Freeport versus the People of Fungurume

By Richard Lee | April 25th, 2012

The largest mining investment in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) should have brought jobs, economic growth and development to communities in Fungurume. But the US$2 billion invested so far into the massive copper and cobalt mine – by a consortium led by the US multinational Freeport McMoran – has brought poverty not prosperity.

Unsurprisingly, the three shareholders in Tenke Fungurume Mining (TFM) – Freeport McMoran, which is the world’s largest publicly-traded copper company; Lundin Mining; and, state-owned Gécamines – disagree and point to the hundreds of millions of dollars paid to the government, economic support for local enterprises and a raft of social development projects. But if you ask the people of Fungurume, you get a very different picture – as researchers from the Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) discovered.

Detailed in a new paper, Freeport McMoran versus the People of Fungurume, the research findings are shocking – but sadly unsurprising given the way that mining companies operate across southern Africa. The report highlights a host of ways in which TFM has failed to live up to its promises to local communities, as it continues to put profits before people, including:

  • Farmers were not adequately compensated in most cases for their lost fields and now struggle to produce decent crops on the less fertile land that TFM permits them to farm.
  • People within the 1,600 square kilometre concession have trouble collecting stone or wood for construction because everything (even natural resources like rocks and trees) belongs to TFM – “It is as if TFM has bought the minerals and people of Fungurume: we are prisoners.”
  • TFM largely employs people from outside the area, who are housed at a hostel, called Camp Bravo, ten kilometres from Fungurume town, so they add little to the local economy.
  • Not one of the 18 members of the Federation of Congolese Enterprises (FED) Fungurume, has concluded a sub-contract with TFM
  • While TFM claims to have spent US$36 million on social responsibility projects, people complain that infrastructure promises have not been kept – and it is difficult to detect TFM’s social contributions.
  • Dealings between TFM and the local population involve an almost complete lack of communication and consultation – it is like an “An elephant which passes through a village and does not pay any attention to the barking dog.”

There are also concerns about TFM’s environmental impact and about its extremely close relationship with government – illustrated by the barriers that TFM has erected on national roads, which are manned by mine security and Congolese police.

The sad fact is that TFM could be the driving force behind economic growth and sustainable development in the area. In 2010 alone, the mine produced around 115,000 tonnes of copper and 8,000 tonnes of cobalt in 2010 – and an income of nearly US$1 billion. And with reserves estimated at 119 million tonnes, the mine should be transforming the lives of everyone in the area for the better.

And it still can but only if real changes are made to the way TFM operates. In the report, SARW makes a number of critical recommendations, including that TFM must improve its consultation with the local population; close down Camp Bravo; support the emergence of a local middle class by granting sub-contracts to local operators; and, give inhabitants access to fertile agricultural land for their subsistence.

If these recommendations are adopted, TFM might finally start living up to its promises – and the people of Fungurume might finally see some benefit from the wealth that is being extracted from their land.

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