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


the unintended consequences of Congo advocacy

When people who study the Congo for a living get together, one of the questions that inevitably arises has to do with how the conflict minerals narrative was created. Nobody disputes that minerals fuel part of the violence perpetrated by some of the armed groups operating in the eastern Congo. But we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how conflict minerals became THE story about the multilayered conflict.

I think it's fair to say that after a couple of UN reports on mining during the wars came out, this narrative was picked up on and strengthened by advocacy groups, in particular, the Enough Project and Global Witness, the latter of which spent most of the last decade researching mineral trafficking in the Congo and the former of which was at the forefront of efforts to get a rider on the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill passed that will eventually require American electronics companies to identify whether they are using DRC-sourced conflict minerals in their products. Enough's leaders believe that this legislation will play a significant role in reducing the use of conflict minerals from the DRC, which in turn will cut off a source of financing for Congolese armed groups, which in turn will lead to less violence in the region. While their latest advocacy materials acknowledge the need for more significant reform in other sectors, there's no question that the bulk of Enough's efforts have been focused on the mineral issue.

Most scholars of the DRC would agree that the mineral trade is one dimension of the conflict, but that it isn't the entire story, and most of us are very perplexed as to from where the idea that minerals are the central story originated. Why is Enough so committed to this one facet of the conflict when few, if any, regional experts believe that addressing the militarized mineral trade will stop the region's violence?

It seems I'm not the only one who is wondering why Enough pursued this path:
“We don’t understand why President Obama would want to cut off Congo’s minerals,” said Idrissa Assani, expressing a sentiment clearly shared by his fellow miners who sat together in the dark office of their mining cooperative. “It is the innocents who are vulnerable” and who will suffer most from “Obama’s law,” he said.

In the simple wooden structure with dirt floors, illuminated by late afternoon sunlight coming through the open door and through spaces in the paneling, Assani pulled out a pristine copy of “Obama’s law,” as the conflict minerals provision of the Dodd-Frank bill is locally known. People are already suffering from the “embargo” imposed by President Obama and expecting conditions to only get worse, he said.

Leafing through the pages of the legislation, Enough analyst Fidel Bafilemba noted to the French and Kiswahili speakers that nowhere in the U.S. bill is there any mention of an embargo or a ban on Congo minerals. Rather, the law calls for companies to conduct due diligence on minerals from Congo to ensure that armed groups and military units do not benefit from these resources. The group of miners was surprised, admitting that it has been difficult to understand the details of Obama’s law since none of them speak English and they’ve never seen a translated version of the bill.

The post goes on to point out that Kabila, not Obama, imposed the mining ban that affected mining operations in the Kivus and Maniema for about six months starting last September. Enough goes on to claim that people who understand the traceability system support it, though of course right now they can only provide a theoretical discussion of what it would be like.

This is an interesting situation. It is true that Enough never called for a ban on Congolese mineral exports. The Dodd-Frank rider contained exactly the provisions the organization wanted; I would not be at all surprised to learn that Enough staff were responsible for writing most of the provisions. These provisions stress the importance of traceability and companies knowing from which mines their minerals are sourced. In that sense, the mining ban is not Enough's fault.

But at the same time, there is no question that the Kabila government's suspension of mining operations was a direct response to Dodd-Frank. Neither is there any question that tens of thousands of miners and traders who make a living off of mining - some of it legitimate and non-militarized - in the Kivus and Maniema suffered horribly as their incomes dwindled to nothing. Nor is there any question that the mining ban actually led to increased militarization of some mines that were previously out of military control.

None of this was intended or foreseen by Enough or any advocates or legislators who pushed for the rider. But they nonetheless bear some responsibility for it having happened. It was their advocacy that led to the legislation's passage and that prompted the ban. There's no way around it. Unintended consequences happen. In this case, we likely haven't seen the end of them. As some knowledgeable observers believe, due to the incredible difficulty of actually verifying mineral supply chains in a place with as many smuggling routes, bribe-able officials, and weak institutions as the Kivus, there is a good chance that the legislation could lead to a de facto ban on Congolese mineral exports.

