Friday, November 26, 2021

Who supplied the weaponry

The 12-month-long civil war in Ethiopia involve the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, the Eritrean Defense Forces, the Amhara Special Forces, and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front.

Who provided their weapons?

 China and Russia, two permanent members of the UN Security Council, have been identified as the primary arms suppliers to Ethiopia.

“The time when the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) almost solely relied on aging Soviet armament, mixed in with some of their more modern Russian brethrens, is long gone.”

“Over the past decade, Ethiopia has diversified its arms imports to include a number of other sources that presently include nations such as China, Germany, Ukraine and Belarus”.

Arguably more surprising is the presence of countries like Israel and the UAE in this list, which have supplied Ethiopia with a number of specialised weapon systems, according to a Blog posting in Oryx.

Alexandra Kuimova, Researcher, Arms Transfers Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS in terms of volume (measured in SIPRI’s TIVs), Russia and Ukraine were the largest supplies of major arms to Ethiopia over the last two decades, accounting for 50 per cent and 33 per cent of Ethiopia’s imports in 2001-2020, respectively.

Deliveries from Russia included an estimated 18 second-hand combat helicopters and combat aircraft transferred to Ethiopia between 2003-2004.

The most recent deliveries included an estimated four 96K9 Pantsyr-S1 mobile air defence systems imported by Ethiopia in 2019. Deliveries from Ukraine included an estimated 215 second-hand T-72B tanks received by Ethiopia between 2011-2015.

She said there are also European states transferring major arms to Ethiopia since 2001. For example, Hungary supplied 12 second-hand Mi-24V/Mi-35 combat helicopters to Ethiopia in 2013. French Bastion vehicles delivered to the state in 2016 were financed by the US. Deliveries from Germany included 6 trainer aircraft in 2019.

Stephen Zunes, a professor of Politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council, told IPS: “The perception of such conflicts as being simply an African problem ignores the fact that much of the killing would not be possible were it not for Western arms sent to the combatants.”

In most civil wars, however, small arms and light weapons were critically important, and were often backed up by major conventional weapons.

Since 2011, China has emerged as one of the largest arms suppliers to Ethiopia. Some of the known deliveries from China included a single HQ-64 air defence system delivered in 2013 and 4 PHL-03 300mm self-propelled multiple rocket launchers received by Ethiopia in 2018-2019.

Ethiopia also imported about 30 armoured personnel carriers from China between 2012 and 2014, said Kuimova.

Other media reports have provided information on the presence of Chinese Wing Loong and Iranian Mohajer-6 drones in Ethiopia. In addition, several media outlets claim that Turkey is negotiating arms deals on selling an identified number of Bayraktar TB-2 armed drones to Ethiopia.

Meanwhile, in one of the world’s worse conflict zones, namely Yemen, the air attacks are mostly by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, equipped with arms primarily from the US and UK, two permanent members of the Security Council.

According to SIPRIs Kuimova, there is not much known about transfers of major arms to Eritrea. She said it appears that the country has not received any major weapons since 2009 when the UN arms embargo on Eritrea came into force. The embargo was lifted in 2018, however, no deliveries of major arms have been documented since then.

Between 2001-2007, Eritrea’s imports of major arms included two second-hand modernized S-125-2T air defence systems supplied by Belarus in 2005. Bulgaria supplied 120 second-hand T-55 tanks in 2005. Between 2001-2004 Russia delivered 4 combat aircraft to Eritrea, and an estimated 80 Kornet-E anti-tank missiles between 2001 and 2005. Deliveries from Ukraine included 2 second-hand combat aircraft.

“We are currently collecting, analyzing and verifying open-source information on deliveries of major arms to both Ethiopia and Eritrea over the last year,” she said.

But lack of transparency in armaments in the cases of both importer states and exporters make it difficult to determine the order and delivery dates and the exact numbers and types of weapons transferred over the last years.

For example, Ethiopia has not been submitting reports on its imports of arms to the UN Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA), the main UN transparency instrument on conventional weapons, since 1997.

And China, one of the largest exporters to Ethiopia over the last decade, does not appear to have reported to UNROCA, information about its arms transfers to Ethiopia.

