"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


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.
You really should read the entire thing for yourself.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The doc is a great overview and orientation, but it is a pretty long wish-list they've got going in the recommendations section. All good, and true stuff, definitely. SSR, Governance, Agriculture, Credit Access, Infrastructure, Customs regularization. I would add land conflict resolution, which is a sine qua non for agricultural redevelopment or resolution to refugee/idp issues.

Basically calling for everything except humanitarian response (which is presumably also important) in the kivus. Those are definitely key ingredients, but god knows how to get them. They say this should help "focus policymakers and stakeholders" but this really doens't seem like a whole lot of focusing. It reminds me of a conference titled "What to do first, when everything is a priority?"

It also seems that these kinds of 'policy reports' focus too much on obstacles in the Kivus, or Kigali, or Washington, but Kinshasa and solving the problems of the DRC, not just the problems of the Kivus.

I might add that they are right that the problem is governance, not resources. But proving the point by comparison to other provinces is wrong. True, there are resources elsewhere in the DRC but no obvious militarization (though plenty other forms of state and political involvement, and it is one thing to militarize artisanal gold and coltan, another to militarize a Katanga copper mine). But there is a lack of governance, corrupt border officials, poor agricultural policies, unpaid security forces, lousy infrastructure everywhere in the DRC too, in many places worse. The war is in the Kivus becous of the history there, the use of intercommunity issues, and the regionaly dynamics. The system is broken everywhere, and I do worry that so many recommendations for reform come based on only looking at what is going on in two provinces.

Thursday, September 17, 2009 4:55:00 AM

Anonymous Mike said...

"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"

I've heard this view once or twice in chatting, but has anyone ever made that argument in a serious policy argument? Seems pretty flimsy to me, particularly in DRC. I guess I could imagine a few hypothetical cases, but it seems more like a strawman to me - do these anti-road people really exist?

Thursday, September 17, 2009 5:17:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Mike, I've heard it in a presentation of an academic paper - not sure it was in the paper or not. I've never seen it in print.

Anon, excellent points all around. I think it's fair to say that the authors are well aware of the issues you raise. Several of the recommendations address regional security & economic issues, putting the Kivus in the context of what's going on in Rwanda, Burundi, etc.

What I found to be helpful about the report is that there are recommendations in there that can actually be carried out in conjunction with local authorities whether Kinshasa wants to cooperate or not. Paving the roads, for example. If someone can find the funding, nobody's going to stand in the way, and it would improve the economic situation substantially. There are places in the provinces where the situation is mostly stable and it would be relatively easy to re-establish agricultural production. Are we going to see real security sector reform anytime soon? Of course not. But we might be able to find ways to feed a few more people in the nearer term. Don't forget that those fields can produce 3 harvests a year.

Thursday, September 17, 2009 7:54:00 AM

Blogger KS said...

At the risk of sounding overoptimistic, I think that highly capable independent monitoring systems overseeing large- and medium-scale mining contracts could be really revolutionary in all these regards. Kinshasa has incorporated infrastructure plans into several foreign mining contracts (Banro, for example, in South Kivu is upgrading some 150km of road in Bukavu and near the mine), and subscribers to the Voluntary Principles would transform the security situation if they actually upheld the principles. The trick seems to be keeping a corporation's eye on human rights -- something that governments, investors, and lenders aren't quite doing yet.

Thursday, September 17, 2009 11:47:00 AM

Blogger Lil said...

Thanks for link--hadn't seen the report and about to embark on related research so very interested.

Friday, September 18, 2009 1:53:00 PM


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