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Tragedy in crisis ridden Central African Republic

1 July, 2013Driven by desperation and poverty amidst political upheaval, workers resumed mining at a site that had been closed in 2009 after a landslide killed 16 people. The reopened site saw tragedy on 23 June when its collapse killed 52 miners.

Whilst the President of the Central African Republic (CAR) Michel Djotodia, who seized power through a coup in March 2013, declared three days of mourning for the dead miners, there are many more victims of this nation in crisis. Freedom of association has been banished and no gathering of any form is allowed under the current government.

Louis Marie Kogrengbo, General Secretary of the Democratic Organisation of Workers Union of Central Africa Republic (ODSTC), an IndustriALL affiliate, reports that rebels roam the streets of the city as well as the countryside attacking people and that not a day goes by without hearing of violent incidents. Security is the biggest issue worrying the majority of population.

CAR is dependent on cotton as its top export and then diamonds and gold mining sectors, which all face collapse. Miners earn as little as US$ 4 a day. Most of the 80,000 to 100,000 diamond miners in CAR work in artisanal and small scale mines without licenses. Their mined stones are then often sold to smugglers or exporting companies for a tiny percentage of the retail value.

The current government is reacting to international pressure, through the Kimberly Process, to eradicate blood diamonds funding conflict. The measures include establishing a new centralized clearing house and banning cash purchases. The measures however serve to put mineworkers under increased pressure of losing their job.

Many artisanal diamond miners out of desperation have switched to gold mining; prices for gold have remained more stable than that of diamonds. Illegal trade in gold is thought to be much worse than diamonds, estimated at 95 per cent of output. Thus the workers that died in the recent tragedy were no doubt driven by poverty to engage in illegal mining under perilous conditions for the black market.

IndustriALL General Secretary Raina stated:

Ending the exploitative and dangerous working conditions as well as the cycle of violence in the Central African Republic requires international action. International solidarity is needed from the labour movement to push for peace and stability for workers and to ensure that worker and trade union rights are restored.