The keys to improving life in the Democratic Republic of Congo involve creating better governance, real security, stronger institutions, jobs, and a state that acts for the common good rather than the self-interest of its rulers. These are complex, elusive fixes that have little to do with the mineral trade and everything to do with governance. As an excellent new Crisis Group report on mineral supply chain regulation efforts concludes, "The control and regulate approaches are complementary, but face serious feasibility, reliability and security problems related to the more general problem of governance in eastern DRC."

Which brings us back to the question of why advocates pushed so hard for the conflict minerals focus in the first place. It was obvious to almost everyone who knows Congo that the mineral trade was not the place to start. Without the basic institutions of governance and security in place, attempting to regulate minerals is very unlikely to affect significant change. This was as clear five years ago as it is today. While I'm certain that advocates chose this path because of it is relatable (Everybody has a cell phone!) and the idea that consumer pressure can make a difference, it still doesn't make much sense to make it the centerpiece of advocacy efforts. Academic experts on the Congo, Congolese-Americans, and Congolese advocates have watched with frustration for years as Enough-chosen witnesses who have very little experience living and working in the DRC (some of whom don't speak French) testify before Congress that conflict minerals are the issue, and that addressing them will improve the lives of the Congolese. The chances that this is true are slim to none; armed groups in the Congo do not need money or weapons to perpetrate violence, and without access to money earned in the mineral trade, they are highly likely to prey even further on the population.

I was emailing back and forth with a friend about this issue this morning when he noted that it would be really nice to have a discussion involving NGO's and advocacy groups about "the extent to which stopping conflict minerals will stop conflict, and why it is they think so." I think this is a great idea. If Enough is as concerned about the unintended consequences of their advocacy efforts as they should be, it seems to me that they would want to explain why they chose this particular path, as well as discuss their efforts to mitigate suffering for people who are becoming unemployed because of the legislation's consequences. Moreover, it would give clear answers to their critics, and might even open the path to some collaboration in the future.

It's long past time that all the players in the Congo discussion sat down at one table to talk about the core assumptions of the the conflict, the advocacy movement, and what the Congo needs. It seems to me that the Great Lakes Policy Forum would be the ideal place to hold such a discussion, but if some other group wants to step up to host such an event, that would be great.

What do you think? Why did one narrative about the DRC conflict take precedence over the others? Would a dialogue between advocacy groups, Congolese citizens, and experts be useful or productive?


Blogger Adam Hooper said...

Why did the narrative take precedence? (Speaking as a journalist) I'd sleuth early media coverage. The snowballing "cell phones cause rape" narrative makes a too-perfect 600-word feature. Where else but a newspaper could a story seem so clean?

Thursday, April 28, 2011 9:41:00 PM

Blogger dcat said...

It also has the benefit of seeming to provide a clean solution to a complex problem.


Friday, April 29, 2011 1:16:00 AM

Blogger ewaffle said...

A few reasons the "conflict minerals" narrative might have taken hold so well:

It works as a soundbite or an elevator pitch--it is quick, clean and simple (and incomplete, of course).

It allows those in the US who want to "do something" to feel as if they are doing something.

Based on commentary from accounting and law firms (those who will advise/write the conflict mineral language for SEC filing) the rider slipped through with barely a glance in the context of Wall Street reform, allowing Enough a political victory.

Friday, April 29, 2011 1:21:00 AM

Blogger Stephanie said...

Excellent post. Thanks for writing it.

Friday, April 29, 2011 5:19:00 AM

Blogger Jennifer said...

I would be interested to compare these consequences with any similar consequences from the "blood diamond" narrative that took over coverage of the conflict in Sierra Leone.

In my opinion, while it was certainly part of the problem, the focus on diamonds obscured many of the other issues at stake. However, I am not familiar with research on measurable consequences such as those you identify here (although I have heard discussion of very similar issues for diamond miners, I just don't know of anything in print).

