Renowned for its mining potential and looking to diversify away from its reliance on copper, the DRC offers a phenomenal variety of exploitable minerals: more than 1,000 in fact. This wealth, as regulated by the mining code produced by the government, has made this sector a real engine of economic growth. General Manager Athanase Mwamba explains how Cominiere holds 30 exploration permits and is actively looking for partners to tap into this wealth of opportunity.
What can you say about the importance and the contribution of the mining sector as a base for development? By taking into account the drastic reduction in copper prices, to what extent is diversification necessary?
Above all, it is important to know that Cominiere is a company born in 2010; in other words it is only six years old. It is 90% owned by the Congolese government and 10% by the National Social Security Institute. The company has around 30 subsidiaries. We were initially headquartered in the northern part of the ex-Katanga province. We developed our network through partnerships because Cominiere is not state-subsidized, although the state is the major shareholder. It granted us multiple licenses, inviting us to look for serious partners that have the financial and technical capacities to exploit, which we did.
First, we began with five plots: respectively no. 12202 located in Manono, nos. 12203, 12204 and 12205 in Malembankulu, and no. 12206 in the Kalémie neighborhood, in Northern Katanga.
Thanks to the #12202 quarry, we signed a first partnership with GTZ, then more recently with MMCS. MMCS developed pilot factories in Manono, therefore different studies were held in order to analyze possible profitability of a permanent deployment. We are still waiting on the results.
As for other exploitations (#12203, #12204, #12205 and #12206), we organized a partnership with MMR, a company, managed by Indians, located near Malembankulu, where a new factory is in development.
As for diversification, it is a topic of interest to everyone, starting with the government, as exclusively depending on copper at the moment it is not sensible. We know that counting only on one resource is extremely risky. DRC relied too long on copper, and unfortunately we now feel its impact: the country is suffering. Therefore, our business sector is trying hard to diversify ore production. So in Northern Katanga, tin, coltan, lithium, formite, and various rare earth minerals are being extracted. We are naturally in search of serious investors to accompany us through this diversification.
By diversifying our production, we show to the world that Congo is not only synonymous with copper. We have more than 1,000 various exploitable minerals. Today, steel costs more than $15,000 per ton while copper is only $6,000 for the same weight. We also have big quantities of ethanal, an even more precious ore, of which still remain big quantities to take advantage. If foreign investors wish to settle down in DRC, they can turn to Cominiere. Aside from copper and cobalt, we have a very large variety of other minerals. By diversifying our production, we can diversify our country’s resources in order to not rely solely on copper.
What are the main obstacles, except the one just quoted, slowing down the development of this sector? What answers do the sector’s companies find to these major challenges?
DRC underwent a long phase of violent conflicts. These conflicts left destruction in their wake, from which mining and road infrastructures suffered. To deal with these difficulties, Cominiere possesses the Nkialamwana dam, with a 30MW capacity, built in the 30s during the colonization era by the state-owned Gecamines.
During the war, Rwanda’s army destroyed everything. We are, at the moment, in search of investors who can help us to rehabilitate this power plant.
Also in Manono, a photovoltaic power plant is under construction, however it will mainly be used for domestic needs. It will help run small installations that will meet the population’s need for drinking water.
Finally, roads are widely unusable, especially in rainy season: almost a month would be necessary to travel all 600 kilometers joining Manono to Lubumbashi. The government has invested in road rehabilitation throughout the country, but much remains to be done.
What are you able to tell us about transparency efforts within this sector? What measures were taken, and how did they affect the Congolese mining sector?
The transparency efforts are easily observable in our country and have allowed for a reduction in fraud. Everything is now perfectly tracked and controlled from extraction through to sales. Thanks to EITI, progress is clearly visible.
Could you tell us more about Cominiere’s development strategy for the coming years? What should we expect?
In 2015, our strategy mainly focused on the transformation of RP (research perimeters) into EP (exploited perimeters). We concentrated on the #12457 section near Mitoba. It is a strategic zone because it has ore with high content and value.
The most complex aspect here is to pass into the exploitation phase. Fortunately, we were accompanied by a company in this transformation process. A clause had been agreed beforehand so that this actor in particular had the priority. This is the way we set up a lease contract on which Cominiere and the CHIOMAF company agreed on equipment and the start of the initial phase of production.
Similarly, and still in 2015, together with MMCS based in Manono we created the company Manomine. With this structure we have deployed a pilot plant conducting experiments for which we are still awaiting the results. We are advancing quickly because we want to begin exploitation.
As for 2016, we are pursuing exactly the same policy when it comes to partnerships, having proved successful, inviting partners to help us move from the RP to EP stages.
You've made it clear that, in such projects, the establishment of partnerships is essential. Could you tell us what your requirements are for this type of collaboration?
We wish to have partners who have the financial and technical capacity to properly accompany us. The state gave us such a multitude of mining fields without having the means to exploit them. It is for this reason that we use partnerships. We still have 30 fields to exploit.
What is the importance of human capital in your operations?
Human resources remain the focal point of all development. The success of any business is based on the quality of its staff. We have six years of existence in this sector, but we are working hard to succeed. We were able, in record time, to locally train staff, despite our lack of means. We'll focus even more on staff training once we have the sufficient means.
One cannot talk about the mining sector without referring to its social and environmental impact. Many companies consider themselves to be responsible by establishing important social policies. How is Cominiere a responsible company and what are you doing to improve the lives of the surrounding communities?
As you know, mining is a polluting activity and the Congolese mining code has devoted many articles to address this issue. At Cominiere we follow point by point the rules of the mining code. Taking into account the environmental impact, we have conducted studies in the different locations in which we do business. We even met with various traditional village-chiefs to explain the merits of these studies. Some nearby rivers sustain these populations, so this was taken into account.
Regarding the social aspect, we created public fountains at Manono that people use, because unfortunately after the war, such facilities were not in working order. We also rehabilitated several buildings including a large one now serving as a reception center for most delegations meeting at Manono.
Finally, Cominiere is in discussion with SNEL (the national electricity operator) for the installation of a photovoltaic plant that will benefit local population. Where Cominiere operates, on one hand it is in charge of developing mine-related activities, and on the other making real progress in the daily lives of these people.
What message would you like to send to readers?
Cominiere holds 30 exploration permits and is actively looking for investors. Our door is open and they are welcome to help us develop together this part of the country devastated by war. The population remains in wait to see this happen.