In the final weeks leading up to Congo's scheduled November 28 elections, it is important both for Congolese leaders and for the Obama administration to recognize and capitalize on this important window of opportunity for conflict prevention and reform.
The elections come on the heels of legislation signed by Barack Obama in July 2010 addressing one of the conflict's main drivers: conflict minerals. By initiating reforms, not only could the Congolese government boost public opinion in the East prior to the elections, but perhaps most importantly prevent outbreaks of violence at a particularly volatile moment.
But "reform must happen on multiple fronts," reports Enough Policy Consultant Sasha Lezhnev in a new publication by the Enough Project. The report, “A Window for Reform in Eastern Congo: November's Elections and Three Achievable Steps on Conflict Minerals,” provides an overview of the significant and measurable progress made to date on the ground to date, but it strongly emphasizes the fact that more must be done.
"[S]uccess will require increased involvement from the Obama administration, the Congolese government, and corporations, all pushing for monitoring, mine security, and community protection," Lezhnev explains, and he outlines three achievable steps that must be taken by the end of the year:
Step 1: Create a monitoring mechanism with penalties. "A system to monitor the trade is the best thing that could happen to us," testifies Pascal, a Congolese miner. "It would allow us to make the most out of our own business." Without penalties for noncompliance, the regional systems in place will not have the credibility consumers need to prove that their products are conflict-free.
Step 2: Increase security at the mines. The mining police who have replaced the positions recently vacated by the army at major mines in North Kivu have proven insufficient. The report recommends, "[T]he Obama administration and other U.N. Security Council members should urge MONUSCO to deploy units at the perimeter of key mine sites and work with the Congolese government to redeploy military units to perimeter zones in favor of mining police."
Step 3: Protect civil society and community livelihoods. "As conflict minerals initiatives move ahead, local Congolese communities in mining areas are in greater need during this transition period," Lezhnev points out. The report outlines a series of immediate actions, to include transparency initiatives for responsible investment, a livelihoods program, and a rapid response protection plan for civil society groups working on the ground.
Time is running out, the report warns. "We must utilize this year's windows of the election and the post-Dodd Frank market forces for conflict-free electronics,” Lezhnev writes. “The choice is now the administration's to make."
Photo: Campaign posters in Goma (Enough/Fidel Bafilemba)