These narratives are sexy, simple, grab media attention, and "sell." Do they help more than they hinder?

Friday, April 29, 2011 8:39:00 AM

Anonymous Sasha Lezhnev/Enough said...

Always more than happy to have public discussions with you, Laura, as we have done several times in the past two years.

What your article doesn't point out is that commanders are now having trouble selling their minerals (we talked to several recently), that there are now a flurry of initiatives from industry and the region that are taking off because of the legislation, and that sexual violence trials are at least starting to accelerate. Much much more is needed, and this is only the beginning. But we certainly aren't going away before real results are achieved on the ground.

Friday, April 29, 2011 1:35:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Sasha, thanks for commenting. Are you saying that the sexual violence trials are accelerating because of your advocacy on the mineral issue? Or that industry initiatives and the commanders' problems selling minerals is leading to less violence? I don't dispute that those things are happening, but I seriously question whether Dodd-Frank had much to do with the former (the ABA was starting to set up its activities in 2006, well before Enough's work became well-known), and whether the latter is actually making a difference in slowing down violence. I don't argue that legitimation of the mineral trade in the eastern DRC is a good thing, but I don't think there's much evidence that it has slowed down the violence or protected civilians in any significant way.

Friday, April 29, 2011 2:14:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Jennifer, I think this is a really interesting question and, while I'm not qualified to answer it in great detail, I will say that Sierra Leone's conflict seems to suffer from the same problem of being defined by outsiders in incomplete terms. Rape happened in Sierra Leone on a scale proportional to the scale we see it happening in Congo, yet rape there was never portrayed in the same way it is in Congo. Sierra Leone got defined (by outsiders) as being about diamonds and cutting off limbs, whereas Congo has been defined as being mostly about minerals and rape. The reality in both situations is, of course, far more complex, unsexy, and not possible to fit on a bumper sticker.

Friday, April 29, 2011 2:18:00 PM

Anonymous Lisa Shannon said...

Here's my suggestion: If you'd like other narratives to regarding conflict drivers to get traction, make it happen. The national conversation is driven by people who know how to drive media stories. Rather than focusing efforts on talk, talk, and more talk about why you don't like the way other people drive, get in the drivers seat, girlfriend! I agree conflict minerals aren't the silver bullet...one reason we are working so hard to promote coverage and policy on SRR, conditional aid, etc. It's working!

Friday, April 29, 2011 3:07:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Lisa, what I'm arguing for is more responsible and comprehensive advocacy that is based on the full spectrum of facts, not just those that support a narrative that is already created. I look at this as an academic, not an activist, but there are plenty of academic narratives out there that show the complexity of the situation. The problem as I perceive it is that Enough has ignored most academic work that didn't fit their pre-determined narrative. I'm not sure I see it as my job to be in the driver's seat, but I think this platform is helping to direct the conversation, if not at the highest levels, then at least among some.

Friday, April 29, 2011 3:44:00 PM

Anonymous Kate Tickel said...

What is also worth noting is that, while conflict minerals are of course only a piece of the narrative, that narrative would most likely not be a part of the national dialogue were it not for the tenacity of Enough. It was because of the Enough Project that I, and many other activists for Congo, became aware of some of what was happening there. Continued involvement has illuminated just how vast and complex the truth of the situation in Congo is, and led me to other areas of contribution, including security sector reform and ground programs for sexual and gender-based violence recovery and prevention programs. But Enough has done more than any group (and there are many very worthy groups) to bring awareness to the general population; we all how difficult it is now to get anyone's attention. Enough were the first advocates for the DRC to get mine.

Friday, April 29, 2011 4:08:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the answer to your question is actually quite simple. In a word: solipsism. Minerals are the only part of the conflict that westerners can easily understand and see as having something to do with us.

Another answer would be that organizations focus on "minerals" for the same reason the proverbial dog licks his genitalia: because they can. Identifying the problem as the mineral trade allows an individual or organization to satisfy the need to "do something" (e.g. the Dodd-Frank rider). If you identify the problem as governance, that leaves you pretty much powerless.

