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Debating Congo’s Conflict Minerals

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Debating Congo’s Conflict Minerals

Posted by Laura Heaton on April 23, 2009

Debating Congo's Conflict Minerals

Enough’s David Sullivan faced off against Harrison Mitchell and Nicolas Garrett of Resource Consulting Services (RCS) in an online debate this week about the links between violence and the mineral trade in eastern Congo.

The two articles published by Reuters AlertNet offer a solid summary of the arguments surrounding calls for a more transparent system for the mineral trade. Be sure to read the posts for the full effect.

Knowing that I’m probably spoiling the ending, here are a few thoughts that the articles bring to mind.

In many ways, the positions each post advocated were two sides of the same coin. RCS sees the role of the mineral trade in the conflict as symptoms of insecurity and governance failure. Enough disagrees, and views the trade in conflict minerals as one of the key drivers of the conflict. But both agree that these driving forces are closely related. From RCS:

Minerals, both today and in the future, are a vital means for Congo’s government to finance security, social services and infrastructure, and to invest in agriculture and other productive activities.

Enough certainly doesn’t deny this reality, but the fact is that the resources are not currently being used for these purposes.

The ability of end users to trace, audit, and verify the supply chains for metal products in electronics products back to where they originated in eastern Congo is a critical step to channeling international demand away from armed groups and toward legitimate sources.

Both posts highlighted the concern that efforts to reform the trade will have short-term costs. David argues that these short-term consequences – which can be mediated through investments in projects that support affected miners and develop local communities – are worth the long-term gains that come from legitimizing the mineral trade. No one is under the illusion that reforming the mineral trade – or any one issue for that matter – will bring peace to the region. There is no silver bullet in Congo. But as David’s post makes clear, the illicit mineral trade is one component, and one that has the potential to affect many aspects of insecurity in the region.

RCS sets off down a slippery slope by noting that horrific human rights abuses “[do] occur in some mines” and that military groups – the very same people who are responsible for the region’s high rate of sexual violence – “are benefiting from the mineral trade,” but then arguing that it is “doubtful that control mechanisms… can be successfully implemented.” So they say it can’t be done. Now what?

RCS purports to offer an alternative, and the issues they highlight in their three-part strategy are certainly valid: Engage and formalize actors participating in the informal economy so that they can contribute to Congo’s broader revenue base; focus on security sector reform; and strengthen and reform Congo’s state institutions to yield sustainable security.

Where the two camps don’t see eye-to-eye is on whether such a strategy can succeed without immediate action to crack down on the worst offenders. A survey of the work currently being undertaken by the world’s largest peacekeeping force, MONUC, shows that the U.N. is trying to address many of these challenges as we speak. The problem is that despite these efforts, the world’s worst sexual violence continues. Engaging with the actors who benefit from the trade risks legitimizing this unacceptable status quo and impeding efforts at reform before they have a chance to get going.