Defending the rights of nature: COP23 International Rights of Nature Tribunal

Bonn-Tribunal-sidebar-sqAn article written while part of the Ecojesuit delegation at the COP23 climate summit.

The rights of nature and the rights of the poor are inseparable. In the words of Laudato Si’, we must hear “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (LS, §49). This is especially the case with regard to indigenous peoples.  Legal systems are, however, often stacked against the cries of the poor and the earth.  This was a key message of a COP 23 side event, the International Rights of Nature Tribunal.

Simple yet ingenious – How the Tribunal works

In addition to the “official” COP23 Bula Zone (for official negotiations) and Bonn Zone (for country pavilions and climate action presentations), Bonn is playing host to a plethora of side events, open to the thousands of people visiting the city during COP23.  One such event was the 4th International Rights of Nature Tribunal coordinated by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature which took place on 7 and 8 November.

The format of the Tribunal is both simple and yet ingenious.  Using the 2010 Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth  as its constitution, the Tribunal aims to expose the way legal systems contribute to climate change and environmental degradation: “Rather than treating nature as property under the law, rights of nature acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.  The ecosystem itself can be named as a rights bearing subject with standing in a court of law.”

Over the course of two days, 53 witnesses from 19 countries speaking over seven languages presented cases concerning violations of the rights of nature.  A panel of the nine judges from seven countries was presided over by the prominent indigenous climate and environmental justice leader, Tom Mato Awanyankapi Goldtooth.  Presenting first-hand accounts, the witnesses demonstrated that whatever is agreed at the COP23 and subsequent meetings, action to combat climate change will be futile while governments continue to authorise coal mines, oil wells, hydraulic fracturing, exploitation of groundwater.

Part of the Dakota Access Pipeline under construction in Iowa. Photo credit: Carl Wycoff in Popular Science, November 2016

Pipelines in the US – Criminalisation of earth defenders

The Tribunal heard from water protectors from Standing Rock in the US.  Kandi Mosset, a community activist belonging to the US Indigenous Environmental Network, testified about the way in which peaceful protests to defend water and Mother Earth have been met with violence as governments protect corporate interests.  In a powerful account of her role during the Standing Rock protest, she recounted how the Lakota Sioux tribe were never adequately consulted (as required by Federal Law) about the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline across their land.  Kandi explained how the Sioux language and culture is based on its relationship to the elements of the earth.  Her evidence showed that the pipeline will diminish indigenous minorities’ quality of life, specifically its relationship to the sacredness of the Missouri River and sacred and cultural significant areas.  Kandi also described numerous human rights violations during the escalation of a military style police response to the Standing Rock protesters, including dogs being used to attack people, starving income streams for the tribe, and the use of bugging devices.

Coal and hydroelectric projects in Russia and Sweden – Undermining traditional ways of life

Speaking from the context of Siberian-Turkic Shor people in Southern Russia, community leader Yana Tannagasheva explained how her community of Kazas has been devastated by an open cast coal mega-mine.  These types of state-sponsored mines have led to the destruction of sacred mountains, alleged attacks on people who oppose the mining activities, and water pollution.  She pointed out that much of the mined coal is exported to European markets.

Other witnesses included Stefan Mikealsonn and Åsa Simma who belong to the Sámi peoples in northern Scandinavia.  Emphasising the importance of preserving their cultural heritage, Stefan Mikealsonn claimed “we walk to the future in the footprints of our ancestors.” Both the Sámi witnesses spoke of what their community regards as the theft of water resources by the State of Sweden to build hydroelectric plants.  They also highlighted that restrictions on reindeer husbandry have endangered their traditional way of life.

Laudato Si’ – Rights of the earth and the poor

In assessing its findings, the Tribunal noted the ongoing history of systemic violations of the rights of the indigenous peoples.  It observed that legal systems are very often stacked against these minorities who are natural protectors of the earth against climate change.  While not referred to by the Tribunal, the presentations of the witnesses and the observations of the judges resonate with the message of Laudato Si’ which gives special attention to indigenous communities: “it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions.  They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed.” (LS, §146)

Another parallel with the Tribunal testimonies and Laudato Si’ is the emphasis on the spiritual and “sacramental” dimension of natural resources.  In an Address  to the participants in the world meeting of popular movements in Rome on 28 October 2014, Pope Francis sought to develop an integral approach to the ecological question “Land and water grabbing, deforestation, unsuitable pesticides are some of the evils which uproot people from their native land.  This wretched separation is not only physical but existential and spiritual as well because there is a relationship with the land, such that rural communities and their special way of life are being put at flagrant risk of decline and even of extinction.”

