Eyewitness: the boy Chance

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Article Published 27 Jun 2011 Last modified 11 May 2021
2 min read
Photo: © Mark Craemer
Bisie is the biggest mine in the area. It is located approximately 90 kilometres inside dense forest and reaches 100 metres underground. The mines are often little more than a hole in the ground. Dozens of men and boys crowd each mine and conditions are atrocious.

My name is Chance, I’m 16. I worked at the Bisie mine for three years. I heard that a mine had been discovered — close to where I live. I wanted to work and earn enough to build my own house. It takes so long to crawl down and up again that I sometimes stayed down there for a week before coming up. Every month people die here, when one of these holes collapses.

Chance, 16

Five years ago this place was jungle. Today as many as 20 000 people are employed carrying and mining the minerals here. They come from far away with a dream of making money. But living expenses are so high due to the informal taxes demanded by armed groups that most people can’t afford to get out again. There are hundreds of such mines all over east Congo. Bisie alone is estimated to produce minerals worth USD 70 million a year.

Once above ground, the minerals are brought to towns such as Ndjingala, Osakari and Mubi. The carriers walk the 90 kilometres in two days, bearing as much as 50 kilos each. Every day 600 carriers come out of the woods with a total of 30 tonnes of minerals.

Cassiterite from Bisie is bought by middlemen linked to exporters and international traders who sell the ore on to smelters on the open market. At the smelters, the tin is refined and sold either directly to solder manufacturers, or through international metal exchanges. Finally, tin solder is sold to manufacturers for use in the production of electronic gadgets.

"The first time I crawled down the hole — I could not stay for very long. I wasn't used to the heat, so I could only stay for two hours down there. Again and again I had to go down, work a lot and then come up again. It was very hot, and I couldn’t handle it. I ran away from Bisie mine during a massacre. But I didn't achieve my dream — so now I came back home to finish school."

The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) calls the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) one of the most important centres for biodiversity in the world. WWF says the challenge is to preserve the forests of the Congo, their species and the carbon sequestrated in the swamp forests while improving the livelihoods of the Congolese people.

This is a global challenge. In its Millennium Development Goals Report 2005, the United Nations states that ‘despite the many benefits of globalisation, nearly half the world’s 2.8 billion workers still live on less than USD 2 a day. More than 500 million of these workers subsist on half that much. It goes on to say that "reducing poverty will require more jobs and more productive employment."

The text in this section of Signals is partly based on the documentary film ‘Blood in the Mobile’, directed by Frank Piasecki Poulsen. Congo photography copyright Mark Craemer.


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