In mid-October, local authorities ordered the destruction of several houses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on land operated by the Kibali Gold Mining company since 2009. Local residents protested against the operation in demonstrations that were brutally repressed by the forces of security, killing several people.
The multi-day protest came to a head on October 22 in the Haut-Uele province, located in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Up to seven people, including a police officer, were killed in clashes between security forces and protesters from the Durba mining community, according to local media.
The locals had gathered to protest against the demolition by the local government of several houses in the villages of Bandayi and Mégé on 19 October. These houses were built within “Exclusion Zone B”, part of a mining concession owned by Kibali Gold Mining. Although the area was established as an area exclusively for mining, the company has not yet started mining there.
The videos, which were shared on WhatsApp by activists and later transferred to the JowharObservers team, show an excavator destroying a house. Other images show locals leaving, some carrying corrugated metal sheets, others swinging chairs on their heads, whatever belongings they could put away before the bulldozer arrived.
‘People didn’t even have time to collect their belongings’
The JowharObservers team spoke with Bissia Tchang, spokesperson for a local organization called the United Youth League for the Development of Watsa Territory. He says the locals received no warning.
Kibali Gold Mining has wanted for some time to start operations in Exclusion Zone B. On several occasions, the authorities stated that people living in Mege would not be relocated, only those living in the Bandayi community. The Bandayi population was warned two months in advance and was even given new land as part of the relocation process.
But to our surprise, the bulldozers reached Mege early Tuesday morning. [October 19]. They started destroying people’s homes without giving them any kind of warning or information.
People did not even have time to collect their belongings. A child was killed because he was asleep in one of the houses that was razed. We can’t bear that. That is why we protest. How could the authorities do that to a population they are supposed to protect?
Kibali Gold Mining, of which the Canadian company Barrick is a 45% shareholder, has been active in the region since 2009. It owns and operates a gold deposit there covering an area of more than 1,800 km2, one of the largest gold deposits in the world according to Mining-Technology, a British publication that specializes in the industry.
More than 1,500 households affected
In the first quarter of 2021, Kibali Gold Mining produced about 192,000 ounces of gold, according to Financial Afrik. But the company, which currently only exploits part of its deposit, wants to expand its activities and increase production.
More than 1,500 homes were affected by the demolitions in the city of Bandayi and 860 houses were destroyed in Mege, according to Heritier Mungumiyo, who runs the local media outlet Oriental Info.
Bissia Tchang continues:
Thousands of people are now exposed to the elements. They don’t know where to go. The situation is miserable. Some victims stay in churches, others in schools. Some people have found refuge with friends or family. But others remain near their destroyed homes and live under tarps. The provincial authorities refuse to say anything. They are treating people here in an inhumane way.
‘Companies are not respecting the law because they don’t want to spend a lot of money’
Richard Ilunga, director of human rights for the NGO African Resources Watch (Afrewatch) says he is not surprised by the brutality used to relocate residents. Ilunga says that this type of operation “always goes very wrong.”
The mining code stipulates that people must be consulted beforehand and that they must agree to be relocated or pay compensation if the company believes that its activities could have a harmful effect on the lives of the local population.
These consultations should take place during the environmental impact studies, well before the company begins its activities. Communities must understand why they are moving and agree. The company that wants to exploit these resources needs to finance everything.
But in reality, companies do not follow these procedures because they do not want to spend the money. There is always a problem: either the new land allocated to the population is not as good as what they had before, or the government has not planned enough space for the fields, or there is no good water source in the new village. In most of these cases, the government has underestimated the community’s properties.
So sometimes the locals refuse compensation and companies come and try to force them out. Not wanting to sleep outside, they accept the small compensation offered.
Barrick Gold says people claiming compensation are ‘squatters’
Cyrille Mutombo, National Director of Barrick Gold, told the JowharObservers team that people living in this area received compensation and were relocated in 2013. The houses that are currently being demolished belong to people who moved onto the lands they owned. of the mining company. and built homes there illegally starting in 2015.
Kibali Zone B was named an exclusive zone in May 2010 and the Kibali Gold Mining company paid damages to the people who lived there. The amount each person received was determined according to a sliding scale. They obtained 50% more of the value of their assets.
Then, under the supervision of government officials, we used poles to demarcate the area that would be used exclusively for mining. Unfortunately, starting in 2015, new people moved in, destroyed some of these poles, and built houses there. These are the people who demand compensation. But they are squatters.
According to our schedule, we should start mining this site in 2022. The deadline for local people to leave the site has expired, we even extended it several times. Now, the provincial government has no other option. They have to start demolishing houses.
Our team contacted Ismaël Ebunzé, the Minister of Mines of the Haut-Uélé province, but he did not respond to our request for an interview.
At a press conference held on October 22, Christophe Baseane Nangaa, governor of the province, ordered an end to the demolitions, waiting to determine “if those who carried out this operation exceeded their mandate.”