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Meet Christophe Kabwita: Rebuilding a Life on a Level Field

For five years, Christophe Kabwita has been trying to reclaim what is rightfully his while also trying to keep his family sheltered, fed, and healthy.

Like thousands of others in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kabwita has suffered huge losses at the hands of the mining companies. The DRC is among the most mineral-rich nations on Earth, but a history of corruption and irregular contracts between mining companies and the government has resulted in inequities of financial benefits and legal rights. Since 2007, The Carter Center has been advocating for reforms to ensure transparency and accountability in the mining sector, which would help people like Kabwita.

Christophe Kabwita was one of about 6,000 people whose farmland was seized by the Ruashi Mining company in 2010. For 15 years, he had worked his family's 40 acres, growing enough cassava and corn to provide for his family of 12. (Photo: The Carter Center/G. Dubourthoumieu)

His story symbolizes the human costs involved in such large-scale abuses.

Since 1995, Kabwita had been farming cassava and corn on 40 acres of land that had been in his family for years.

"The harvests from my field helped me to meet all of my family's needs: food, school fees for my children, medical expenses, and clothes," he said. "The field was my only source of income for my family's survival."

In 2003, Kabwita was earning enough to buy two small pieces of property in Washeni, a village near Lubumbashi city, where he intended to build a new house for himself and his wife, Tshisola Rachel, and their nine children, who range in age from 3 to 23.

But in 2010, the Ruashi Mining company seized Kabwita's farm without offering any compensation. Then the Chemaf (Chemical of Africa) mining company expropriated the land he owned in the village, giving him an arbitrary sum of US$400 for one parcel and nothing for the other.

Since then, every aspect of life has gotten harder for the family. Kabwita now ekes out a living making and selling charcoal. It is a tedious, environmentally destructive process that involves cutting wood in the bush, baking it in a homemade oven, and hauling it more than 50 kilometers into the city of Lubumbashi, where he rents a stall in a small market.

Since his farmland was seized in 2010, Kabwita has had to support his family by making and selling charcoal. After cutting the wood and firing it into charcoal bits, he makes a 50-kilometer bicycle trek to a market in Lubumbashi. (Photo: The Carter Center/G. Dubourthoumieu)

"Before, I always had food in abundance in the house," Kabwita said. "Now I sometimes have trouble finding food for my family.

"In addition, paying the school fees for my children has begun to weigh me down a lot," he added. "I experience the same difficulties when I have to pay for medical care if a family member falls ill."

The family's overall health has suffered in their post-farming life. Explosives used in the nearby Ruashi Mining operations have caused cracks in the walls of the house, putting them all at risk, and sometimes the plant emits a pungent smoke that makes breathing difficult.

Like any father, Kabwita dreams of a safer, healthier future for his children. The Carter Center's work in the DRC has given everybody new hope, he said.

"I would like to thank The Carter Center for the report it published in 2012 about our problems and for the way its staff worked with us during their investigative research," Kabwita said. "It was the first time that our problems were heard by all of the various government offices and courts within the country and even outside the country."

At age 55, Kabwita wants to return to farming, so he can take care of his family and rebuild their future.

Kabwita and his family watch television in their house in Lubumbashi, capital of the mining province Katanga in the Democractic Republic of the Congo. (Photo: The Carter Center/G. Dubourthoumieu)

"My hope is that both the Chemaf and Ruashi Mining companies, along with the Congolese government, can find us new areas of land as a replacement," he said, "so we can continue our normal agricultural activities."

Published Jan. 12, 2016.

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