 Ethiopia’s Civil War Fueled by Weapons from UN’s Big Powers | Inter Press Service (

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Empty homes in Nigeria

 Property developers in Nigeria have been rushing to build homes over the past decade, as a fast-growing population and a surge in migration from rural areas to the cities puts a squeeze on the country's housing supply.

But the mix of massive demand, high construction costs and poor market research by developers has resulted in a wave of new two- and three-bedroom houses that few people in Nigeria need or can afford, housing experts, say.

40% of Nigeria's estimated 206 million people live below the country's poverty line of 137,430 naira per year. But even professionals looking to work and live in the cities are forced to sleep in slums and other unsafe places like bus stops, petrol stations or unregistered accommodation while they wait to find somewhere they can afford to live. 

John Olugbemi, spokesperson for MFF Housing, which builds affordable housing for mid-to-low income earners, said the high interest on the commercial loans that many developers tap into makes it impossible for them to sell at a loss. "Instead, they prefer to leave their houses empty until they can get people to buy them at the price that would help them repay their loans and make a profit," he said.

Post: Edit (

Saturday, November 20, 2021

The Somalia's Drought

 Somalia’s “rapidly worsening” drought has left more than two million people facing severe food and water shortages, the United Nations has warned.

Somalia’s Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management Khadija Diriye warned that families could starve to death as they lose their livestock and slide deeper into poverty.

“I am particularly worried about children, women, the elderly and disabled people who continue to bear the brunt of Somalia’s humanitarian crisis,” she said.

The Juba and Shabelle river levels are low and are expected to decrease further in the coming months. Most berkads – small water reservoirs – and shallow wells have dried up, leaving the communities to rely on boreholes which are far apart and often have low yields and poor quality water.

Crop failure is expected in most agricultural areas. Drought conditions are forecast to worsen in December 2021 and the first quarter of 2022.

The Horn of Africa is now “on the verge of a fourth consecutive failed rainfall season”, according to a joint statement by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Somali government.

“About 2.3 million people in 57 of 74 districts – nearly 20 per cent of the population in the affected districts – are ravaged by serious water, food and pasture shortages as water pans and boreholes have dried up,” the statement said, adding that climate change was one of the main drivers.

More than 80 percent of Somalia is estimated to be experiencing severe drought conditions.

The dire situation has already forced an estimated 100,000 people to flee their homes in search of food, water and pasture for their livestock.

Somalia has experienced more than 30 climate-related hazards since 1990, including 12 droughts and 19 floods.

“The frequency and severity of climate-related hazards is increasing,” the statement said.

UN sounds alarm on Somalia’s ‘rapidly worsening’ drought (

Congo Corruption

 Companies owned by family and friends of former Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila had millions of dollars of public funds funnelled through their bank accounts, according to Africa's biggest data leak. The money was transferred to the companies' accounts at the Congolese arm of the BGFI bank.

Millions of dollars in cash were then taken out of the accounts. Kabila was president at the time of the bank transfers.

The managing director of BGFI's DR Congo subsidiary, BGFI Banque RDC, from 2012 to 2018 was Francis Selemani, Joseph Kabila's foster-brother.

Kabila's sister, Gloria Mteyu, owned 40% of BGFI's DR Congo operation, which was set up in 2010.

One privately owned company, Sud Oil, was shown to have received nearly $86m in public funds from November 2013 to August 2017.

These include at least $46m from the DR Congo banking regulator, BCC, $15m from the state mining company Gécamines, and $1.3m from the country's electoral body, Ceni.

The only information the BBC found from the leak concerning these payments was an invoice for just over $1m from Ceni to Sud Oil for petroleum products.

The BBC found no evidence Sud Oil was trading in petroleum products at the time.

Mr Selemani's wife, Aneth Lutale, owned 80% of Sud Oil and Mrs Mteyu owned the remaining 20% from 2013 to 2018.

Millions of dollars were transferred out of Sud Oil's BGFI accounts to other private companies' BGFI accounts. Some of these were owned by relatives or business associates of Mr Kabila, who was president from 2001-2019.

One of these companies, Kwanza Capital, was majority-owned by Congolese businessman Pascal Kinduelo, with Sud Oil taking a minority stake.  Kinduelo was chair of BGFI Bank RDC at the time. Kinduelo was also a former owner of Sud Oil, before transferring ownership.

