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


“Conflict Minerals” in Ituri

Today I'm pleased to present a guest post from Dan Fahey. Dan is a consultant and grad student at UC-Berkeley who researches the mineral trade in North Kivu and Ituri. Here, he focuses on some of the misconceptions about the mineral trade in the region that have dominated the advocacy debate on this issue:

The Ituri District in northeastern Congo is well known for two main reasons: conflict and minerals. The war in Ituri, which lasted more or less from 1999-2007, caused the deaths of approximately 60,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more. The minerals in Ituri are mainly gold, and during the war various armed groups sustained themselves in part through gold revenues. That’s the bad news.

The good news is the war in Ituri is over. There are still some rebels in the bush in southern Ituri, but most of the district is in a fragile state of peace, including the main gold mining area around Mongbwalu. Many rebels put down their guns, picked up shovels, and now eke out a living producing gold.

The trade in Ituri’s gold has shifted since the war ended. Approximately ten major traders, all of who are Congolese, now dominate the gold trade. Most of these businessmen also have a variety of other commercial interests including hotels, gas stations, and trade in consumer products. Most of these traders also illegally export their gold to Kampala, Uganda, or take it directly to Dubai or China, where they trade gold for consumer goods that they later sell in Congo. But they are investing some of their riches in developing towns like Bunia and Butembo, which is a positive sign.

There has been a lot of talk lately about “conflict minerals” in Congo. Advocacy groups like the Enough Project have raised and spent large sums of money creating the impression that wherever there are mines in Congo, there is war and sexual violence. They have done this through the complicity of naïve journalists (see here), and through their own deceptive work, on display this week.

Yet putting aside concerns about Enough’s spending and motivations, you have to give them credit for getting Congress to pass the “Conflict Minerals Act.” The merits and drawbacks of this legislation have been discussed elsewhere, but my point here is threefold.

First, I want to call attention to the fact that large parts of Congo where minerals are produced are at peace. This includes the Ituri District. The working conditions for miners are extremely difficult and often dangerous, but in most of Congo’s mineral-producing areas, local and international businessmen control the mines and the trade, not armed groups. Enough seems to have mistakenly inferred that the few mines its researchers have visited in the Kivus are representative of the Congo as a whole. They raise money by creating the impression that the entire country is still at war, but it’s just not true.

Second, just as UN sanctions merely shifted and did not stop the flow of minerals from Congo, so too the US legislation is unlikely to have any impact on the ground in Congo. Congo is not a major global producer of “The 3 Ts and Gold” that Enough has focused on. According to the USGS, Congo produces approximately 0.6% of the world’s tungsten, 3.8% of the world’s tin, 0.1% of the world’s niobium (columbium), 8.6% of the world’s tantalum, and 0.4% of the world’s gold. Thus, it is easy for the producers of electronics destined for the USA to obtain their “conflict minerals” from other sources. The conflict minerals will continue to flow out Congo at the same rate as they always have, only their destination may change, e.g. to China or India.

Third, the entire notion that Congo’s wars can be stopped through legislation in Washington, DC is incredibly misguided. Ultimately, the Congolese people are going to save their own country. I know many Congolese who are working tirelessly, with little or no money, to end war in the Kivus and reform the minerals trade in Congo. Their efforts are far more important for the future of Congo than the self-serving efforts of Beltway Bandits like the Enough Project.


Anonymous fatou2002 said...

Great and very clear post. Appreciated by an uninformed reader like me. Thank you for posting.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010 7:42:00 AM

Anonymous PDX Pete said...

"First, I want to call attention to the fact that large parts of Congo where minerals are produced are at peace."

1. I hope this is true. What is your metric? How will I, as an American sitting at home, know if things change? Wars end, how will we know when this one is over?

2. How can we get away from this arithmetic: 5 million people have died in the Congo War, so that means 5,000 people died yesterday.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010 10:12:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Pete, that Ituri is at peace is widely accepted. There are occasional flare-ups in southern Ituri, but the war there ended 3 years ago. Most of the current violence takes place in rural areas of North Kivu. Like most of the violence that's occurred in the region since the end of major hostilities in 2002, it's usually low-intensity fighting around key roads, and, therefore, in the towns and villages that are near those roads.

The vast majority of the 5 million people who've died did not die of battle-related deaths. They died of malnutrition, disease, exposure to the elements, and other completely preventable causes. I'd argue that rebuilding institutions - particularly through security sector reform, so that the police and army are capable of and willing to act in the public interest - is the key to getting things under control so that people can remain in their homes, grow their crops, and, hopefully, find some prosperity.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010 10:25:00 AM

Anonymous BCT said...

