Contributed by Zambia Social Forum (ZAMSOF), with Filipino Climate Justice Advocate and Volunteer Clarise Barrion as co-writer.

The global transition towards clean energy and decarbonization has spurred increased demand for battery technologies and electric mobility services. Investments on critical mineral resources are scaling up as continents and countries race to secure these raw material inputs needed to manufacture battery-powered products. Africa’s abundant natural resource endowments makes it a central figure in this new context, with its extensive reserves of minerals essential to ‘energy transition’ and industrialization. 

A framework agreement between the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) was recently ratified involving the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia in order to accelerate the production of critical minerals for the so-called green technologies. This gears toward the development of a regional value chain that is expected to enhance Africa’s economic competitiveness in alignment with the shift to renewable energy systems. The DRC and Zambia are focal to this agreement, as they are the main producers of cobalt and copper which are key minerals in manufacturing lithium-ion batteries and electric vehicles (EVs).  

This agreement is expected to increase copper production by 275%, reaching 3 million tonnes per year from the current annual production of 800,000 tonnes to meet the project’s demand. However, in a report, Zambia’s Minister of Finance, Dr. Situmbeko Musokotwane, expressed concerns about the challenging nature of meeting such expectations. ZAMSOF community monitoring indicates that the target will have an anticipated impact on a total of 4,493 households. The affected households include 2,493 in Kankoyo, 400 in Kamukolwe, and 1,600 in Butondo.

The DRC produces approximately 67-70% of the global supply on cobalt, with a portion of around 10-30% extracted from artisanal and small-scale mining, while Zambia has the 7th largest reserves of copper, contributing to 70% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. The extraction of these minerals are, however, embroiled with human rights issues that have profoundly displaced and dispossessed Congolese and Zambian miners and locals.

In a report from Amnesty International and a partner DRC- based organization (the Initiative pour la Bonne Gouvernance et les Droits Humains or IBGDH), records of grievous abuses and exploitation were revealed to have been taking place as multinational companies expand energy transition mines to extract cobalt and copper. Communities and farmlands were destroyed as mass evictions swept locals without proper and adequate settlement. Child labor, sexual assault, and many incidents of violence are also widespread and pronounced in mining sites, exacerbated by the impunity of perpetrators. 

In response to these, Congolese organizations and rights groups like the IBGDH have since called for the end to the spikes of violence in mining areas. IBGDH conducted interviews with 133 people from the Kolwezi area, which exposed how Congolese neighborhoods are becoming “collateral damage of energy transition mining”. Civil society organizations, as documented by Cirhigiri (2023) in his work on community resistance in the Wamuzimu Chieftaincy in Eastern Congo, have also been crucial players in the efforts to pressure local leaders to regulate mining practices, with regard particularly to Chinese operations for the extraction of their rising raw material needs. 

Mining in Zambia, spanning a century, has severe impacts, with former miners facing high Tuberculosis rates due to Silicosis from inhaling toxic silica in the Copper ore. Despite an Acid plant’s emission reduction, current sulfur dioxide inhalation worsens due to acid use in modern mining. Acid rain damages homes and roofing sheets. Petitions to declare Kankoyo a disaster area for relocation are contentious. Livelihoods suffer as the soil becomes unsuitable for farming, forcing people to travel for arable land. Water and air are unsafe for human consumption, urging support for the Polluter Pay Principle as advocated by ZAMSOF.

Further to this, mining operations continue to impact thousands of Zambians and children with irreversible health effects due to polluted water and soil from mine wastes that run-off to streams and waterways. In an investigation from Swedwatch, it was found that community workers and leaders have been directly involved in addressing the poor working and living conditions that persist in mining sites in Zambia. Recent responses include engagement with the Zambian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Multistakeholder Group for recommended improvements with extractive governance, and the specification of measures for a humane green energy revolution through the work of Publish What You Pay (PWYP) Zambia, a coalition of more than 50 civil society organizations from all the country’s 10 regions. 

For ZAMSOF, the Movement Building is gaining momentum in the Mufulira District community and the broader Copperbelt Province. Following extensive meetings, stakeholders, and civic leaders have collectively renewed their commitment to advancing Climate Adaptation efforts. The focus is on fostering collaboration to encourage policymakers to embrace energy transition, creating a civic space for government engagement, advocating for sustainable agricultural practices, and promoting knowledge and mindset change within local communities. This community movement sets the tone for ongoing advocacy against environmental losses and damages, underscoring the significance of local financing as a key solution. The aim is to achieve an equitable and just energy transition through people-powered climate action.

References: 

Actionaid. (2021). Joint CSO Statement on the 2021 Zambia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (ZEITI) Report and Mining Governance. https://zambia.actionaid.org/publications/2023/joint-cso-statement-2021-zambia-extractive-industries-transparency-initiative

Africa Natural Resources Management and Investment Center (ANRC). 2022. Approach Paper to Guide Preparation of an African Green Minerals Strategy. African Development Bank. Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. https://www.afdb.org/sites/default/files/documents/publications/approach_paper_towards_preparation_of_an_african_green_minerals_strategy.pdf

Amnesty International. (2023). POWERING CHANGE OR BUSINESS AS USUAL? https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/AFR62/7010/2023/en/

Center for Strategic and International Studies. (2023). The U.S.-Zambia-DRC Agreement on EV Batteries Production: What Comes Next? https://www.csis.org/analysis/us-zambia-drc-agreement-ev-batteries-production-what-comes-next

Cirhigiri, C. (2023). Environmental Accountability of Extractive Industries and Community Resistance in the Wamuzimu Chieftaincy in Eastern Congo. https://digitalcommons.csbsju.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1161&context=social_encounters 

Human Rights Watch. (2022). Child Labor and Human Rights Violations in the Mining Industry of the Democratic Republic of Congo. https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/07/14/child-labor-and-human-rights-violations-mining-industry-democratic-republic-congo

International Trade Administration. (2022). Zambia – Country Commercial Guide. https://www.trade.gov/country-commercial-guides/zambia-mining-and-minerals-0

Jakobsson, L. (2022). COPPER WITH A COST Human rights and environmental risks in the mineral supply chains of ICT: A case study from Zambia. Swedwatch. https://swedwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/94_Zambia_190429_enkelsidor.pdf

Mumba, K. (2023) Press Statement on Signing of Framework Agreement. Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry. https://www.mcti.gov.zm/mcti22/?p=5974

Publish What You Pay. (2023). Wanted: a common vision for transition minerals extraction in Africa. https://www.pwyp.org/pwyp-news/wanted-a-common-vision-for-transition-minerals-extraction-in-africa/

Rustad, Østby, and Nordås. (2016). Artisanal mining, conflict, and sexual violence in Eastern DRC. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214790X16300107?via%3Dihub

Shapiro, R. (2019). “Shattered Future: Sexual Violence and Child Exploitation in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.” https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/26870404.pdf?refreqid=fastly-default%3Aa3988d86a14a073de35e84e25ff8ec54&ab_segments=&origin=&initiator=&acceptTC=1

United States Government Accountability Office.  (2022). Overall peace and Security in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo Has Not Improved since 2014. https://www.gao.gov/assets/730/722854.pdf

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