The investigation found the bank allowed many high-value cash withdrawals from Sud Oil accounts, including one for $6 million. By law a maximum of $10,000 is allowed to be withdrawn in cash per day. This limit can only be breached for specific, documented purposes, such as national emergency or defence reasons.

BBC Africa Eye found no evidence in the leak that correct procedures were followed in these instances. These cash withdrawals from Sud Oil accounts totalled at least $50 million covering a four-year period.

 Once the money was withdrawn, it is believed to have become untraceable.

Sud Oil, for the period 2013 to 2018, had one employee, managing director David Ezekiel, and a small office in the capital Kinshasa as its address. In October 2013 Sud Oil purchased a real estate complex in the capital for $12m, basing the company there. It also had a contract with BGFI Banque RDC to provide new vehicles to several of its senior management, including Selemani. It charged $70,000 to provide his four-wheel-drive car.

BBC  found no evidence of any other business activities.

An internal BGFI audit, completed in July 2018, heavily criticising the bank's DR Congo operation. The audit was never meant to be made public.

It gave a score of "very high risk" for the DR Congo subsidiary. It also referenced a lack of integrity and transparency in the declaration of conflicts of interest and compliance in its operations with clients.

The audit named Mr Selemani as having at least 16 declared conflicts of interest, including links to private companies holding accounts at the bank. It also highlighted several high-value transactions by Sud Oil.

Two weeks after the report was complete, Mr Selemani was moved to a new role at BGFI's head office in Gabon. He reportedly received $1.4m on leaving BGFI Banque RDC. He is reported to have left BGFI in November 2018.

Sud Oil changed ownership in 2018 and Kwanza Capital was closed down the same year. Mrs Mteyu is understood to have given up her 40% stake in BGFI Banque RDC.

DR Congo data leak: Millions transferred to Joseph Kabila allies - BBC News

Friday, November 19, 2021

DRC deep in a dire crisis

  According to a new Integrated Food Security Phase Classification IPC report, a record 27 million Congolese – roughly a quarter of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC’s) population – are facing hunger, with 860,000 children under five acutely malnourished. The DRC is home to more starving people than any other country in the world. This could have been prevented.

In 2017, 7.7 million people were on the verge. Then the UN said the crisis was on the scale of Syria and Yemen

Earlier this year, the World Food Programme said 22 million Congolese were close to starvation, surpassing Yemen to become the world’s biggest and fastest-deteriorating food crisis. 

In a little more than nine months, an additional 5 million Congolese have become food insecure.

For the first time, there are similar levels of hunger in towns and cities as remote rural areas.

Food prices spiral upwards and poverty deepens in a country where the most recent figures show 73% of the population live on less than $1.90 (£1.40) a day, creating food insecurity and pushing a country already on the edge of crisis, off the cliff.

The forecast remains bleak through 2022 – suggesting that the worst is yet to come.

Conflict has pushed things close to breaking point; with more than 40 local and foreign militia gangs fighting for control of minerals that make mobile phones and “green’” cars.

 The problem has worsened since Tshisekedi took office in 2019 because not only has he refused to take action against the war criminals responsible for the violence and the displacement of more than 5.5 million Congolese people, which fuels the hunger, he has promoted them.

Tshisekedi has rewarded and promoted army officers under UN, US and EU sanctions for human rights violations including Gen Gabriel Amisi – who a 2012 UN report accused of running a network supplying arms to rebel groups – and Gen Muhindo Akili Mundos, under UN sanctions for his part in organising and carrying out civilian massacres. According to a 2015 UN report, not a single individual under Akili has been prosecuted for civilian deaths.

Tshisekedi has promoted other known human rights violators labelled the “red generals” by senior UN officials, including Fall Sikabwe Asinda, Thierry Ilunga Kibambi and Egide Ngoy. In August, Tshisekedi appointed another former rebel leader Tommy Tambwe. Less than three months later, Tambwe’s militia gang M23 attacked Bukavu.

 How can you protect civilians from violence if the very men who caused it are in power?

This culture of impunity fuels insecurity and violence, which forces people off their land, closes markets, leads to loss of jobs and income and school dropouts. 

