, S.J., is head of research for the Peace, Human Rights, Democracy and Good Governance Department at the Centre d’Etude Pour l’Action Sociale in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and team leader for the Ecclesial Network of the Congo Basin Forest.
This piece is an edited and shortened version of a chapter from the new book Catholic Peacebuilding and Mining: Integral Peace, Development, and Ecology, edited by Caesar A. Montevecchio and Gerard F. Powers (Routledge, 2022). The book is available for free via open access.