"The foreigner has big eyes, but does not see".
local authority, April 2022, Kalemie
In some of the world’s most remote villages, farmers are asking questions about the changing seasons. They observe the rains becoming scarcer or more frequent and temperatures getting higher. Meanwhile, in the world’s wealthy metropoles policymakers and business leaders claim humanity is transitioning to ‘green energy’. Observers say that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and its resources can be part of the solution to a global climate crisis.
Perhaps that's the good news.
In the territory of Manono, Tanganyika province in the southern DRC, vast deposits - an estimated 400 million tonnes - of lithium are being explored. Lithium is integral to the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries, an essential energy storage source within the green transition and part of an end to the global reliance on fossil fuels. Companies and individuals are rushing to Manono in search of its lithium.
The bad news, according to our research, is that much of the local population is not sufficiently informed about the potential environmental and social impacts that the forthcoming lithium mining may have on their town, their livelihoods and their families.
Many of the Manonois, that’s the name used by local people to describe themselves, appear not to have been supplied with much of the legally required information on lithium extractions' potential environmental impacts and what its extraction could mean for the community.
Manono has long been known for its subsoil. Manono city was established by Belgian settlers in the 1940s. Its tin ores, in particular cassiterite, have been mined in the region since the start of the 20th century. People say that any Congolese secondary school pupil knows of the territory and its abundant tin riches. During our visit to Manono in May the local people told us the territorial capital takes its name from a hill called Kaulu-minono (the sharp stone in Kiluba).
We spent three weeks in Manono in May 2022. Some locals we met described that during the colonial epoch the Belgian colonist’s mining company, Geomines, improved the region’s social and economic situation. According to them, Geomines’ employees were entitled to free health care and a food ration at weekends. They recalled how those in charge through that time planted mango trees throughout Manono town and constructed public buildings, including a cathedral. After colonisation ended, Geomines changed its name to Zaire Etain before becoming Congo Etain under Laurent Désiré Kabila and the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaïre (AFDL).
With the war of the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD), known locally as the war of aggression, industrial mining activities stopped and the RCD rebels exported the coltan stockpiled during the exploitation of cassiterite. Industrial mining ground to a halt and the then largely unemployed locals resorted to artisanal mining. Today, Manono’s local economy is largely dependent on artisanal extraction, according to the observations made over nearly one month of field research.
Over the last 15 years, other private sector companies have arrived in Manono, obtaining research permits to explore for lithium in the area and creating new joint ventures with state-owned companies to mine for it.
Manono’s population told us they are eagerly awaiting the start of lithium mining and the rehabilitation of the nearby Mpiana Mwanga hydro dam, which companies and politicians say will supply the region and eventual mines with electricity. Manonois told us that they hope lithium mining will fund the rehabilitation and construction of medical institutions, such as the general hospital, and the construction and renovation of primary and secondary schools in the area, as well as the region’s roads and water supply.
Right now it takes two weeks for a truck to travel just 100 kilometres from Manono to Kyolo, a town to the south where the relatively maintained road starts. The same is true for vehicles leaving Manono to Kalemie, in the northeast. And, despite being next to large natural bodies of water, the city of Manono is cruelly lacking water that is safe to consume. Citizens have two options to access water, by drilling wells or by travelling five kilometers out of town to a spring. But even these sources don't supply safe water, according to local residents. Almost all households rely on this dirty water and the risk of water-borne diseases is high.
Manono’s lithium is raising the community's hopes and expectations about improved standards of living and development in their town. There seems to be a serious failure by politicians with a duty to their constituents and the companies who are legally obliged to communicate with the population, to explain in detail what is happening at the town. Very few people in the area seem to know who is doing what, who is who and on whose behalf the different actors are working.
Local civil society told us that the time has come for Manono’s citizens to be informed in a clear and unambiguous way. Manonoais must be given truthful and accessible information in languages they can read, so that they can have an unequivocal understanding of the project and its impacts on their future. Only then can they, in our opinion, ground their expectations and formalise the demands and circumstances under which Manono’s lithium can or cannot be extracted.
The actors hoping to profit financially from Manono’s lithium must meet and preferably go beyond, the requirements of social and environmental responsibility enshrined in Congolese law. This should begin by making environmental and social impact studies undertaken by AVZ Minerals Limited and Tantalex Lithium Resources Corporation available to the general public. A legal requirement, a small step towards fostering and improving relations between all stakeholders and a moral duty to the local populations of Manono whose lives and environments are at stake.
It is our hope that mining projects will contribute to the development of the communities affected, taking into account their demands, priorities and well-being. It is our view that the first beneficiaries of lithium extraction in Manono should be the people living around and affected by the project, the people of Manono, and the DRC.
A local said to us during our time in Manono, "the foreigner has big eyes but does not see". We hope that this webpage provides at least a small platform for some of the views of the people of Manono.
This project has been supported by
© The Lithium Diaries 2023