Every day this goes on, more and more Congolese are killed, raped, displaced and pushed into poverty. The last mortality report published by the International Rescue Committee was in 2008 and placed the death toll at more than 5.4 million, since 1998, with 45,000 dying every month due to the violence, disease and famine that follow it.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization is asking for $65m (£48m) to help 1.1 million of the most vulnerable Congolese who cannot survive without food assistance, including mothers who are too malnourished to breastfeed their babies.

So far only $4.5m (£3.3m) has been raised, leaving countless men, women and children facing desperate choices: should they join one of the many militia gangs to access their land so they don’t starve – compounding the violence – or become displaced, walking vast distances in search of security?

As millions face famine #CongoIsStarving is calling on Joe Biden to help | Vava Tampa | The Guardian

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Will The Gambia Be Under Water?

 The Gambia is a small strip of low-lying land in west Africa along both banks of the river from which it takes its name. As one of the world’s poorest and least-developed countries, it is suffering the effects of a climate crisis it did very little to cause. On an island jutting out into the Atlantic, less than a metre above sea level, Banjul, its capital city, is particularly exposed.

In a worst-case scenario, envisaged by experts in a 2020 survey, global heating of 4.5C above pre-industrial levels could mean a sea level rise of between 0.6 and 1.3 metres by 2100. That would be enough to inundate most or all of Banjul.

Many experts fear the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s forecast of a 1.1-metre rise is optimistic. In either scenario, one thing is clear: the city is in serious jeopardy. As signposts by the road state: “There is no planet B. Protect Banjul.”

 Nfamara Dampha, a Gambian research consultant at the World Bank, wants plans drawn up to move the country’s administrative capital away from the coast. “The option of having an administrative capital elsewhere is imperative, in my opinion.” Dampha believes that, with the National Assembly, central bank, biggest hospital, seaport and many schools, the city is too big – in administrative terms – to be allowed to fail. “It’s a capital asset of the country,” he says. “If it falls or is severely impacted, the economy will be on the verge of collapse.”

Floods, sewage and crocodiles: the crisis of the Gambia’s sinking city | Global development | The Guardian

Monday, November 15, 2021


2021 marks the centenary of the discovery of insulin

In Africa, more than 19 million people are living with diabetes and this number is expected to grow to 47 million by 2025.

About two-thirds of people living with diabetes in African countries are unaware of their condition. 

Premature death among people with diabetes is still high in many African countries, because of late diagnosis and a lack of access to insulin.

In Ghana it would take the average worker more than five days of earnings to save up for a monthly supply of insulin.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

The End of the Great Green Wall?

 The Great Green Wall began in 2007.  The project was ambitious. African countries aimed to plant trees in a nearly 5,000-mile line spanning the entire continent, creating a natural barrier to hold back the Sahara Desert as climate change swept the sands south, a vision for the trees to extend like a belt across the vast Sahel region, from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, by 2030. 

But as temperatures rose and rainfall diminished, millions of the planted trees died. Only 4% of the Great Green Wall’s original goal has been met, and an estimated $43 billion would be needed to achieve the rest. African Development Bank President Akinwumi A. Adesina spoke about the importance of stopping desertification in the Sahel during the COP26 global climate conference. He announced a commitment from the bank to mobilize $6.5 billion toward the Great Green Wall by 2025.

With prospects for completing the barrier fade, organizers have shifted their focus from planting a wall of trees to trying smaller, more durable projects to stop desertification, including community-based efforts designed to improve lives and help the most vulnerable agriculture. The programs focus on restoring the environment and reviving economic activity in Sahel villages, projects that are likely to rebuild the environment, fix the dunes and also help protect the vegetable-growing areas.

The newest projects in Senegal are circular gardens known in the Wolof language as “tolou keur.” They feature a variety of trees that are planted strategically so that the larger ones protect the more vulnerable. The gardens’ curving rows hold moringa, sage, papaya and mango trees that are resistant to dry climates. They are planted so their roots grow inward to improve water retention in the plot. Solar energy helps provide electricity for irrigation.

Africa's 'Great Green Wall' shifts focus to hold off desert (

COP26 Closes

 "We will witness instability in rainfall, disease spreading, sea-level rise and floods. One other effect of climate change is to send Africans further and further to seek water. This brings them into conflicts with other Africans. We will face wars on African soil that are not created in Africa." These were the words of Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, the former chairperson of the Africa Group at the United Nations on climate change.