Friday, April 29, 2011 4:16:00 PM

Anonymous Matt said...

Is there a relatively straightforward explanation as to why Kabila imposed the outright ban? perhaps there is a publicly-stated reason, and/or a presumed strategic determination on his part--even retaliation? If this unintended, unforeseen reaction hadn't occurred, it seems from the article that there would have been fewer negative impacts of Enough's advocacy and the Dodd-Frank section. I completely understand that much larger and more complex issues are more directly contributing to and acting on the misery in Eastern Congo, but is the newly-mandated process not an improvement, even imperfectly? I understand that 'your cellphone causes mass rape in Africa!' is hugely oversimplified and drowns out more accurate narratives of cause and effect. But is not still a huge positive that conflict minerals are being addressed? Perhaps the legislation would be more effective if paired with an educational effort in the region and among the miners, and lobbying Kabila to repeal the ban?

Friday, April 29, 2011 7:13:00 PM

Anonymous Liz said...

Have to agree with Shannon. You need to put forth a strong counter narrative. The constant play this issue gets on this site is purely reactive - "it's more complex than that" is a platitude not an argument. Of course the situation is complex. The question is how to act given the complexity and so far I don't see you outlining any action.

I understand that you see this as an academic, not an activist. But if you want to criticize advocates, I think you need to work by their rules and under their constraints. Advocacy is not about education - at the end of the day, you need to put forth some sort of policy solution. Where's your policy solution? How are you using your expert understanding to cut a path toward responsible action?

Friday, April 29, 2011 9:29:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the case of Congo, the narrative wasn't pick up, the reallity shows that since the early days of ADFL and Laurent Desire Kabila war against Mobutu the objectives were economical.
The actual general secretary of MLC was in charge of the mines in Ituri early in the 2000. Rwandese army and Ugandese army battled for Kisangani, not just because it's a logistical hub but because it's the key point for diamonds trade in Province Orientale. The actual government did rehabilitate the Beni-Kisangani road for no other purposes.
Adding the fact that most of the rebels from the seccond DRC war (98-2002) were first former fortunes of Mobutu regime does reinforce this. The 2006 elections were basically a battle between the Katanga new rich (Kabila) and the Equateur Mobutu's time richs (Bemba).
Who ever though that Rwanda and Uganda did help Kabila to free congolese people from dictatorship is just wrong.

Saturday, April 30, 2011 1:58:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Liz, I have on many occasions written about what I think needs to happen in the DRC. See for example:


I also regularly give public talks on these issues and link to proposed solutions by others.

Matt, your first question is a great one and I'm planning to do a post on it because the answer is pretty long. There's not a straightforward answer - will try to get to this next week. Also, the mining ban has been lifted for the last month or so, but the fear is that the legislation will create a de facto ban on Congolese minerals being exported. You ask whether it's a net positive. On the one hand, of course it is - nobody wants to see any violence that is funded by mineral use. On the other, though, we have to consider that up to a million people are dependent on the mineral trade for their livelihood, and there are no viable alternatives for their employment in the region. It is an extraordinarily difficult problem to solve, which is why I'm so annoyed with Enough's narrative. By simplifying the conflict to this narrative, that results in inappropriate, simplified policy solutions that can create more problems than they solve.

Saturday, April 30, 2011 7:25:00 AM

Anonymous Liz said...

Even seeing your 2009 post on what to do in Congo, I maintain that you dedicate far more time to critiques of badvocacy and Enough on this site than you do to your proposed policy prescriptions.

And the reason I point this out is because I feel you are missing the boat on what's wrong (and moreover, as someone who agrees with you on the conflict minerals issue - I am sick of having it occupy space on this site). Just as minerals are not the causing the conflict, Enough is not causing the bad US policy on DRC. The focus on minerals is simply a symptom of US indifference. You see this completely from the supply side - Enough put forward a narrative that took hold. But there is a more convincing demand side explanation - US policymakers don't want serious solutions. The real problem is that the US has no intention of dedicating the resources and diplomatic energy (look at the foreign assistance levels, no special envoy, etc) required to address the governance and security issues in Congo and therefore they are more than happy to give play to minor issues that require minimal action. All of your proposed solutions around governance will never be a reality unless the lack of US leadership is addressed and yet you take aim at Enough instead of targeting the real culprit. Why don't we have a discussion of why the US doesn't actually want to contribute to building a stable Congo?