This is really helpful information, thanks for posting!

One question: the estimates coming from the US government about the minerals Congo produces - how accurate are those? When we know much of Congo's mineral wealth is smuggled out through Rwanda and Uganda (or stolen, as it were), how can we trust such figures?

Also, your recent comment on security sector reform raises some major flags for me. As someone who campaigns against US military spending in Africa, I think it is risky to highlight such institutional reforms. We ought to be strengthening education and health sectors, infrastructure, etc. before giving training and military hardware. Without credible democratic systems already in place in Congo, trained security forces are likely to use their training in negative ways or to defect to rebel forces (examples from Somalia: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/28/somalia-soldiers-defect-alqaida, http://www.ethiomedia.com/absolute/3573.html) Additionally, much of this training is provided by private security contractors such as Xe/Blackwater and Pacific Architects and Engineers who are not accountable to American or African governments.

I do not disagree on principle that security is needed, I just think AFRICOM will do the bidding on that one - we need to be pushing for assistance in areas that will create long-term, sustainable human security.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010 1:07:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

To PDX Pete (et al): Dan Fahey, the author of this post, is a long time friend of mine. He has spent a lot of time on the ground in the Congo region over the past few years, admidst conditions at times that one might describe as miserable. His reporting on the subject is based upon personal knowledge acquired while there, through interviews and visits to sites within the region. He takes his research seriously and would not report information he knows to be erroneous.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010 4:23:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

BCT, restoring basic public order is a prerequisite for every other reform you've described. There's no way to do that without SSR. When we talk about SSR in Congo, we're talking about incredibly basic reforms like paying soldiers regular salaries on which they can actually live, getting them under civilian command structures, and teaching the army to act in the public, rather than the commanders' personal interest. It's hard for me to see how anyone could oppose that.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010 4:31:00 PM

Anonymous Sasha Lezhnev, Enough Project said...

Pity to see your comment in such a personal attack, Dan, especially from a friend. Interesting points you raise but not very accurate or relevant. The personal attacks aside,

a) Ituri minerals are indeed largely non-conflict and can be a potential model for a legitimate, conflict-free trade, as certification moves forward. Good point, and we've never disagreed.
b) The UN Group of Experts, not our "naive" research team, stated in May 2010 that the overwhelming majority of mines in the Kivus are controlled by armed groups.
c) Setting the standards by which companies procure minerals is critical to ensuring transparency and that they do not buy from conflict mines. That's the key behind the bill and our efforts with companies.
d) The future of Congo is indeed up to the Congolese. But Congo doesn't live in a vacuum, far from it. Their minerals aren't bought by Congolese, they're sold on the global market. So the global market needs to weigh in positively, instead of negatively, to influence the trade. The U.S. as the world's superpower and a major player in Africa can have a significant influence in Congo as well. If we work hard, we can make that influence positive, in a number of directions.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010 5:39:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Sasha, I'd love to see a response from you or someone else involved in this effort on the points on which the vast majority of academic experts on the DRC and you guys clearly disagree, namely:

-the overstatement of the importance of DRC minerals on global markets
-the overstatement of the likely impact this legislation will have on violence in the Kivus, given the myriad of other funding sources available to armed groups in the region
-the lack of functioning institutions capable of enforcing the steps required to ensure that the minerals are "conflict-free"
-the fact that producers are likely to shift their sales to other markets

Wednesday, August 04, 2010 7:26:00 PM

Anonymous Sara Rich said...

Dan Fahey, Thank you thank you thank you for writing this. I lived in Kinshasa for three years and recently moved to Goma. No one can deny that Congo faces a lot of challenges, but I do get tired of hearing so many "reports" that make big sweeping overstatements about violence and security. Also, I think this is the first post regarding Congo that I've EVER read that acknowledges the fact that in the end, it's the Congolese people who will manage their own dilemma the best. There are too many big expat organizations that claim to have a big solution and don't even seem to realize that inherently they're sending a message to the world that Congolese are incapable. I find this very frustrating.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010 9:48:00 PM

Anonymous Scott said...


On point 1, the legislation clearly recognizes that mining is not driving conflict in all parts of the country. If you disagree with the campaign's portrayal of the conflict, then you need to specify your complaint is with the campaign and not the legislation.

