Mining & Business Magazine : You attended the first one. You’re still here for the 15th. Can you remind us how this all started?
Simon Tuma Waku : 15 years may seem like a lot, but I remember it as if it was yesterday... The first contact with Spintelligent, the organizers, in Cape Town, then the first infrastructure conference in Kinshasa. For the first ten years, the DRC Mining Week was held for two days in Kinshasa and then continued for two days in Lubumbashi. All in the same week. Then Lubumbashi won after about ten years. First because it is the heart of mining in the country, and moving people was quite complicated and ultimately not very useful. In addition, the stands had been in Lubumbashi since the first edition. L
M&B : Things have changed very quickly, haven’t they?
STW : Yes, we had about 500 people in the first year, and we are now at over 3000. We went from less than 100 stands to more than 300... The event took on a real dimension, it’s a bit like our Mining Indaba. The international dimension is booming thanks to the real attraction of the DRC at the moment. We started three years ago with the South African pavilion, which came back the following year with the Zimbabweans, and this year we have 5. Let’s bet that very soon, we’ll have 10, even more!
M&B : Is Karavia large enough to contain a DRC MW that is growing at this rate?
STW : It is true that a logistical problem may arise. The Pullman Karavia hotel has lent us its space so far, but we have to think bigger...
I talked about it with the Governor yesterday... In front of the Karavia, there is a whole space that could contain a large conference centre, it would allow the event to grow, it is very important! During a trip to Antananarivo, I was impressed by a conference centre that cost less than $10 million... Some mining companies even had an office there. We have to think about doing something like that, but adapted to the DRC, to the city of Lubumbashi.
M&B : Two years ago, there was a split in the CEF. A call was made during the DRC MW for the G7 to return to the table. What do you think and what are the issues?
STW : When there is change, there is always resistance to change. It’s human nature, there’s nothing we can do about it. When the renegotiation of the new mining code began, there was some resistance to change. The real question is why the country is still so poor after almost 60 years of independence... With the 2002 mining code, we have attracted investors who have invested billions. But have we reduced this poverty? The best lawyer for mining companies is the local community. As long as this local community does not feel involved, does not participate in the project, you will have problems. I am thinking in particular of the invasion of the sites by diggers and the communities that are rebelling. The mining code was changed to try to improve the lives of Congolese people, and therefore of local communities.
M&B : Let’s go back to the split....
STW : Some, as major investors, wanted to express their disagreement by splitting up. But I think it’s a failure. The new President is towing the same line as the former President and wants to maintain this reform programme so that the average Congolese can benefit from the natural resources of his soil and subsoil. During this call for union at DRC Mining Week, it was mentioned in particular that mining companies must invest in infrastructure, buildings, with much more energy! The miners are not building, they have not invested in this infrastructure. To be able to demand that they build in the province where they operate, and no longer just rent prefabricated buildings, is one of the reforms of the new code. They must show their commitment to Congo, show that they are investing in the long term.
M&B : The discussion at the DRC MW also focused on the Chinese “case”. Can you tell us more about it?
STW : Yes, we did mention this case, as you say, because many think they are a separate group. I do not think so. There is a culture shock, which arises between us, and which does not arise with Europeans. Chinese investors control between 70% and 80% of copper and cobalt production, so it is important that they are with us to solve the challenges we face together. We found that they too feel a little repelled when we think they are avoiding us! Trying to be together, to talk to each other across language barriers is important. The Chamber of Mines goes in this direction and is located as a unifying force. Especially since the problems generally encountered by the Chinese are not really different from the problems encountered by others!
Interview by O. Loury