Saturday, April 30, 2011 1:34:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

I think the question is not really why the US doesn't want to build a stable Congo (the USG gives hundreds of millions of dollars in aid every year), but rather of whether the US can really significantly affect outcomes in the DRC. I'm not sure we can, and I've written about this as well. There are limits to what outsiders - even superpowers - can do, which we saw clearly in the Darfur case where there is a special envoy, sustained levels of attention, etc.

There's also the hard fact that the situation in the DRC has very little to do with American national interests - it's not strategically significant. That is unfortunate, but it's also reality.

Sunday, May 01, 2011 4:47:00 PM

Anonymous Harrison said...

This is a very interesting debate and kudos to TIA for bringing it up.

Liz, I feel that you make some good points about US policy, but at the same time, the influence of advocacy on government and company policies and recent actions shouldn't be understated. A significant infrastructure is now being built up around the monitoring of conflict minerals including legislation worldwide and company due diligence. For those of us around during conflict diamonds and the Kimberley Process, we can see that this is likely to become THE key response to conflict in DRC.

I'm all for proactive legislation which helps ensure companies act appropriately, especially in weak governance environments like DRC, but its a legitimate question to ask in the context of the DRC whether addressing conflict minerals will be effective in addressing the problems of conflict. Perhaps we should also add another measure of success - whether it will improve the lives of people in the (Eastern) DRC.

The relatively simple calculation as far as I understand it seems to be: 1) We know military groups are benefiting from minerals; 2) if we stop conflict minerals we can stop the military gain; 3) by doing this, it is inferred, we can help stop conflict.

Its the latter part (2 to 3) of the equation which remains questionable and I don't feel its been that well articulated by the advocacy groups. I would very much like to see it fully developed. For example, if you look at when the Kimberley Process for blood diamonds was first put forward back in 2000 or so, it was suggested as part of a suite of measures, including military measures, improved governance, institutional building, Etc. Yet, primarily due to effective advocacy, we have ended up focussing on conflict minerals over and above everything else.

I still have doubts whether sorting out conflict minerals will remove military benefit. In the DRC's weak governance environment, it seems more likely that military elites will remain in control of resources, through proxies or otherwise. The gold trade, one of the principal sources of wealth for the FDLR, would also seem to be beyond the ability of governments to control at this stage.

Having worked with artisanal mining communities all over the world, including Great Lakes, there is a real possibility that the conflict minerals legislation could negatively affect their livelihoods, as the Enough article suggests. If we don't want that to happen we need a corresponding effort to assist artisanal miners respond to this legislation. But I see little of this in the messages of advocacy groups.

Monday, May 02, 2011 2:16:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with TIA and Harrison and also actually question the mind-set that seems to re-locate the issues to groups such as Enough - I am looking hard and listening hard and all I hear is the sound of silence in their debates from the citizens of DRC.

Actually some of them do speak and they have publicly declared that US lobby groups such as Enough do not speak for them. Artizan miners groups are very concerned that this legislation could cause more problems for them not less. The mining ban was a direct response to Frank-Dodd and it caused them major economic hardship. Everyone, miners included, wants things to change but minerals are only a part of the problem and their elevation to prime importance is highly problematic.

Meanwhile, it is not the only "conflict mineral" regulation being put forward and thus it is likely going to end in a massive muddle of competing and differing systems.

And who is going to police this? The very miltitary groups involved in the conflict? Or will you ask AFRICOM? The administrative infrastructure is not and cannot be in place for a very long time. Thus it all ends up sounding like a sop to middle-class westerners who want to feel better about themselves and their place in the world. Harsh comments maybe but I find a certain arrogance abounds when I hear discussions that don't include the very people that are the subjects. It particularly irks me when I know that the salaries of some of these lobbyists would run a village in the Kivus....