Point 2 requires further clarification. You say that because the DRC minerals are a small part of the overall market, it will be easy for companies to shift elsewhere. This doesn't make a ton of sense, since the legislation doesn't require companies to leave the DRC. But maybe you think the legislation will be hard to comply with, so companies won't source from the DRC, in which case producers have to find different export markets. In any case, the important fact here is not the relative size of these minerals to the global market, but the relative size of the companies purchasing the minerals to the DRC traders. If big clients will be lost by not being certified as conflict free, and that will create costs for the producers, then presumably this would be an incentive to be certified as conflict free. You then argue that the materials will go elsewhere, like China and India. But you need to make a further point, which is that the companies in China and India will not have to comply with the legislation. My reading of the legislation is that this is not going to only apply to U.S. companies, since many non-U.S. companies are subject to the jurisdiction of the SEC.

The third point falsely claims that anyone thinks that wars can be stopped entirely in D.C. No one thinks that, but you are correct to point out that it is false. Do you want to argue that D.C. then has no role to play in bringing about peace (led by the people of the DRC)? This doesn't follow from the fact that D.C. can't do everything.

One can recognize the primacy of domestic efforts while still seeing the causal role that international affairs have in domestic conflict. Presumably creating a more responsible minerals trade is entirely consistent with domestic efforts at institutional reform. If it somehow undermines these efforts, you should say how.

I hope this helps. I don't have a very strong view on the legislation, but I do have a view on what counts as good arguments against it. I'm not sure you've provided them here. As a rhetorical point, I'm not sure name calling the people you are trying to persuade is the most effective way to bring them around to your side.


Thursday, August 05, 2010 8:43:00 AM

Anonymous Dan said...

Thank you for your comments.
On point 1, point taken.
On point 2, I think it will be easy for companies to avoid buying minerals from Congo, if they choose to do so, because there are other sources. But will this stop the flow of minerals from the Kivus? I seriously doubt it, and haven't seen any cogent argument to convince me otherwise. Just look at the effects of UN sanctions on the flow of gold out of Ituri and you can get an idea of how ineffective US legislation is likely to be.
On point 3, if you take a close look at Enough's literature, you see that they imply this claim quite strongly.
If there is merit in the legislation it is in bringing attention to the conflict in the Kivus, but this has come at the cost of the spread of falsehoods and distortions about Congo. The campaign to 'save Congo' is looking more and more like the problematic campaign to 'save Darfur'.

Thursday, August 05, 2010 11:54:00 AM

Anonymous Sasha said...

FYI, another Congolese group who supports the bill:




R.D. Congo

Association Africaine de Défense des Droits de l’Homme

African Association for the Defense of Human Rights


« Les Etats Unis donnent un bon exemple en se dotant d’une loi exigeant des industries extractives la publication de tout paiement fait aux Gouvernements des pays d’accueil»

L’Association Africaine de défense des Droits de l’Homme, ASADHO en sigle, se félicite de la signature par le Président OBAMA de la loi dénommée « Dodd Franck Act». C’est une loi novatrice qui fait obligation aux entreprises américaines de publier tous les paiements faits aux gouvernements de pays dans lesquels elles exploitant des ressources naturelles et de faire savoir si leurs produits miniers proviennent de la République Démocratique du Congo ou des pays voisins.

Cette loi permet aux organisations de la société civile d’accéder aux informations nécessaires, de demander des comptes aux gouvernements sur l’utilisation des revenus issus des industries extractives et contribue à la réduction des conflits armés liés à l’exploitation des ressources naturelles minières, gazières et pétrolières. Elle décourage la commercialisation des minerais provenant des groupes armés congolais responsables des violations massives des droits de l’Homme à l’Est de la République Démocratique du Congo.

Pour que ce combat contre la corruption, le détournement des fonds publics et l’exploitation sanglante des ressources minières, gazières et pétrolières soit efficace et globale, l’ASADHO exhorte vivement:

Ø La France, l’Angleterre, l’Allemagne, la Suisse, la Belgique, le Canada, l’Afrique du Sud, l’Australie, la Chine dont les multinationales exploitent les ressources naturelles en République Démocratique du Congo, à suivre l’exemple des Etats Unis en prenant des lois similaires.

Ø Le Gouvernement de la RD Congo à s’engager effectivement dans la lutte contre la corruption et le détournement des derniers publics; et de publier régulièrement, et de manière désagrégée, toute sorte de paiement reçu des industries extractives.

