After a long period of inactivity, the state-owned company that buys artisanal cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo is preparing to designate pilot mines with which it will work, its boss Eric Kalala announced on Thursday.
In 2019, the DRC created Entreprise Générale du Cobalt (EGC), which holds a monopoly on the purchase and sale of artisanal cobalt, in order to improve the working conditions of artisanal miners, known as “creuseurs”. Since then, the state-owned company has remained largely inactive.
It is estimated that more than 200,000 people are working in disastrous conditions in informal cobalt mines in the DRC, the world’s largest producer of this mineral essential for the manufacture of electric batteries, against a backdrop of accusations of child labour and corruption.
Speaking on the sidelines of a cobalt workshop in Kinshasa, EGC’s managing director told AFP that the company was studying eight pilot sites from which it could soon start sourcing.
These sites are located on concessions belonging to state-owned Congolese mining company Gécamines, in Lualaba and Haut-Katanga, two provinces in the south-east of the country. “We are in the process of analysing the mineralisation to ensure that we can use them as pilot sites”, explained Eric Kalala.
Confirmation of the designation of these sites is expected within the next few weeks, he added, explaining that the EGC would then endeavour to control access to the mines, distribute protective equipment and launch an ore traceability programme. “This is a first step”, he said.
According to EGC officials present at Thursday’s meeting, the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and delays in setting up a market regulator have contributed to the difficulties in getting the company off the ground.
Speaking before the meeting, mining activist Franck Fwamba accused politicians with interests in the informal cobalt mines. He also referred to the supposed hostility of the Minister of Mines, Antoinette N’Samba, towards EGC and its monopoly, which she considered illegal.
When contacted for comment, the minister’s office had not responded by the end of the day on Thursday.