reforming the mineral trade in the DRC
Harrison Mitchell and Nicholas Garrett have a new report out as part of the Communities and Small-Scale Mining project. The report, Beyond Conflict: Reconfiguring Approaches to the Regional Trade in Minerals from Eastern DRC, is a must-read for those of you who work in or research Congo-related diplomacy and advocacy.
As in their previous report, rather than condemning the conflict mineral trade, Mitchell and Garrett instead seek ways to legitimize and, where necessary, demilitarize the mineral trade in the eastern Congo. They note:
"We believe that the primary reason why there is insecurity in Eastern Congo is because the Congolese state is unable to control the monopoly of violence and protect its citizens. This has translated into the presence of a number of armed groups who act with impunity, high levels of violence, including sexual violence, and the militarisation of the economy, including the mineral trade. In this context, military control of the trade in minerals is another symptom of the general insecurity in the Eastern DRC, rather than the principal cause of insecurity or sexual violence as some mistakenly stipulate. The non-militarised trade in minerals in the Kasais, southern Katanga, Bandundu, and large swaths of Maniema, Ituri, and Equateur underline this point."Longtime readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that I completely agree with this observation. But that last part about non-militarized trade elsewhere in the country is an excellent point. (And one that left me hitting my head and saying "Doh!") If the presence of a mineral trade in a failed state causes militarization of that trade, which in turn causes sexual violence, why don't we see a militarized mineral trade throughout the Congo? The answer is that those other mines are in areas that enjoy much higher levels of stability. As Mitchell and Garrett point out, minerals are only a small part of the story of insecurity in the eastern Congo, and solving the mineral trade problem will only solve part of the problem. (As I'm giving a talk on conflict minerals entitled "Symptom or Cause?" in a couple of weeks, I particularly appreciate their points in this regard.)
The piece is chock-full of recommendations for policymakers and other players, so I encourage you to read it for yourself. Here are a few of their ideas that struck me as particularly original and/or helpful:
- "Rebuild administrative structures...by establishing accountability mechanisms and a retraining programme with incentive structures to end harassment of economic actors." This goes to the heart of solving two problems: the disaster that is government administration in the eastern DRC and the near impossibility of engaging in legitimate, large-scale economic activity without having to pay bribes.
- "Launch and support programmes to increase the productivity of labour and land in agriculture," including the re-invigoration of small-scale agriculture. This is key. It unfortunately depends on successful security sector reform to have a lasting impact, but if we ever figure out a way to do that, getting farming going full-scale again will do a lot to improve the regional economy and the population's health and well-being.
- "Promote investment in the reconstruction of road infrastructure and prioritise the reconstruction of roads that are important to trade, particularly in agricultural commodities." I've heard the argument that rebuilding the roads is a bad idea because doing so makes it easier for armed groups to move through the territory. This is a concern, but I think the positive benefits of being able to transport agricultural products in a timely fashion far outweigh the security risks. (It's not as though armed groups have difficulty moving about as it is.) The model for road reconstruction should be the Goma-Sake road, which was financed by German Agro-Action a few years back. The refurbishment of that road made it much easier to transport food from Masisi into the city. Given the influx of IDP's into the city and its environs, the need for easy access to food is more critical than ever. Anything that will lower transport costs for producers (and therefore market costs for consumers) would help the food insecurity situation so much.
- "Simplify and standardise cross-border trade regulations, to reduce or eliminate delays, increase predictability of costs to traders and increase revenue collection by state authorities." That pretty much sums it up. Making regional trade flow more smoothly is good for everyone who's doing legitimate business in the DRC. And getting a reliable cash flow into the state's coffers can only help, so long as there are strict, externally-monitored codes in place to guarantee that state monies are only used for legitimate state business.