Digital Djeli

Monday, May 02, 2011 9:38:00 AM

Anonymous Bradford said...

In response to the question "why did this narrative get so much traction?", a couple commenters suggest some negative explanations: "solipsism", or wanting to "do something." It seems that another plausible explanation is that people are reacting with a "do no harm" instinct. Recognizing that improving local governance is very difficult, and perhaps impossible, for outsiders to do effectively, maybe the least that can be done is that domestic (US) policies and actors can be influenced to not actively contribute to the problem.

This view is not based on a belief that domestic actors cause the problem, or that influencing domestic actors is some kind of silver bullet. To the contrary, accepting the limited ability of outsiders to influence domestic events is the starting point. Domestic policy is the target of action not because it is the best that can be done but because it is perhaps the most that can be done, and because getting one's own house in order is the least one can do.

This is a view floated by Duncan Greene in this post reviewing a recent ODI study. "The logical (though presumably unintended) conclusion from the APPP’s findings is that there is simply no role (apart from funding more research of course) for donors in governance work – it’s just too complex, too context specific, too likely to go wrong... A reasonable answer, based on this paper, might be, ‘forget all that complicated political stuff – it’s beyond you. Go back to funding vaccines and textbooks, and concentrate on a ‘do no harm’ agenda at home – tax havens, climate change etc.’"

I realize that your whole point is that attempting to withdraw from the political economy of the region itself causes harm. But that's the whole point of "do no harm": it's not "don't let harm happen", "but withhold from active intervention that contributes to the harm, even if that permits some harm to go on." Anyway, if we reject the possibility of withdrawing from a situation because withdrawing creates harm, doesn't that itself create some permanent requirement that "something always be done?"

Maybe this situation doesn't fit into that category of problems, and maybe the analysis that 'governance always backfires' is wrong. I don't know enough about E.Congo to say. But I'm offering it as a possible explanation for why this response has built so much traction. Maybe it's misguided, but it isn't solipsist or interventionist.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011 4:15:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well may be the response lay in justice reform and security sector reform. Unfortunately congolese government does not want this to happen.
I do not denie the fact that there is political rational behind the actions of LD Kabila or J Kabila or even others.
The question is not what will happen to the miners but how to transform the army from a business enterprise with a tradition inheriate from the first hours of belgian colonisation to a protective body at the service of the people.(as the US army)
The concrete problematic of security sector actors salaries and internal corruption of the police and army is a core issue to build a business safe environment, especially in the mining sector.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011 1:54:00 PM

Blogger Doug Smith said...

One reason we focus on conflict minerals is the longevity of the conflict. When I lived in Mbandaka at the height of Mobutu's power, 1969-71, even then reports of fighting in eastern Congo reached us. Of course, concern over land rights at that time may have been as much an instigator of violence as the minerals, but the point is that questions of soverignty and control of natural resources in the new nation have exacerbated traditional cultural sources of conflict.

In recent years since the Law of the Forest was revised by the Kabila administration, in 2003 I believe, the exploitation of the Congo Basin rainforest timber has begun in earnest. Today's story in Equateur Province, Mbandaka is the capital, is certainly not conflict minerals but the World Bank's support of the current administration's contracts with primarily European timber companies with little provision for long term protection of the forest's ecosystem. Certainly this presents more of a threat to the health of our planet than the fighting in the eastern Congo. Will the Congolese rainforest go the way the Amazon seems to be headed?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011 10:49:00 AM

Anonymous Liz said...

I agree that there are limitations to what US influence can do but DRC is not Sudan - the opportunities for leveraging diplomacy and foreign aid are much greater in Congo. We do need to be asking more of the US government. They might not be able to end the conflict - but they could make a substantial difference.