Natural resources, especially water and land should never be viewed in purely instrumental terms.  They are not simply commodities limited to a financial and physical value.  Rather they possess an intrinsic value and expresses a relationship between humans, other aspects of the natural world, and with God.

Stuck in the Doldrums – EU-Africa Trade Deals

Taken from the September edition of europeinfos

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 15.58.43The blueprint for a patchwork of trade agreements between the EU and African nations has not been achieved. This is because existing and proposed arrangements are based on an economic paradigm that fails to deliver authentically sustainable development, argues Henry Longbottom SJ.

Current political negotiations for trade deals between the EU and African countries seem unable to catch the trade winds which blow towards the equator from the northern hemisphere. These gusts of air have been a Godsend to countless merchant sailors in Europe’s trading history. In contrast, the EU’s grand vision for a patchwork of so-called “Economic Partnership Agreements” (EPAs) with developing countries in the Global South appears to be stuck in the doldrums.

Run aground – African Economic Partnership Agreements

Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, has so far not been persuaded to sign the West Africa EPA. The most recent failure is the impasse on the proposed EPA with five countries comprising the East African Community. Almost scuppered last year when Tanzania pulled out of negotiations at the eleventh hour, the deal suffered a further blow in May when only two presidents turned up for a rescue summit held in Dar es Salaam.

 EPAs originate from the trade chapter of the Cotonou Agreement signed in 2000, an overarching framework between the EU and a group of countries, mostly former European colonies, within Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, known as the “ACP”. Replacing the 1975 Lomé Convention, the Cotonou Agreement contains lofty provisions aimed at reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development, and integrating ACP countries into the world economy. Revised every five years, recent amendments to the Cotonou Agreement include measures to combat criminal impunity through the International Criminal Court.

Under the Lomé Convention the EU gave favourable market access to ACP countries and were thus deemed to infringe World Trade Organisation rules. EPAs on the other hand aim to replace arguably paternalistic policies with the principle of reciprocity, requiring both parties to open their markets. Therefore, under EPA arrangements, the EU generally gives immediate duty and quota free access to all products from its partner countries. However, in contrast to Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) between the EU and more economically developed countries, EPAs do not require ACP countries to fully liberalise their markets, and the degree of liberalisation depends on their level of development. Very often, sensitive products, especially certain agricultural commodities, are excluded from EPA provisions.

Given these laudable aims of EPAs, why have they often failed to get off the ground? A major problem is that EPAs are falling short of their two stated aims, namely regional ACP co-operation, and sustainable development.

 Choppy waters – Regional cooperation and sustainable development

With regard to regional cooperation within EPA groups, conflicts exist between EPA provisions and other EU trade arrangements. For example, the very poorest African countries, such as Tanzania, already benefit from duty-free and quota-free access to EU markets under the “Everything But Arms” initiative. Although this trade policy could be withdrawn at any point by the EU, at present its existence means there is little incentive for very poor countries like Tanzania to open up its market through an EPA. On the other hand, relatively economically richer nations like Kenya who do not benefit from Everything But Arms are keen for the security of an EPA to protect against devastating scenarios arising such as when the EU temporarily imposed tariffs on Kenyan cut flowers in 2014.

But an even deeper concern is whether EPAs actually facilitate sustainable development. Many Africans think not. For example, Nigerian campaigners against an EU-west Africa trade deal argue that a reduction in tariffs will make imported machinery cheaper and thus undermine domestic industrial growth. EPA provisions effectively tie the hands of governments, restricting their ability to formulate their own industrial policies and collect revenues from tariffs – an important source of income for nations where other forms of taxation are difficult to raise. Such factors have led to the type of charge levelled by John Magufuli, Tanzania’s president, that EPA provisions resemble a “form of colonialism”.

