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Dedicated Student Activists Descend on D.C. for Weekend Dedicated to Congo

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Dedicated Student Activists Descend on D.C. for Weekend Dedicated to Congo

Posted by Alex Hellmuth and Carly Oboth on March 28, 2012

Since late 2010, the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, or CFCI, has been the leading component of the conflict-free movement—a growing constituency of consumers who demand that their electronics products contain conflict-free minerals from eastern Congo as a way of ensuring sustainable peace in the region. Last weekend, 45 student leaders in this movement, one of whom traveled all the way from the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland, converged upon Washington, D.C., for a two-day conference to discuss the role of student activism in enacting change in Congo.

To kick off the conference, the students heard from Senator Romeo Dallaire (via Skype), the well-known anti-genocide activist and former head of the U.N. Peacekeeping Mission to Rwanda during 1994 Rwandan genocide. Dallaire, who is about to leave for a trip to eastern Congo, touched upon an important tenant of the conference: that students have been, and remain to be, a vibrant element in impacting our nation’s policy and influencing decision makers. He urged students to “never hesitate to embarrass those who have influence.”

In the case of CFCI, there has been no shortage of targeted messages directed at electronics companies who sit at the top of a long and complex supply chain that starts deep in the mines in eastern Congo and ends in our most coveted electronics products. Similar to the Sudan divestment campaign, CFCI draws upon the power of a university or college as a major investor and contract holder to pressure electronics companies to comply with U.S. legislation and invest in a conflict-free mining sector in eastern Congo. One of the primary drivers of the conflict that has claimed nearly 6 million lives since 1998 in eastern Congo is the trade in the minerals gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum—all of which are essential to the make-up of consumer electronics products. So far, nine universities have passed conflict-free resolutions, some of which include changes to their investment and procurement policies aimed at putting pressure on electronics companies.

Following Senator Dallaire, students then had the opportunity to attend interactive presentations from experts on Congo, including Father Jean-Claude, founder of the Jatukik Providence Foundation, Toby Whitney, the legislative director for Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), Harold Bonacquist of the U.S. State Department, Jana Morgan from Global Witness, and other members of the Enough Project’s Policy team. The weekend ended with activist, media, and lobbying training to strengthen the CFCI coalition’s ability to run campaigns on their campus and have an impact on those who are in a position to change the status quo on the ground in Congo.

In the past year, CFCI has grown from 20 campuses to close to 100, and it has even sparked international interest—the student from St. Andrew’s represented just one of a handful of campuses in the U.K. who have begun to campaign for a change in the way their university does business. STAND, a partner with Raise Hope for Congo in CFCI, in Canada has even adopted CFCI as one of their primary campaigns.

All of the attendees, who represented 20 different schools across the country and the world, are leading CFCI on their campuses. Some of the students who attended had been talking and sharing lessons about their advocacy efforts with each other via Skype, Twitter, and Facebook for a couple of years and had never met face to face until now. It was truly a gathering of some of the most dedicated, informed, and savvy activists for eastern Congo.  

Following a day geared toward developing the participants’ potential as informed activists and discussing policy and advocacy, the student leaders had a chance to use their fine-tuned knowledge to brainstorm, build campaigns, and plan for the next chapter of activism for peace in Congo. Students participating in CFCI will undoubtedly be the driving force for action on Congo in years to come, and this past weekend generated innovative and impactful ideas for harnessing the momentum of this movement for change in eastern Congo.

Guest co-author Carly Oboth is a senior at American University studying international relations.

Photos: (Enough Project / Daniel Herman, Alex Hellmuth, and Jayme Cloninger)