The Climate Crisis is forcing people to migrate, leave their homes and occupation. Climate change threatens to cause one of the biggest refugee crises of all time.  It's being observed in Africa. Migration as a result of climate change is not isolated to the southern parts of Africa. The Horn of Africa and Sahel regions have experienced among the worst climate change-induced famines, forcing people to seek refuge in other countries. Millions have been affected. Experts say poverty, failing ecosystems, vulnerability to natural hazards and gradual environmental changes have always been linked to migration. The effects of warming and drying in some regions will reduce agricultural potential and undermine the provision of clean water and the availability of fertile soil. The increase in extreme weather events such as heavy rains and resulting flash or river floods in tropical regions will affect even more people and generate mass displacement.  A sea-level rise will permanently destroy extensive and highly productive low-lying coastal areas that are home to millions of people who will have to relocate permanently. Its main impacts are escalating humanitarian crises, rapid urbanization and associated slum growth, and stalled development.

Africa has made a commitment to speak with one voice at the ongoing climate change negotiations because disunity could leave the continent exposed to manipulation which would leave the continent prone to climate change-induced effects of migration and conflicts, which have the capacity to destabilize. 

Africa has an abundance of renewable energy sources which, if fully harnessed, could boost power generation in the region. According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), the continent has the potential to become a "gold mine" for renewable energy due to the abundant solar and wind resources that are now hugely sought after by international investors in their quest for clean energy. Africa is slowly turning to renewable energy sources such as solar, hydro and wind - which are less polluting to the environment compared to other forms such as coal. African farmers are making changes to their crop and livestock varieties that are more variable and tolerate extreme conditions. 

It is a start and demonstrates the possible potential for the future - but we all understand that the hurdle is always capitalism and the need to make profits. For a real change for the better, we need socialism

Friday, November 12, 2021

Cleaning up a Slum

 Mukuru was one of the vast, sprawling informal settlements in Nairobi. Mukuru was originally allocated by the Kenyan government to politicians and owners of businesses in the 1980s and 1990s to develop light industries within a two-year period. Failure to do so would see the grantees lose their claims to the land. As years passed without any development, slum landlords descended on the vacant land and built unregulated structures for rent. Mukuru eventually grew to nearly 10% of Nairobi’s population, all living in squalor. Residents have lived under the shadow of eviction by those originally given the land. Those who had settled on land set aside for public utilities such as roads, railways and power lines have fought endless legal battles with authorities trying to bring some form of order, while others have died when the land flooded. People in Mukuru also have to deal with cartels controlling basic services such as toilets and rubbish disposal.  Insecure land tenure, where close to 94% of people are tenants, has led to poor planning and hence lack of basic services.

Living in a slum is expensive. The little money each household had was being gobbled up by cartels. The 2,000 shillings each household paid as monthly rent amounted to more than 180m shillings [£1.2m], yet those collecting this cash paid no taxes. The cartels were charging exorbitant fees for water and sanitation services, while endangering people’s lives through illegal electricity connections. report found slum dwellers faced a “poverty penalty”, paying more for basic services than those in richer suburbs. Mukuru households pay 45%-142% more in their electricity bills than residents enjoying formal [mains connection]. The poverty penalty for water is especially crippling as slum dwellers usually consume less water, at lower quality, but at higher costs than residents with formal provision. Residents pay 172% more per cubic metre of water than rates paid by residents living in formal areas.

The place is cleaner and healthier now thanks to the Akiba Mashinani Trust (AMT), a fund that raises capital for slum improvement projects. Njoroge has been working for the past 10 years on a masterplan for Mukuru. Thousands have benefited from a community-based programme to upgrade one of Africa’s biggest informal settlements and whose success will be used to transform similar slums in Kenya and beyond. The  project follows consultations with more than 40 organisations led by the Muungano Alliance, an umbrella body driving reforms in Kenya’s informal settlements, and including universities, civil societies, the private sector and Nairobi county government. The goal is to make the slum a “healthy, functional city neighbourhood”.

