Oh, my word.
I heard that Keith Olbermann sang "Plastic Jesus" on Countdown last night, so I clicked over to YouTube. And this is what I saw.
Sweet land. How on earth does having the kids make YouTube videos about "the link between our cell phones and the violence in Congo" in hopes of winning a trip to Los Angeles help anyone?
I've already written about my view that the war in Congo is not primarily a resource war, but is rather a complex conflict that at this point is driven primarily by longstanding conflicts over land tenure rights and citizenship issues. While access to the minerals is one problem, it is but one among many, and it is certainly not the engine driving violence there.
Clearly the folks at Enough disagree with my assessment. That's fine. We all recognize that the situation in Congo is multifacted and requires a response on multiple levels.
What's not fine, however, is oversimplifying the nature of the situation to advocates, as this campaign is now doing. The act of buying a cell phone does not cause war in the Congo, and it's downright misleading to suggest otherwise. Why? Because it implies that if we could just stop the conflict mineral trade, the situation would markedly improve.
That could not be further from the truth. Ending the conflict mineral trade will do nothing to address the complete breakdown in governance that makes it possible for armed militias to terrorize local populations. Ending the conflict mineral trade will not end the culture of corruption and debrouillez-vous that defines Congolese life from top to bottom. Nor will it rebuild the justice system, reform the security sector, or rebuild the border security regime. Ending the conflict mineral trade will not settle any questions regarding the citizenship status of Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese civilians. Nor will it settle the fights over who owns the plantations and smaller plots of land in Masisi.
Most of these problems predate the 1996-2003 wars, which is when the fights to control the mines began. These old issues are not going to go away just because some kid in Peoria makes a spiffy video about coltan.
I respect what Raise Hope for Congo and the Enough Project are trying to do by drawing attention to the Congo conflict. There should be a concerted effort among people of good will to pressure the United States government to take the Congo conflict seriously.
But simplifying a very complex situation by calling it a consumer-driven resource war does a great disservice to those they are trying to help. And I fear it will have very little impact.