An underlying worry explaining the reluctance of some African leaders to sign up to EPAs is their suspicion that the biggest winners in such “partnerships” will be European exporters. Their worry is well founded. EPAs may boost exports of commodities like sugar, meat and dairy products from better-off African nations. However, EPAs appear to do little to address the fundamental injustice of Africa being caught in the trap of being primarily an exporter of raw materials. The coffee trade illustrates this. The bulk of Africa’s coffee exports to the EU consists of unrefined green coffee beans. Whilst it is estimated that in 2014, Africa earned about $2.4 billion from the trade, this figure should be contrasted with the value of processed coffee re-exports accrued by Germany which for the same period stood at approximately $3.8 billion.

This is one of many examples of the way that existing economic arrangements are stacked against African nations being able to add value to their exports by processing or manufacturing its raw materials.

The need for greater intra-African trade

Unless and until Africa-EU trade agreements can redress these structural economic obstacles to investment in African economies, they are unlikely to prove effective in achieving sustainable development. In the meantime, African leaders are perhaps justified in placing more hope in the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) approved by the African Union in 2012.

Due to a highly fragmented market, intra-regional trade within Africa is a mere 18%. Bringing together 54 African countries with a population of more than one billion people and combined GDP of more than US $3.4 trillion, the CFTA may prove a surer way of growing local economies and protecting ACP populations against the turbulence of rising and falling tides of the global market.

Workshop Slides from British Province Pastoral Conference

At the beginning of June, around 120 delegates from Britain’s ten Jesuit parishes met at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick for the Jesuit Pastoral Conference 2017.  The topic for the conference was the three key texts of Pope Francis EvangelIMG_0020ii Gaudiam, Laudato Si and Amoris Laetitia.  Here is a link to the slides for my workshops on “living out Laudato Si”

laudato_si_pastoral_conference_slides_2017-ilovepdf-compressed (1)

Campaigning against ‘conflict’ minerals

The following article was published in the Caritas in Action column in the Catholic Times (UK) on 21st July 2017.

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 15.42.12The dark histories of some of the shiny items adorning our bodies has been popularised by recent Hollywood films and celebrity-backed campaigns. This has permitted the concepts of ‘conflict’ diamonds and ‘dirty’ gold to enter the public consciousness. But what about those other precious, and increasingly indispensable objects, found in our pockets and bags? The sad truth is that our mobile phones and other electronic gadgets contain materials that come at a hefty human and ecological cost.

Thanks to a campaign led by a coalition of organisations, in which Catholic groups have played a central role, the link between digital products and human rights abuses has been exposed. Through public awareness-raising events, enabling affected communities to speak out, and by lobbying politicians, the coalition has succeeded in getting the European Union to introduce legislation to combat the trade of illegally mined metals.

Many precious metals like tin, tungsten, and tantalum – vital for components used in electronic equipment – are mined in areas of the world affected by armed conflict. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is an example of a country that is incredibly rich in mineral deposits, but has been fought over by warring factions for decades. Whilst armed groups in the DRC do not mine the mineral themselves, they force local miners to hand them over for a fraction of the price that they fetch in the international market. The commodities eventually find their way into the international market, into products manufactures in other countries, before ending up on the shelves of our high street shops. A tragic reality is that international trade in minerals is helping finance human rights violations and accompanying environmental degradation in areas of the developing world.

Consumers here in Britain often feel paralysed by such information. What can we do practically to avoid complicity with such injustice?

Pope Francis’ encyclical on “our common home”, Laudato Si’, is a resource for engaging with this kind of dilemma. On the one hand it proposes radical solutions. Individually, the encyclical proposes an “ecological conversion” whereby we are to avoid getting caught in “a whirlwind of needless buying and spending” (§203). Pope Francis highlights the effectiveness of boycott campaigns, reminding us “purchasing is always a moral and not simply an economic act” (§206). On a macroeconomic level, the encyclical urges reform of systems to encourage less consumerist models of life (§112). On the other hand, Laudato Si’ encourages more subtle, incremental changes. In particular, Pope Francis encourages the work of civil society groups who engage with citizens and political institutions to promote the common good.