Community involvement in improving the sprawling 243-hectare (600 acre) slum was the key. A resident was chosen to represent groups of households and thousands of people were asked for their views; 250 community mobilisers were engaged to raise awareness of the project. Residents were trained to collect data – a huge task given the size of Mukuru, which has a population generally estimated to be at least 400,000. Every latrine, water tap and electricity pole in the settlement was mapped. 

The government has approved the construction of 13,000 new houses in Mukuru, the first social housing project in Kenya. So far, half of the 52km [32 miles] of roads earmarked for Mukuru have been completed, and residents are already benefiting from a couple of new hospitals that offer 24-hour medical services. 

Mukuru is the first informal settlement in Africa to be declared a special planning area (SPA), with the Kenyan government hoping to replicate this model in other slums such as Kibera, Mathare, Korogocho and Kawangware. Mukuru’s upgrading programme has attracted attention in other countries across Africa, including Zambia, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Ghana.

Jesse DeMaria-Kinney, the of the Adaptation Research Alliance, a group of nearly 100 organisations helping vulnerable communities says: “Bringing slum dwellers into the research and policy aspects can ensure that outcomes are appropriate, desirable, actionable and lead to improvements in their lives,”

This shows that the task of lifting people out of the slums of the megacities is doable and achievable. 

South Africa, Climate Change and Coal



South Africa is the world’s seventh-largest coal producer.

80 percent of the country’s energy is generated by it. 

30 percent of South Africa’s production is exported, making the country the fourth-largest coal exporter in the world.

South Africa is the 12th-biggest carbon dioxide emitter in the world.

Mineral and Energy Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe previously described giving up coal as “economic suicide” and a threat to South Africa’s energy security. 

He delivered the keynote speech at a local mining investment conference while the envoys were still in the country, and called for “investment in technology that could potentially prolong the use of coal”. Mantashe has always argued that South Africa does not have the necessary economic might and vast sovereign funds to abandon coal investment to meet the “green economy” demands of rich nations.

South Africa’s four biggest banks are refusing to turn off coal financing, at least in the short term. 

The country’s influential trade unions are also publicly campaigning to stop any move away from coal and towards sustainable energy resources with the coal industry providing the country with 80,000 coal jobs at a time where South Africa already suffers an unemployment crisis

In September, the global benchmark coal price reached $177.50 per tonne.

South Africa’s government has seen this rise in coal prices as an economic lifeline.

What South Africa wants is a clear promise from the rich nations, who are primarily responsible for the climate change emergency, to fund – in full – the country’s recovery from its coal dependency.

South Africa was also putting forward the points of view of many nations that believe they should have their turn in benefitting from their coal reserves despite the climate crisis. For example, Zimbabwe is planning to open new coal mines in the near future to meet its energy needs and, eventually, become a coal exporter.

South Africa’s Environment Minister Barbara Creecy insists that rich nations need to do to pay more than $750bn a year to help these countries reliant upon income from coal to switch to sustainable energy resources without collapsing their economies.

South Africa’s stubbornness on coal paid off at COP26 – at least partially. The US, UK, France, Germany and the EU agreed to pay $8.5bn to help end the country’s reliance on the coal mining industry. 

But there are many other nations expecting to receive such funding before they curtail their coal supplies.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Oil - Nigeria's Resource Curse


Abundant oil assets that should have brought wealth and stability but instead led to corruption and poverty.

In Nigeria, oil has not been a blessing. Weak institutions of state and poor governance in managing the vast revenues have led the country to fail to realise its full potential in a textbook example of what academics know as the “resource curse”.

Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa, the sixth-largest global exporter and holds the tenth-largest proven oil reserve in the world. 

Full article at

A wealth of sorrow: why Nigeria’s abundant oil reserves are really a curse | Global development | The Guardian

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Slave and Master

Cobalt is one of the world’s most sought-after minerals because it is a key ingredient in the batteries that power most electric vehicles (EVs).  Global sales of passenger EVs – excluding hybrids – are expected to soar from 3.3m in 2021 to 66m in 2040. The volume of sales of cobalt into the sector will rise four or fivefold over the coming decade. The World Bank estimates that demand for cobalt production will increase 585% by 2050.

