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Democratic Republic of Congo

Goma gets a makeshift makeover for mining conference

5 min

When Goma was chosen to host the second edition of the Conference on Transparency in Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, authorities decided that the city needed a quick-fix makeover. But three days after the conference ended, residents are resigned to the fact that the “repairs” were only temporary.

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Goma's streets were subject to slapdash repairs in the days leading up to an international conference on mining in the DRC. Charly Kasereka/Goma

 

When Goma was chosen to host the second edition of the Conference on Transparency in Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, authorities decided that the city needed a quick-fix makeover. But three days after the conference ended, residents are resigned to the fact that the “repairs” were only temporary.

 

A rough recent history- including poverty, war and natural disaster- has taken its toll on Goma, the capital of the troubled but resource-rich province of North Kivu. Infrastructure is poor.

 

Our Observers in Goma reported that the local and regional government paid for a series of stopgap repairs. Everything needed to be done for the March 24 arrival of the roughly 800 delegates set to discuss the need for transparency in the mining sector.

 

A week before the conference, authorities hastily smoothed over potholes with sand and repainted buildings, including those at Goma University. Our Observers say the city saw the same hustle of provisional repairs for DRC President Joseph Kabila’s visit to Goma three months ago. Those patches have already worn thin.

 

Potholes speckled Goma's roads in the days before quick repairs made for the conference on transparency in the mining sector. Charly Kasereka/Goma
Potholes speckled Goma's roads in the days before quick repairs made for the conference on transparency in the mining sector. Charly Kasereka/Goma

 

The buildings and streets weren’t the only aspects of the city cleaned up. While Goma suffers frequent power cuts, one of our Observers, journalist Charly Kasereka, reported that there were no interruptions in water or electricity during the 48 hours of the conference. Yet as soon as the conference ended and the delegates left, residents were treated to the resumption of the “normal rhythm” of power cuts.

 

“People understand that it is always like this,” Kasereka said. “The repairs are just done to make the authorities happy, they aren’t for the local population. “

 

Some Goma residents found the use of local funds for this most recent clean-up incongruous, especially considering the conference’s aim was to find ways to use resources from mining in the region to benefit local people.

 

Authorities in Goma paid for makeshift repairs before the beginning of this conference on mining. Charly Kasereka/Goma
Authorities in Goma paid for makeshift repairs before the beginning of this conference on mining. Charly Kasereka/Goma

 

The conference itself took place in the freshly redone Cap Kivu Hotel, which our Observers said was finished rapidly under government pressure. The hotel also housed the conference VIPS, including DRC Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo. Ponyo expressed the government’s desire to improve conditions for local people by improving transparency in the management of natural resources.

 

Authorities pressured the owner of the Cap Kivu Hotel to finish renovations in time for the mining conference. Charly Kasereka/Goma
Authorities pressured the owner of the Cap Kivu Hotel to finish renovations in time for the mining conference. Charly Kasereka/Goma

 

According to one of our Observers, Pascal Mulegwa, the reaction of the local population to the conference was mixed.

 

“People found it was hypocritical that much-needed work in Goma only takes place when visitors come,” he said. “On the other hand, they were happy that the conference took place in Goma and felt that maybe it was a sign that the authorities in Kinshasa care about us. To have this kind of event in Goma really is extraordinary.”

 

But while the conference brought hope for inclusion in the wider debate about use of local resources, it also left some locals feeling excluded. An international Twitter debate broke out when it emerged that the government had hired a Rwandan bus company to ferry attendees to events, instead of using a local company. Local vendors were cleared from the main street.

Local vendors were prevented from selling their wares on the main street of Goma during the week on the conference on mining practice. Charly Kasereka/Goma
Local vendors were prevented from selling their wares on the main street of Goma during the week on the conference on mining practice. Charly Kasereka/Goma

 

Mulegwa also said that local journalists were not given accreditation for the conference. They had to watch the live broadcast of the conference on local television, while journalists who had travelled to Goma from Kinshasa were allowed to attend the event.

 

Our Observer Charly Kasereka said he spent the entire day Sunday trying to get an accreditation to no avail. Indeed, neither of our Observers, both local journalists, obtained accreditation.

 

“After the conference, everyone on social media was asking if any concrete changes had taken place in Goma. But local journalists like me didn’t attend the transparency conference, we have no idea what happened there,” Kasereka said.

Post written with Brenna Daldorph.

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