This Laudato Si’ approach has inspired British Jesuits to engage in the fight against conflict mineral. Through three partner organisations: Jesuit Missions UK, the Brussels-based Jesuit European Social Centre (JESC), and the Spanish development charity ALBOAN, Jesuits in Britain have lent their weight to a campaign that resulted in the European Parliament passing a historic law earlier this year. The legislation requires companies to carry out investigations (known as “due diligence”) to ensure that imported minerals are not linked to conflict or human rights or ecological abuses.

Whilst a regulation emanating from Brussels may seem very remote from what is going on in grass root communities both here in the UK and in the developing world, the Jesuits have tried to bridge the gap. Taking advantage of our global reach, we have been able to connect the experiences of those directly harmed by conflict minerals with European organisations advocating for action. For example, drawing on the experience of its partners on the ground, Jesuit Missions lobbied key UK MEPs and the UK Government, urging them not to water down proposals when they discussed it with the European Commission. Online resources have been developed for schools designed to create awareness among young people about the connection between everyday objects and the problems associated with the exploitation of natural resources. Mobilising individuals via Facebook and Twitter campaigns has also been instrumental in pressurising policy-makers to support controls on conflict minerals.

A central message of Laudato Si’ is the interrelatedness of our world. Just as humanity’s wellbeing is contingent on the health of the natural environment, so the (true) flourishing of economically affluent societies is dependent on respect for the human dignity of all. The conflict minerals trade is a good illustration of this integrated reality. The campaign, in which church groups have stood alongside secular organisations, is an example of how connecting various stakeholders can yield successful outcomes, and help combat a form of inaction which Laudato Si’ terms the “sin of indifference”.

The recently adopted EU legislation on conflict minerals is far from perfect, and its effectiveness will hinge on how it is implemented. In a post-Brexit world, UK citizens and Church group will have an important role to ensure the UK Government honours, and indeed goes beyond, measures agreed at a European level.

Henry Longbottom SJ

Empowering mine-affected communities – Silveira House, Harare

Twanda Chamba SJ (left)

Twanda Chamba SJ (left)

Situated in Chishawasha, a rural district outside the Zimbabwean capital of Harare, travelling to Silveira House feels more like going on retreat rather than visiting a Jesuit advocacy office. In my experience, Jesuit social centres are usually found in nondescript blocks somewhere in the middle of a city.

But as my guide Tawanda Chamba SJ explained, the tranquil location of Silveira House is no accident. It is a poignant reminder of an aspect of its history. Tawanda is a Zimbabwean Jesuit currently doing his regency with this social justice and development centre. Silveira House enjoys a special place in the history of the nation since an initial role when it was set up by the visionary Fr John Dove SJ in 1964 was to mediate between rival nationalist groups during the country’s struggle for independence. Because holding meetings in the city centre or in townships was impossible, the neutral “hideout” location at Highfields was an ideal place to conduct political negotiations and peace-building.

Today the centre continues to provide a safe-space for deep reflection and formation in a post-liberation Zimbabwe, which faces new issues and challenges.

One major challenge is injustices associated with the mining sector. Silveira House director Fr Gibson Munyoro SJ together with members of the advocacy and peace-building team explained how they are working with communities who are affected by mines.

The peaceful setting of SH

Since 2013 they have been especially involved with two cases. The first is a community next to a black granite mine in Mutoko lying in the Mashonland East province, about 143km from Harare. The people close to the quarry have suffered greatly, including from the dumping of waste on their agricultural lands. The second is a community close to a coal mine in Hwange in the western province of Matabeleland North.

Silveira House has accompanied the communities by training local village leaders in advocacy and in how to assert their legal rights. The trust and reputation built up through the years has meant the centre has privileged access to different actors within Zimbabwean society.

Recently, Silveira House has focused its energies on the way in which Community Share Ownership Trusts (CSOTs) are negotiated and managed. CSOTs are the means by which mining developers attempt to demonstrate their corporate social responsibility. Typically funds are promised to local communities to offset social and environmental harms. But often the promises are not delivered, and the trusts are poorly managed. Silveira House therefore trains local leaders in how to operate the CSOTs. In addition to this grassroots assistance, Silveira House has been at the forefront of lobbying for legislative change to improve the CSOT system.

Through its work on mining issues, Silveira House attempts to integrate a promotion of corporate transparency and community development with that of peace-building and justice.

