Armed with New Skills, a Congolese Activist Defends the Rights of Mining-Affected Communities

January 2014

Makelele Nabale is a Congolese teacher who lives in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), an area rich in mineral resources. Makelele says that when he was growing up, the residents of his village and surrounding villages relied on agriculture and artisanal mining to sustain their families. At that time, he says, communities were able to live off of, and in harmony with, the land they occupied for generations, feeding their families and possessing property, including animals and small houses.

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The ABA Rule of Law Initiative organized a series of trainings to empower local leaders to better advocate for their communities. 

Over the past decade, mining companies have taken an interest in the region’s mineral wealth and gradually established a larger footprint in Makelele’s village. This brought about challenges for local populations, as the environment began to be impacted adversely by mining activities. Many were dispossessed of their crops and land, sometimes without fair compensation, while others were resettled to other communities. Community members who publicly challenged the negative consequences were being arrested. Eventually, Makelele and other advocates realized that limited governmental oversight and poor legislative standards would make addressing these challenges difficult, especially since foreign interest in the region’s mineral wealth had already begun sparking intra-community conflict. Community consultation processes created opportunities for individual chiefs and elders to advanced their own self-interests—rather than facilitating an inclusive process—when negotiating with mining companies. 

Makelele says that initially he had hoped that the advent of industrial mining would foster social and economic development, create jobs for locals and ultimately help combat poverty in surrounding communities. After experiencing firsthand the projects’ adverse effects on his community, however, he sought opportunities to voice his concerns before company representatives and local government officials. It was not an easy task. Makelele says, “I lacked the knowledge necessary to better understand my rights and did not feel that I was well equipped to discuss or negotiate with the company.” He adds that his limited understanding of his and his community’s rights made it difficult for him to convince company representatives to address community concerns. The meetings, he says, “were usually vague and ended with false promises.”

In May 2013, Makelele, along with 20 community members from the eastern DRC, participated in a series of trainings the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) organized to empower local leaders to better advocate for their communities. The workshops focused on the rights of mining-affected communities under Congolese law as well as international standards. Discussions emphasized the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food and water; the right to land; the right to development; and the right to participation and information. ABA ROLI also trained community leaders to recognize and document human rights violations, and to lobby government agencies and mining companies for their communities’ human rights and sustainable development needs.

Makelele says that the trainings have helped him to start a more comprehensive dialogue with the mining company. “Since the trainings, I’ve been invited by company representatives to discuss the issues affecting my community. I believe that the company has finally realized the importance of working in collaboration with the community, rather than against it.”

Makelele says that the trainings have provided him with the “vision of a hound dog,” and that he will continue to utilize his newly acquired skills to identify human rights violations and to address them.

To learn more about our work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org

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