And I simply disagree about the foreign assistance issue. The US spends very little in Congo. Here are African countries that get more assistance than Congo: Sudan (they get two to three times as much depending on the year - topping at over $1 billion in '09), South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Nigeria. In fact, Congo receives about the same amount of assistance as Liberia or Rwanda (about $300M-$450M, depending on the year) - countries which are quite obviously much smaller. I would love to think that the US is doing all it can for the DRC but I am not convinced. If there were more attention and investment, I think we could see improved health, educational and social service systems (at least in some parts of the country), a better more coordinated donor approach to security sector reform, and perhaps a more sane balancing of regional interests.

For transparency's sake, foreign assistance levels taken from: http://foreignassistance.gov/CountryIntro.aspx.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011 11:44:00 PM

Blogger Rich said...

I may have missed something, but why is no one even trying to reflect back on how the conflict started, how it developped and how it seems to be loosing momentum?
To me the latest peace deal between Rwanda and DRC that led to the arrest of Kunda was a significant factor that helped to tame down the intensity of everything negative that has been happening in the eastern part of the DRC.
Pacifying the country, building democracy and strong institutions in the DRC is the ultimate solution.
These aren't easy targets to achieve but they are realistic.
Everything negative happening in the DRC is not new on this planet, however, their frequency and quality is increased by the conflict. Therefore, stopping the conflict will bring most of the negative events to a more manageable level.

Thursday, May 05, 2011 9:08:00 AM

Blogger Nell Okie said...

I agree with Lisa's comment.

Additionally, as an "academic", shouldn't you know better... Your narrative is devisive, Laura. At least you seem to have stopped your very nasty attacks on people with whom you disagree. Still, I don't see you serving anybody. Your perspective isn't illuminating, creative or helpful. It is annoying.

"Conflict minerals are not the main origin of the conflict in Congo but dealing with conflict minerals is nonetheless very important and a good and intelligent way of dealing with one aspect of the conflict," -Jason Stearns.

Why don't you spend your energy on helping the Congolese, 'cause regardless of what you have convinced yourself, you ain't doin' it now!

Saturday, May 07, 2011 8:59:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So criticising Enough is divisive? The post above is bordering on the dictatorial - is toeing the latest NGO line the only way to help people?

DRC is not the main supplier of Tantalum (to use one mineral example) thus it is going to be an effective boycott on what they do have because it is easier to go elsewhere. Sorry if your ipad makes you feel guilty - no worries a quick fake label will help you sleep at night - because that is what will happen. Kimberley? It is a joke - it is not working.

Have you seen the letter signed by the artizan mining groups who clearly state: "Enough and Global Witness do not speak for us"?

What gives you the right to silence those Congolese voices and think you know better?

Why do you think that as Americans your way is the only way? I think it is good and healthy to raise questions and for sure if the policy is a good one then that shouldn't be a problem.

None of this is to say that "dealing with conflict minerals" should be ignored just that you will NEVER deal with them without listening to and giving space to the people who have the most to offer.... THE CONGOLESE.... The current proposals are unworkable and have the potential to cause further suffering to the very people they are supposed to help but I suppose that's ok if it lets you use your iphone with a clear conscience.

Just to be very clear here I do not know Laura, had to search to find out she is TIA and I am not even on the same continent.

Forgive me for asking but if YOU folks really want to help then why are you not out challenging the neo-liberal nonsense that drives this stuff? That's my poliicy solution. Why are you not giving space to local voices - that's another policy solution? Otherwise you are just sticking plasters over measles and acting like colonials.

As the solipsism comment above so elegantly suggests, if the problem is governance it is just a bit more complicated than a label on your laptop. Sadly it seems complexity doesn't fit with the 'advocacy' role as defined above...

Digital Djeli

Sunday, May 08, 2011 7:22:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is interresting to see so many good people getting worried about people in DRC now that the big mineral companies are affected.
It is so hypocrit from too many of you to say: Enough is doing bad advocacy cause it will affect congolese people.
Let me ask you: do you thing congolese people had a better life before the Obama law? Do you think that armed groups, mass rapes, human rights abuses, forced labour, forced recruitment, child soldiers... Did not exist before Enough came with a policy proposal?
The only one who complain are the one who did make money on the back of the very poor people who are working in the mines of DRC.
As I said previously, you want to have a different narrative and come up with a different policy: go for justice reform, security sector reform. Once you have this in place, then you will be able to promote an alternative solution to strike were it hurts: the international mining companies wallet.