A choking beast of prey – Mega Mines in Zambia

Fr. Chilufya in Kankoyo

Fr. Chilufya in Kankoyo

“A crouching vicious beast of prey whose snorts grow ever louder as if choking on its painful digestion of human flesh”. Thus goes Émile Zola’s description of a vast coal mine in his novel Germinal about a mid-nineteenth century coal mining community in northern France.

Under Zola’s analysis, if the vicious beast is choking, so are the people living in its midst. At least this is the case with two mining communities I experienced earlier this week when I accompanied a Zambian Jesuit, Fr. Charles Chilufya SJ, in some fieldwork examining environmental and social degradation caused by large-scale mining. We visited Kankoyo and Chingola, two townships situated approximately 50km north of Kitwe in the Copperbelt region of northern Zambia.

Kankoyo – sulphur fumes and unemployment

Kankoyo sits in the shadow of the Mufulira mine, smelter, concentrator and refinery. Producing 35,000 tonnes of copper ore each year, it is one of the world’s largest copper mines. When we arrived, the air was thick with sulphur and dust. The poverty-stricken houses almost touch the perimeter fence of the heavily security-guarded Mufulira plant. At one point, walking on the dirt road through the township, alongside which runs an open sewer, I found myself on verge of choking from the overpowering fumes emanating from the refinery. Meanwhile kids around us played, and the life of the residents went on.

It was a Sunday afternoon.

Mufulira is owned by Mopani Copper Mines, of which the global mining giant Glencore has a majority stake. Incredibly profitable, according to the European Investment Bank, Mopani has generated at least $560 million in tax revenues for Zambian government coffers since 2000.

           Kankoyo – life goes on

Why then do its neighbours live in abject poverty, suffering from unemployment and harm to health? Fr. Chilufya, who is student chaplain and a lecturer in business and economics at Copperbelt University, explained to me that problems of Kankoyo derive from the Zambian Government’s zealous embracing of Neo-Liberal economics in the late 1990s. With encouragement from international governments and financial institutions, including the European Investment Bank, previously state-owned companies like Mopani were privatised. Almost overnight, jobs and services previously provided by the state mining company vanished.

The new private companies rationalised their operations, recruiting many non-Zambian employees, automising processes and vastly reducing employment of local people. Communities of former mine workers, like Kankoyo, quickly became ghettos plagued by alcoholism and prostitution. The people of these towns see nothing of the mine tax revenues and they are likely to die prematurely from the effects of pollution because state regulators do not compel companies to improve conditions. The wretched conditions of Kankoyo are documented in a 2012 film “Zambia: Good Copper, Bad Copper” produced by Alice Odiot and Audrey Gallet written in collaboration with Stéphane Horel.

The complete failure of state regulators to enforce against mining companies who cause serious pollution was a factor that led us to visit Chingola.

Chingola – water poisoning and community action

              Joseph, James & Fr. Charlie

As with Kankoyo, Chingola is an impoverished township of mostly former mine workers. Close by is Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) which is held by the Indian-owned, although London-registered, company, Vedanta. In 2006 KCM spilled a huge quantity of raw copper, manganese and cobalt effluents into the Mushishima and Kafue rivers which supply water to households in Chingola. Thousands were poisoned, leading to serious sickness and suspected premature deaths.

Outraged by the KCM’s negligence and the Zambia State’s failure to act against KCM, the residents of Chingola launched a legal action. In 2011 their claim succeeded in the High Court, which ordered KCM to pay a total of $2 million to 2000 residents in Chingola. However KCM appealed to the Supreme Court. Whilst the Supreme Court upheld the High Court decision, KCM managed to persuade the Supreme Court judges to make it more difficult for residents to get damages by requiring claimants to obtain expensive medical reports. As such, to date, none of the residents have received any compensation.

Knowing a little of the background to the case, it was a great privilege for Fr. Chilufya and I to meet up with its lead claimant, Mr. James Nyasulu. James invited us to into his simple single-story house in Chingola. We were joined by Joseph, also a participant in the legal action, and another former miner. A family man, James explained that his chief goal in organising the case was to prevent future pollution, and to ensure basic health for his children. He expressed his sadness that the Supreme Court decision meant that residents were effectively barred from obtaining a legal remedy that the High Court had insisted upon. He explained that what grieved him most was the dishonest conduct of government officials and members of the legal profession throughout the case. He wants to continue in pursuing justice for Chingola residents.

