the Dodd-Frank catastrophe
David Aronson in the New York Times, writing on the effects of Dodd-Frank in eastern DRC:
Aronson blogs at Congo Resources.
For locals, however, the law has been a catastrophe. In South Kivu Province, I heard from scores of artisanal miners and small-scale purchasers, who used to make a few dollars a day digging ore out of mountainsides with hand tools. Paltry as it may seem, this income was a lifeline for people in a region that was devastated by 32 years of misrule under the kleptocracy of Mobutu Sese Seko (when the country was known as Zaire) and that is now just beginning to emerge from over a decade of brutal war and internal strife.
The pastor at one church told me that women were giving birth at home because they couldn’t afford the $20 or so for the maternity clinic. Children are dropping out of school because parents can’t pay the fees. Remote mining towns are virtually cut off from the outside world because the planes that once provisioned them no longer land. Most worrying, a crop disease periodically decimates the region’s staple, cassava. Villagers who relied on their mining income to buy food when harvests failed are beginning to go hungry.
What's so frustrating for people like me is that it was clear to most Congo experts that Dodd-Frank wouldn't play out as designed, but no one listened to us. Everybody who really knows the region - who lived there before, during, and since the wars, who speak the languages, who know local communities - understood that initiatives rarely work as intended in a place as complicated as the DRC and foresaw exactly these sorts of problems. We were vocal about it. And we were ignored.
I have puzzled and debated with many knowledgeable observers for the last few years over how the Enough Project works and how some of the very smart people who work there could come to conclusions that are so off-base. The conclusion I've come to is that information that comes into that organization is almost always filtered through the lens of John Prendergast's initial opinions. Prendergast decided early on that the story in the Congo was one about fighting primarily driven by resource extraction, and any information that contradicted that story had to be made to fit the pre-determined narrative. I don't have any way of proving that this is true, but I think it's fair to say that this is the consensus opinion about how Enough works by people who closely observe the organization. Feel free to disagree in the comments if you'd like.
If true, that's a terrible way to do advocacy. What's even more frustrating is that members of Congress like Jim McDermott and their staffs seem to have taken Enough's word at face value, going so far as to let the advocacy organization choose most of the witnesses at hearings on the Dodd-Frank measure, which meant that any dissenting voices - Congolese or American - went mostly unheard.
That's a terrible way to develop legislation. I realize that members of Congressional staffs are extremely busy dealing with hundreds of issues every day and that it saves time to let an advocacy organization plan most of the details of a hearing on one obscure topic, but there need to be a wider variety of voices on questions involving Africa - or any topic, for that matter. At the very least, I think it's reasonable to expect that people testifying before Congress on DRC actually speak French and spend regular, extended periods of time there.
It is beyond frustrating to have watched this completely avoidable catastrophe unfold when it was so evident that Enough has misread the situation in DRC and that the legislators who listened to them were going to unintentionally create the disaster Aronson describes.
At this point, I don't know what we do to help the families whose lives have been destroyed by Dodd-Frank. But it's time to start that conversation, and to have another on how we can avoid making these mistakes in the future. The Congolese deserve better.