Monday, May 09, 2011 1:16:00 AM

Blogger Jason Stearns said...

Good to have this debate, and TIA knows that I am as frustrated as she is with the reduction of the Congo to sexual violence and conflict minerals. My whole book is a 400 page lament that we need to stop reducing Congo to kabuki theater.

However, I would recommend not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. No, minerals are not the root cause nor will dealing with them bring and end to the violence. Still, the Dodd-Frank legislation, if applied correctly, could undermine the financing of armed groups, help demilitarize the Kivus and reduce levels of violence. The nice thing about this approach is that - in contrast with our usual finger-wagging and clumsy aid conditionality - it changes the incentives of a key constituency: Congolese businessmen. For example, I agree with ICG, Laura and Harrison that we need to focus on building institutional capacity - the problem is that institutional reform is a deeply political challenge, one that technocratic interventions (e.g. Promines) are unlikely to succeed with. We need to change the incentives of those who have a vested interest in opacity and racketeering - the Dodd-Frank legislation is a way of doing this.

That's not just Enough saying that - the UN Group of Experts, Global Witness and many Congolese organizations (not all) are pushing for this, as well. There is little doubt that mining is contributing hugely to the financing of armed groups and to the conflict economy.

I said: If it is applied correctly. Unfortunately, it has not been done correctly. Kabila imposed a bizarre embargo - for reasons not entirely known - and companies have imposed a de facto boycott, in part as a scare tactic, in part due to reputational fears.

In an ideal world, the Dodd-Frank law would have been preceded by reforms of the Congolese state institutions, a credible certification scheme (not Kimberley) and monitoring and oversight by independent bodies, including Congolese civil society. That didn't happen - that's the donors' fault and some advocacy groups, including Enough, probably pushed too hard to get the punitive measures in place without setting up the necessary structures to allow for transparent trade. But that doesn't mean we need to shellack to whole thing.

There is a lot of hogwash in the advocacy business, no doubt. But I have also seen a lot of academics and analysts sit back and take pot shots. As opposed to SSR, good governance and land conflict, we have been able to get the ball rolling on "conflict minerals" - I think some good can be done with these initiatives, as long as we now that it's not a silver bullet.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 7:13:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a bit late to this party, I know, but on reading your post and the comments, I wonder whether there is not a bigger picture here that Jason is kinda leaning towards with his comment.

My analogy is with the post election ****-up in Cote d'Ivoire. Some people, perhaps not unreasonably, have criticised the actions the various other powers took as contributing to the (unnecessary) deaths of Ivorites in the ensuing violence; that if perhaps 'we' had pushed for a govt of national unity from the off that things would have worked better. But I'm with Chris Blattman in the suggestion that the symbolic power of the response - that blatantly stealing elections will no longer be tolerated, at least when there is a credible opponent - is hugely significant.

Could something similar be achieved here? Sure minerals are not the only cause of the conflict, but there may be increasing symbolic power to the West's growing determination not to buy conflict minerals of any description. This could not just shape political processes in the Congo - through changing the incentives of rich businessmen as Jason suggests - but elsewhere too. Perhaps future conflicts elsewhere may be constrained as a result as big businesses pay increasing attention to their supply chains?

Just my two cents from someone who enjoys reading yr blog but whose only rather short visit to DRC was back when Mobutu was still in power.

Friday, May 20, 2011 8:56:00 AM

Blogger James North said...

A question for Laura and others; I sense a difference between the Global Witness position on conflict minerals and Enough's -- Global Witness seems more reasonable and realistic. Am I right?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 11:36:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

James, I think that's fair. At the very least, Global Witness' staff tend to have much more field experience than did the Enough folks when they started out.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 8:54:00 PM


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