                Polluted Mushishima river

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of Chingola’s situation is that KCM appears to continue to contaminate the Mushishima river. James and Joseph took us to see the river. Right enough, there were visible signs that the water was laden with copper deposits. Tree branches and grass next to the water were dead, and toxic foam accumulated against rocks.

Future involvement with Copperbelt University

Fr. Chilufya wants to raise awareness of the plight of Kankoyo and Chingola. His hope is to build a partnership between the students of Copperbelt University and the residents of these townships. This partnership would help raise consciousness among Zambia’s future leaders. At the same time, it could open up potential opportunities for university staff and students to undertake environmental and social analysis. The towns of Kankoyo and Chingola are “frontiers” says Fr. Chilufya, insisting that our advocacy should have the objective of allowing the voice of those at the margins to be heard.

Artisanal Mining in Katanga – Arrupe Centre, Lubumbashi

IMG_0002What is a “conflict mineral”? The recently-approved EU legislation on responsible mineral sourcing defines a conflict mineral as tantalum, tin, tungsten or gold which originates from any region in the world affected by, and which is used to finance, armed conflict. Equivalent US provisions in the Dodd-Frank Act includes a wider list of minerals, but limits the conflict area to that of the Central African Great Lakes Region, chiefly the eastern Kivu district of DRC.

One of the many weaknesses of these legislative attempts to reduce the flow of conflict minerals is that they overlook the mining of copper and cobalt mostly carried out in the former Katanga province, located in the south east of DRC. Unlike the Kivu district, armed groups do not operate here. And yet, when it comes to the copper and cobalt mining sector, there are widespread social and human rights abuses. Although not linked to the financing of armed groups, these abuses nevertheless constitute “conflict”.

Père Jacques (right), Criso (left) & artisanal miners

I experienced this situation first hand when I accompanied Père Jacques Nzumbu SJ and his colleague Criso from the Lubumbashi-based Centre Arrupe pour la Recherche & Formation (CARF) on a visit to two small scale mines in the area between Luisha and Kolwezi. The quaint description of these mines as “artisanal” disguises the pernicious reality faced by their workers and their families.

I was shown how artisanal miners descend down a shaft of 30 metres deep and spend up to 10 hours a day tunnelling underground to extract copper and cobalt which is hauled up to the surface in baskets. The conditions underground are hot and workers have rudimentary tools and little or no safety equipment. Tunnels collapsing, underground flooding, and inhalation of dust means that artisanal mining is extremely dangerous. Above ground, life is harsh too. Women and children are often engaged in washing the minerals in nearby lakes. The mining settlements are grim shanty towns with no public provision of services, or schools. Alcoholism and prostitution are rife.

A strange paradox is that both of the artisanal mines we visited sat in the shadow of state-of-art mega-mines owned by international companies. Artisanal mines are often situated in concession areas granted by the Government to the mining companies. But in order to appease local populations, unofficial agreements are made between the companies, government officials, and security forces to turn a blind eye to artisanal mining activity.

The result of such such murky arrangements is that artisanal mining is unregulated and its workers have no protection. And the numbers involved are staggering. It is estimated that up to three million Congolese are engaged in artisanal mining, with a further 8 million being indirectly dependent on the sector. Human rights abuses are worse in artisanal mines controlled by unscrupulous businessmen who exploit men and women desperate to feed their families. Conditions are better where artisanal miners are able to organise themselves into cooperatives.

It is with these artisanal mining cooperatives that CARF is in the process of developing a project. The aim is to provide members of the cooperatives with a free training programme to equip them with knowledge and skills in safety, technical, and regulatory matters. The formation will use an industry-approved software and will be taught through a combination of on-site and online sessions. CARF is also exploring ways of how cooperatives can get a better price for their copper and cobalt which are currently sold to mostly Chinese dealers who pay for the goods well under the market price.

The hideous presence of artisanal mining in DRC is a product of destitution, bad governance, and an insatiable global demand for copper. The latter is only likely to rise in the coming decades with an increase in the use of battery-powered electric vehicles, which contain four times more copper than combustion engine vehicles.