"Pierre" works in Fungurume, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s southern mining belt. His basic wage is the equivalent of £2.60 ($3.50) a day, but if he works through lunch and puts in hours of overtime, he can make up to about £3.70. Not that lunch is worth waiting for: he claims he is given just two small bread rolls and a carton of juice. If he takes a day off, money is deducted from his wages. If he is sick and misses more than two days in a month, more money is cut. “You can’t even argue. If you do, you’ll be fired,”

Pierre explains, "The mine makes so much and we make so little,” he says. “The relationship between us and the mine is like a slave and a master.”

The harsh and dangerous working conditions endured by miners in the DRC’s informal, or artisanal, cobalt mines – of child labour and miners being buried alive as tunnels cave in – have provoked an international outcry in recent years, forcing the western technology and automotive brands that rely on the mineral to look for ways to source “clean” cobalt, free from human rights abuses. Some companies in the cobalt supply chain have promised to stop sourcing from artisanal mines and instead get the mineral from large-scale industrial mines, which are seen as a safer option both for workers and corporate reputations. 

Pierre is not working at an artisanal mine, however. He is employed, via a subcontractor, at Tenke Fungurume mine (TFM), one of the country’s biggest industrial mines, which is 80% owned by the Chinese company China Molybdenum(CMOC).

Some workers are often employed through subcontractors, allege they are victims of severe exploitation, including wages as low as 30p an hour, precarious employment with no contracts, and paltry food rations. In a number of mines run by Chinese companies, workers made allegations of discrimination and racism reminiscent of the colonial era.

Kolwezi is the DRC’s cobalt capital, a city so defined by mining that some communities sit on the rim of the giant craters that have been excavated in search of copper and cobalt. It is mining on a massive scale, highly mechanised and dependent on cutting-edge technology but powered by thousands of workers – more than 10,000 at TFM – who, like Pierre, are employed as mineral processors, drivers, mechanics, welders, security guards and general workers.In the last 15 years, Chinese companies have begun to enter the mining business, buying out North American and European companies so that they now control the majority of the cobalt and copper mines in southern DRC. And with this change, Congolese workers say, has come abuse, discrimination and racism. They say they are insulted, in some cases beaten, and claim they are paid less than Chinese workers who do the same job. They allege that Chinese supervisors disregard their experience and put production before safety. One Congolese worker at TFM described sitting through a two-hour meeting in Chinese, only to be given a two-minute translation at the end. Almost 70% at TFM, for example – are hired through sub-contractors. The use of subcontractors can leave workers in an extremely precarious position: often hired on short-term contracts, or no contract at all, with limited benefits, low pay and the threat of termination always hanging over them.

Josué Kashal, a lawyer for Centre d’Aide Juridico-Judiciaire, a local organisation that represents miners, says the use of subcontractors can lead to the big mines being able to avoid accountability. Kashal claims are more than 50 subcontractors that have been used by the Kamoto Copper Company (KCC) mine, which is owned by the Swiss commodities and mining giant Glencore.

“Glencore is using many subcontracted workers, so employees depend on the subcontractor, not Glencore. This way they don’t have responsibility and can end a contract at any time,” says Kashal. While some workers said they hoped to get hired directly by KCC, saying it offered better wages than other mines, 44% of KCC’s workers are employed through sub-contractors. 

Congo Dongfang International Mining (CDM) mine and refinery workers say they are employed for as little as £88 a month. “Payslips” seen by the Guardian were written only in Chinese on a pencil-thin strip of paper. CDM is wholly owned by Huayou Cobalt, a Chinese conglomerate with interests in every step of the cobalt supply chain, from mining to cathode production. Renault and Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, name CDM among their suppliers.

A report launched today by UK-based corporate watchdog Raid and Congolese lawyers from the Centre d’Aide Juridico-Judiciaire, says many multinational mining companies – and the subcontractors they hire – create poorly paid jobs that keep workers in poverty. Workers said they deeply resented the way they were treated, but felt powerless to protest. “It’s a shocking situation, but I can’t leave the job because there is no other choice,” says one. “Where can I get another job?”

“Cobalt is an essential mineral for the green transition, but we must not turn away from the abusive labour conditions that taint the lithium-ion batteries needed for millions of electric vehicles,” said Raid director Anneke Van Woudenberg

 ‘Like slave and master’: DRC miners toil for 30p an hour to fuel electric cars | Africa | The Guardian