A dangerous bet: The challenges of formalizing artisanal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Among policy-makers and governments, there is a broad consensus that artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) needs to be ‘formalized’ – embodied in a standardized legal framework that is registered in and governed by a central state system-, the basic condition being that artisanal miners are given formal property rights. This article aims to contribute to this discussion, drawing on a case study from the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where it is estimated that up to 90 percent of mineral production and export is ‘informal’. After having pointed out some of the theoretical assumptions behind the formalization canon, we study the challenges of formalizing the mining sector in the DRC. Next, we provide an in-depth analysis of one concrete policy measure of the Congolese government, the temporary ban on all artisanal activities. We argue that the mining ban was not only a radical example of a top-down formalization policy, but also an illustration of a bureaucratic and technical measure that compounds but does not address different problems associated with ASM: conflict, informality, poverty, illegality, state control. Looking at the empirical evidence from the DRC, we argue that these kinds of technical solutions can never address the broader socio-economic and political issues at stake.
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