Artisanal mines are here to stay for the foreseeable future. For this reason, CARF aims to improve the lives of artisanal miners by making their conditions safer and offering them training with the hope that they can eventually transition into the larger scale mining sector job market.

How the world’s newest Jesuit university is promoting sustainable agriculture

Friends at the Mongata agricultural training centre

Friends at the Mongata

DRC’s abundant natural resources are not only to be found underground. Any new visitor to the country cannot fail to appreciate the land’s rich vegetation and fertile farmland. And yet despite its excellent soil and climatic conditions, DRC needs to import much of its food from neighbouring countries. The agricultural sector is perhaps another victim of the mineral resource curse. Intense focus on exploitation of precious commodities – the quest for Eldorado – has contributed to the lack of interest in developing the nation’s agricultural potential.

Having identified a national agricultural skills deficit, Université Loyola du Congo (ULC) has sought to create a centre of excellence for sustainability and food security. Instituted only last year, ULC is the world’s newest Jesuit university. Its Centre de Recherche et de Communication pour le Développement Durable (CERED), which is part of the University’s Faculté des sciences Agronomiques et vétérinaires, has developed a multidisciplinary programme for a diverse range of stakeholders that includes researchers, students, and local communities.

I travelled to ULC’s home in Kimwenza, a southern district of Kinshasa, to meet CERED’s director, Ghislain Tshikendwa Matadi SJ. Pére Ghislain’s vision is to develop a centre bringing together natural and social sciences, which puts the welfare of people at the core of its research and educational formation. As superior of a fledging community of Jesuit scholastics located on-site in ULC campus, his first mission is to conscientize young minds in the Society of Jesus in the mission of the Society including issues relating to sustainability. Having spent an evening with these impressive young Congolese Jesuits, who articulately explained the situation in DRC to me, I realise Pére Ghislain’s influence begins at home!

            Pére Ghislain (left) & Emmanuel

The next day I accompanied Ghislain to CERED’s agroforestry centre and agricultural training centre in Mongata, on the Batéké Plateau, 165km from Kinshasa. The Mongata project began a number of years ago when Pére Ghislain coordinated the planting of trees on 4200 hectares of savanna. The plantation which mostly consists of Acacia trees is now well established and is managed by local people. Mongata also acts as a meteorological station for measuring the impact of climate change, and has a bee-keeping project which draws on the techniques of local traditions and wisdom.

On the journey out of kinshasa, two things struck me powerfully. First was the dire state of the roads. Any driver must skilfully dodge enormous potholes, traverse mud-pits and small ponds, and carefully navigate around a plethora of broken down trucks.  The vast revenues from the mining industry are clearly not finding their way into improvements for DRC’s basic infrastructure. The other thing the road trip made me painfully aware of was the relentless sliver of slum developments alongside the road, inhabited by a population existing in dire poverty and desperate for work.

Entering the peaceful countryside outside Mongata, I wondered why so many flee to the big cities from such a rural idil. Passing through villages however, I realised that the poverty of countryside-dwellers was just as acute as in Kinshasa. I noticed too that there was little evidence of agricultural infrastructure or employment.

When we arrived at Mongata in the early evening, a group of local farmers, which included the village chief, had gathered. They were here, apparently to welcome me, but also for formation session led by Ghislain and CERED staff member Emmanuel Mwanangulu. After a presentation on the idea of establishing a cooperative at Mongata to strengthen the position of the community in purchasing and selling, a lively discussion ensued in a mix of French and Lingala. A meal of maize, chicken and legumes followed, and the local men seemed happy to have the opportunity to chat with each other. Then they went off, mostly by foot, some by motorcycles.

My experience at Mongata called to mind the aspect of Laudato Si which encourages investment in local rural economies. Pére Ghislain’s work embodies the guidance and encouragement of Pope Francis when he says: New forms of cooperation and community organisation can be encouraged in order to defend the interests of small producers and preserve local ecosystems from destruction. Truly, much can be done! (para 180).

Reactions to Trump & Central African ecclesial networking

Last month, Donald Trump indicated that he intended to issue an executive order repealing section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act, a provision enacted by the Obama Administration aimed at preventing the importation of conflict minerals into the US.

Henri Muhiya of CERN

What do civil society leaders make of this in Kinshasa?

