No one has heard the words "Darkest Africa" for many years. Much light has been shed on the continent thanks to modern exploration, technology and communications. These days little that happens, even in remote areas, escapes the attention of Westerners when they choose to pay attention.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) is no exception. Recent press reports from that country tell horrific stories. Civil war, ethnic killings, and cannibalism have all hit the news. One account told of a mother who ran from the rebels only to find her daughters dismembered and the troops roasting and dining on their severed limbs. Can there be a worse fate for one's children? Today's local paper reports that humanitarian aid workers were beaten and raped in the town of Bunia.
The DRC is the third largest African country, located in the centre of the continent. The Congo River lies mostly within its borders, but it has only the tiniest access, a 37-km coastline, to the South Atlantic Ocean. Despite a wealth of natural resources, the economy of the DRC has been going downhill since the mid-1980s. The decline is due in part to the rise of AIDS in Africa. The disease is killing the workforce, both the women (who grow the food) and the men (who mine the diamonds, copper and zinc or manufacture textiles, footwear, cigarettes, food and beverages). As the economic pie shrinks, competition for what remains is fierce. Civil war broke out in August 1998, and business has turned its back on the DRC due to the war, corruption, raging inflation, legal uncertainly, and lack of infrastructure. With a generation of lawlessness and a lack of education or family support, the people of the DRC are behaving in a predictable way.
One part of my brain says "Stay away" from the mess. Investing in the DRC is a good way to lose every cent spent. I wouldn't even begin to think of traveling there for any reason.
But another part of my brain, the more rational part, is reminded that the DRC is enduring a tragedy that will not be helped if the rest of the world abandons the country. Help would be welcomed from all sectorsforeign and Africanon the road toward human rights and good governance.
Is there a role in Africa for Canadian mining companies? Certainly.
Many Canadian miners are interested in the mineral wealth of the DRC. Granted, it is risky to invest in such an unstable country, but Canadian miners are risk-takers. They don't take risks blindly, however, and there is at least one association that could provide the framework for a win-win development. It is the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), an umbrella organization dedicated to bridging the gaps between African countries and the developed world. Working with African leaders, the United Nations and commercial sponsors, NEPAD aims to both to advance and sustain human rights and to develop and support the economies of African countries. It is also pledged to end conflicts such as the one in DRC. It is an example of Africans with the positive attitude and sustainable initiatives that could bring prosperity to their continent.
Canadian miners are good corporate citizens; they support best environmental practices, equality in hiring and wages, market access, reasonable taxation, and the highest human rights standards. Sounds like there would be a good fit between them and NEPAD for the benefit of all.