According to a report, a group of the United Nations (UN) experts found that gold production in the East African region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is being systematically underreported while tonnes of the precious metal are smuggled into global supply chains through its eastern neighbours.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is known for its mineral deposits which contribute considerably to its foreign earnings. Yet, the region records a high rate of poor families in the middle of immense wealth.
Rich in gold – and gold smugglers, who are often linked to rebel groups, DRC suffers from years of internal conflict. Poverty in the region is linked to internal unease and billions of dollars lost to illegal activities in gold mining annually.
Artisanal miners in DRC, who used rudimentary means, are major players in its mining sector. They are largely responsible for trading billions of dollars’ worth of gold through countries along its eastern borders. Smugglers, who trade gold from Ituri, have named Uganda as their trading hub. While gold smuggled from South Kivu went to Burundi, Rwanda, the United Arab Emirates, and Tanzania, experts say.
In an annual report by the UN Group of Experts on the DRC, 95 percent of gold exports from Uganda in 2019, worth over 25 tonnes, were not of Ugandan origin. This is based on 2018 production and 2019 export data. This suggests that Uganda and other neighbouring countries export far more gold than they produce, and may still be staging posts for smuggled Congolese gold.
The report also found that North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri provinces reported official production of just over 60kg of artisanal gold in 2019, yet exported a total of just over 73kg.
“The country remained one of the Great Lakes region’s largest artisanal gold producers, and yet one of its smallest official exporters,” the group of experts wrote.
The experts have estimated the smuggling of at least 1.1 tonnes of gold out of Ituri province as of 2019 alone, making the government of DRC have lost $1.88 million in taxes had it been legally exported. The gold sector in the DRC is hampered by a very porous border, making smuggling an easy task for local miners who sell to licensed traders at the Ugandan borders.
The Government’s failure in implementing systems to regulate the activities of artisanal miners is a major challenge for the sector. Therefore, the inability to effectively track the trade of gold has fueled regional wars, funded rebel fighters and led to UN sanctions on traders involved in a bid to staunch the flow.
The onus remains on the government and stakeholders, saddled with the responsibility of making policies and systems that would help regulate the industry.