I put this question to Henri Muhiya of the Commission Episcopale pour les Ressources Naturelles (CERN). CERN is supported by the DRC Bishops’ Conference and promotes a sustainable use of DRC’s natural resources. Its vision is that resources are used in a way that cause the least harm to the environment and protects human dignity.

Henri greatly fears the potential damage of Trump’s proposed action. He believes that the absence of US law covering supply chains of minerals from conflict areas is likely to benefit armed groups in Eastern DRC. This will lead to an escalation of violence in the region. Armed groups exploit illegal “artensenal” mines whose workforce consist of men, women and very often children, who are driven by poverty to work in appalling conditions. Henri points out that the knock-on effect of an increase in conflict, an influx of unregulated mining, and resulting political instability creates a situation which deters new commercial investment into an already troubled region. Companies who might have previously mined in a responsible manner, opt not to invest in infrastructure for the area.

These points were echoed by other DRC-based networks who were keen to emphasise that European countries must now redouble their efforts to effectively implement the conflict mineral legislation recently approved in Brussels.

Henri Muhiya also spoke about CERN’s role in a new pan-central Africa ecclesial network for safeguarding the Congo Basin called REBAC. Modelled on an equivalent network that exists in South America for the Amazon region, REBAC builds on paragraph 38 of Laudato Si which states the imperative of preserving the Amazon and Congo regions since they are “lungs” for the planet.

REBAC’s aim is to protect the Congo Basin

With the aim of providing a platform for coordination and strength among communities belonging to various countries in central Africa, REBAC also reflects Laudato Si’s central message of the need for an integral approach to development that transcends national boundaries and interests. Henri explained that one of the present challenges for REBAC is to get Rwanda and Burundi involved in the network.

Reforming DRC’s Mining Code? CEPAS Kinshasa

The devil hides in the details, but very often he also lies low in the lack of detail. This is the situation regarding the laws and guidance governing the mining sector in DRC, which are weak and ineffective from the point of view of human rights, environmental protection and the common good. Recognising that a robust domestic legal framework is essential to bring about a fairer and more transparent mining industry, Jesuits and their partners have been involved in proposals to reform DRC’s mining laws.

Henry with CEPAS director Alain Nzadi SJ

Henry with CEPAS director Alain Nzadi SJ

The Centre d’Etudes Pour l’Action Sociale (CEPAS) is a Kinshasa-based project of the Jesuit Central Africa Province. Its basic mission is to promote integral human development through research and analysis.

By organising conferences, workshops and publications, CEPAS provides a platform for an honest exchange between civil society and DRC’s decision-makers. An example of this activity was its les journées sociales, which took place last week. This programme brought together members of various organisations, and CEPAS’s director Pére Alain Nzadi SJ welcomed Aubin Minaku, president of the State National Assembly, who gave a lecture on democracy and the public’s perception of the state.

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 13.21.39In addition to its publication of Congo-Afrique, a journal exploring economic, political and cultural topics, CEPAS produces studies and policy papers on a variety of issues. A subject CEPAS has devoted a lot of energy to over recent years is the reform of DRC’s mining laws. A decade ago, under the leadership former director Pére Ferdinand Muhigirwa SJ, CEPAS helped initiate a review of the DRC’s “Mining Code”, the corpus of laws and guidance regulating the mining sector.

Part of this work has been to scrutinise existing mining concessions by reviewing contracts with mining operators. Synthesising the outcome of research and dialogue with stakeholders, CEPAS has also put forward legislative revisions to make the Mining Code better able to respond to human rights violations, environmental protection, and a fairer distribution of revenue derived from mining projects. Most recently, in October 2016, CEPAS staff member Patrick Mavingo coordinated the publication of 12 raisons de soutenir le projet de modifiant et complément le Code minier de 2002.

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 13.29.27Sadly the legislative project to revise the Mining Code has stalled, and it is unlikely to be put before the DRC Parliament within the foreseeable future. A powerful mining lobby which profits from the currently feeble Mining Code has from the outset fiercely resisted any reform proposals. At the same time, widespread political corruption and links between politicians and mining interests have compounded an already lethargic response of the Kabila government to instigate and pursue reform. Present political instability and imminent budgetary and electoral crises have further overshadowed the mining issue on the legislative agenda.