Fait à Kinshasa, le 24 juillet 2010


Pour toute information, veuillez contacter :

Maître Jean Claude KATENDE : Président National

Téléphone : (00243)9970 32 984

Maître Georges KAPIAMBA : Vice Président National

Téléphone :(00243)81 40 43 641

Thursday, August 05, 2010 7:00:00 PM

Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Dan,

Yes, I think you are right that the crux of the argument about the legislation will be on point two, which is whether the pressure on companies would have any effect (positive or otherwise) on mining in the Kivus.

On the campaign, I think you and others have persuasively shown that the advocates and media portrayal has simplified the conflict in ways that are problematic, which can influence policy in relevant ways. More importantly, if (the relevant) domestic actors do not support this approach, that is clearly a huge mark against any campaign.
Thanks for your work.

Thursday, August 05, 2010 7:28:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Scott, I think that's exactly the point. There's nothing wrong with simplification to a point (I realize that the actual explanation of the causes of the conflict is way too complex to fit on a t-shirt), but a serious problem arises when the simplification distorts reality.

Thursday, August 05, 2010 8:30:00 PM

Blogger New Haven Alliance for Congo said...

Conflict Minerals on the Blogs: Correcting Misperceptions

Posted by David Sullivan and Laura Heaton on Aug 06, 2010

In the two weeks since President Obama signed the conflict minerals bill – a landmark moment after two years of advocacy to press the U.S. government to address the issue – one corner of the blogosphere has been subsumed with posts pointing out the merits and the perceived flaws of the new law.

Let’s be clear: Congo is a vast country with an intricate history, and the current conflict in the Kivu provinces is among the most complex in the world. There is ample room to debate the relative importance of different drivers of the conflict, and the potential policy levers that might help contribute to peace. We welcome this conversation, in which we have been an active participant, both on the ground in eastern Congo and here in the United States.

But much of the criticism of our work on conflict minerals implies otherwise, suggesting that activism around the U.S. legislation and the wider campaign portrays the U.S. bill as sufficient to break the links between illicit resource trafficking and violence in Congo, and that breaking that link would be sufficient to end the conflict. This is simply inaccurate.

Continues: http://www.enoughproject.org/blog

Friday, August 06, 2010 4:44:00 PM

Blogger friends of congo said...

The CATO Institute report "Rethinking Darfur" by Marc Gustafson is very instructive as one critically looks at advocacy around Congo. The "Darfurization" (emptying of historical, social and political context while objectifying Africans and removing them as agents of their own destiny) of the Congo must be challenged at every turn. Congolese have suffered for too long and Congo is far too important to the future of Africa for its challenge to be reduced to rebels, rapes and so-called three Ts.

Here is an intro and link to the CATO report:"This policy briefing draws on historical analysis, explores mortality surveys, and dissects six years of American budgetary allocations in Sudan to demonstrate that the conflict in Darfur has been misunderstood by both policymakers and the general public, leading to problems in crafting policy toward that troubled land." http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=11862

Saturday, August 07, 2010 12:14:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was present when an anonymous higher up at Apple confided that if Apple had to stop using Congolese minerals tomorrow, they would have to immediately shut their doors and stop doing business. If that is true of Apple, I cannot imagine it is not also true of other tech companies. These companies have intentionally obfuscated the extent of their reliance on the conflict mineral trade ... If there are other sources, they are all the more culpable for not using them.

And while the conflict mineral trade legislation may not be a panacea, we in the west have an obligation to do everything possible to minimize how we drive the violence through the use of these minerals.

Saturday, August 07, 2010 11:30:00 PM

Blogger Arabica Robusta said...

I am afraid, with all due respect, that there is much propaganda in this piece. The first signpost is reference to "Beltway Bandits," which is a common tactic used by industry, World Bank and other types for devaluing the hard work of human rights and other advocates. The second related signpost is the attempt to portray opposition as "naive" and proponents as "experienced." The third signpost is the suggestion that the people of Congo are responsible for their own development. On one level this third signpost is absolutely true, given that people in Congo and Africa as a whole are strong, creative, resilient, intelligent and caring. However, as Sasha states, they do not live in a vacuum. Not acknowledging this is disingenuous at best. One need only look at what happened to strong, creative, intelligent Patrice Lumumba. See latest news: http://www.mmegi.bw/index.php?sid=1&aid=3921&dir=2010/August/Wednesday4

Sunday, August 08, 2010 8:20:00 AM


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