On Wednesday, the Enough Project and tech company Intel co-hosted a forward-looking panel on Responsible Sourcing and Investing in the Congo and the Great Lakes Region, attended by more than 90 policymakers, business leaders, and advocates. The panel was an opportunity for the private sector, NGOs, the United Nations, and African and partner governments to discuss how to move forward in building a responsible minerals trade and positive investment in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes region. This dialogue, however, was only the beginning of the conversation. Much more must happen to foster dialogue among investors, Congo, the Great Lakes region, and the U.S. and U.N. Special Envoys on the concrete reforms needed to move responsible investment forward and link it to the peace process for Congo and the region.
The panel included the CEO of Intel Corporation, Brian Krzanich, the Co-Founder of the Enough Project, John Prendergast, the Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, H.E. Dr. Faida Mitifu, the Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, Professor Alphonse Daniel Ntumba Luada Lumu, and the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Special Advisor to the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to the Great Lakes Region, Modibo Toure. It was moderated by Witney Schneidman, Senior International Advisor for Africa at Covington & Burling LLP, and Nonresident Fellow on Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings. The panelists exemplified the range of actors committed to coming together to help build a responsible, conflict-free minerals trade in support of the peace process in Congo.
Remarks from Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) opened the panel. He affirmed the non-partisan U.S. commitment to building peace in the region and cited work on conflict minerals as central to changing the equation in the Congo.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich then recounted the story of how Intel began its process of creating the first-ever conflict-free product, a microprocessor. He noted that Intel began thinking about the issue before the public campaign on conflict minerals in 2009, but that the Enough Project helped draw attention to the importance of conflict-free sourcing from Congo. Krzanich emphasized that companies must not turn away from Congo, but rather that they should source clean minerals from Congo and be part of the solution there. His message was aimed at sending important signals to miners, refiners, and other companies in the supply chain to buy from Congo and do so responsibly. He also noted that the programs Intel put together are all open-source, which allows other companies to use them going forward, such as the Conflict-Free Smelter program. Krzanich also confirmed that he has been in conversation with other tech CEOs about expanding the solutions to conflict minerals.
Giving a glimpse of the conflict and the progress made over the last few years, Enough co-founder John Prendergast talked about the shift in the US from apathy toward the situation in Congo to a resurgence of attention from consumers and policymakers over the past 5 years to help end the war. He praised the work of companies like Intel and the Dodd-Frank law in decreasing the amount of money going to armed groups in the region. As the UN Group of Experts stated, “Since the signing into law of the Dodd Frank act, a higher proportion than before of tin, tungsten and tantalum mined in the DRC is not funding conflict.” Prendergast advocated that the continual efforts, incentives, and pressures towards responsible investment, including the inclusion of gold in the conflict minerals discussion, are vital for the peace process in Congo. He also noted that jewelers are integral to the solution and that Enough would be publishing a jewelry leaderboard later this year.
Commenting on the peace process, deputy to UN Special Envoy Mary Robinson, Modibo Toure, cited new momentum in Congo and the region, as the security situation gradually improves. His outlook on the future centered on the changing nature of the conflict, particularly with new leadership from Angola in leading the heads of state on negotiations over security, economic cooperation, and root cause issues in the region. There is a strong need to tackle smuggling, he noted. The UN Special Envoy’s office will be organizing several follow-up events, in Africa and elsewhere, on responsible sourcing and investing this year, through the Private Sector Forum LINK they launched in January.
Professor Ntumba Luaba of the ICGLR demonstrated, as he walked through the different steps of the ICGLR, that progress is being made with its certification process. To date, 68 mines have been validated as green and conflict-free in Congo, the ICGLR has put in place an Audit Committee with companies and NGOs from Intel to the Responsible Sourcing Network participating, and the ICGLR has officially certified two mines, one in Rwanda and one in Congo. The professor recognized that numerous statements have been made on this issue, but the challenge now for everyone on the panel is to transform these things into a durable reality centered on better governance structures and increased stability. He also noted that the credibility of the certification mechanism needs to improve through the adoption of the Independent Mineral Chain Auditor, something for which the Enough Project has long advocated.
Central to all of the comments on the panel was that durable progress towards peace in the region depends on the government of the Congo. Congolese Ambassador to the U.S. Dr. Faida Mitifu stressed that the government of the Congo is committed to creating a positive environment for increased investment in the country and implementing the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework. She praised the positive impact of Dodd-Frank by saying that it was a bitter pill at first but that it has now made “significant progress in the long-term” as more and more clean minerals are being exported and irresponsible exploitation is decreasing. She also called for more action, because “if we don’t create the economic structures that can absorb these young people they will be recruited again.” She noted the progress of Banro, a Canadian gold mining company, in producing conflict-free gold and invited other companies to invest in a similar responsible manner in Congo.
Tanzanian Ambassador to the U.S. and former ICGLR Executive Secretary Liberata Mulamula asked whether the Analytical Fingerprint Mechanism of Germany is being used in the region now. This mechanism works much like DNA tracing, as it uses source-specific mineralogical,
geochemical, and geochronologic features to identify the origin of the mineral shipment; this tracing can be used throughout the entire supply chain. Prof. Luaba confirmed that it is being used but that it must also become an important part of the ICGLR certification system.
Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) closed out the panel by reiterating the bipartisan nature of the US support for Africa and advocating that this is just the beginning of things to come for the Great Lakes Region. He praised Intel for its work in providing an “opportunity to recognize that when corporations lead with values, they can lead in the marketplace.”
The panel was a good representation of all the stakeholders who have a role to play in supporting the peace process in the Great Lakes Region. The conversation demonstrated the complexity of the situation in the region, and the potential for partnerships among leading policymakers, corporations, and human rights advocates to have an impact on fostering peace in the region. As the dialogue continues on the way forward, all these actors must heed the words of Professor Luaba: “You can never tire, you have to go to the end.”