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Calling out corruption to root out poverty

The Congo Mission Network and its partners are thrilled with the results of advocacy work designed to reduce corruption

by Douglas Tilton | Mission Crossroads

In the southeastern province of Haut-Katanga, the Likasi congregation of the Presbyterian Church in Congo is embedded in a community affected by mining. (Photo by Christi Boyd)

Members of the Congo Mission Network (CMN), through relationships with Congolese partners, have witnessed the harm caused by corruption in the mining industry and were among those outraged by the reversal of U.S. sanctions on Dan Gertler, an international businessman with ties to former senior Congolese officials. Gertler has amassed hundreds of millions of dollars through opaque and corrupt mining and oil deals in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The DRC supplies more than 60% of the world’s cobalt and 8% of its copper, both vital to the production of electric cars and electronic devices. Minerals should be a huge source of wealth for Congo, but widespread corruption means that as little as 6% of annual mining export revenue actually makes it into the national treasury.

In 2006, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation invested in a mine in southern DRC with three stipulations: the mine owners improve working standards, provide community facilities and halt pollution of a nearby river.

Three years later, the DRC government revoked the mine’s license, putting 700 people out of work and leaving 32,000 residents without access to health care or clean water. The mining concession was subsequently sold for a fraction of its value to Gertler, who resold it at enormous profit. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Gertler in 2017, calling him a “corrupt actor” whose deals had robbed the DRC government of at least $1.36 billion in revenues — an amount that a 2014 Global Witness report termed equivalent to twice the country’s health and education budgets combined.

On Jan. 15, 2021, however, after aggressive lobbying by Gertler, the U.S. Treasury Department quietly unfroze Gertler’s assets in U.S. institutions and granted him a limited license to resume business with U.S. banks and companies. International human rights and anti-corruption organizations sounded an alarm.

As active CMN participants, the Advocacy Team at Lafayette- Orinda Presbyterian Church in California’s Bay Area, was quick to draft a letter to incoming Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on behalf of the network. They wrote:

“Enforced U.S. sanctions provide a measure of accountability for transparency in contracts and help reduce the rampant corruption that contributes to immense suffering in the region. … This recent departure from settled U.S. policy must be undone for the sake of the people of the DRC.”

Members of the network were thrilled when, three weeks later, Gertler’s license was revoked by the administration, saying, “The United States stands firmly with our partners in the DRC to counter malign behavior that undermines the country’s institutions and economic opportunities.”

The Congo Mission Network’s bold action, in alliance with many other voices, demonstrates the importance of advocacy in combatting systems that impoverish people.

Douglas Tilton is regional liaison for Southern Africa.

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