Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Where Are they Now?

From the Washington Post, January 5, 2009:

But no one needs to read the tea leaves on one particular aspect of Obama's foreign policy: Obama, Clinton and Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. have all called for aggressive American action against humanitarian crises and genocide. Susan E. Rice, Obama's nominee for U.N. ambassador, has said that if a Rwanda-style genocide began again, she "would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required." Samantha Power, a leading proponent for an interventionist American policy in humanitarian crises, was a senior Obama adviser during the presidential campaign.

"Look empirically at the kind of people who will populate the decision-making positions in the new administration and compare them with the principals" in the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, said John Prendergast, co-chairman of the Enough Project, an advocacy group that fights genocide. "What we will get, possibly for the first time in my life, is leadership from the top in these crises."
I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that Obama is a mainstream politician with little real interest in alleviating chronic, underpublicized humanitarian disasters in far-off lands. It's still early in his administration and I hope I'm wrong. But he's certainly not yet taken any meaningful action on any of Africa's multiple crises. Nor has he shown courage on other issues requiring moral leadership, such as gay rights, civil liberties, the Armenian genocide, and so on. I know: he's got a lot on his plate. No president since Roosevelt has come to office with so many urgent national and international problems to deal with. Still, I am starting to worry that he may turn out to be more like Clinton than Bush, who at least dedicated substantial sums to the AIDS catastrophe.

"I Will Not Kill Myself Today"

An op-ed by Eve Ensler in today's Washington Post says that the UN's passage one year ago of Resolution 1820, which recognized rape as a weapon of war, has done nothing for the women of the DRC. Money quotes:
Over 12 years, in a regional economic war for resources, hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped and tortured, their bodies destroyed by unimaginable acts... Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch, just back from the front lines in both North and South Kivu, told me Monday that in nearly all the health centers, hospitals and rape counseling centers she visited, rape cases had doubled or tripled since January...
A few days ago, I sat in a dark shack with 30 survivors of rape. These women had fled their villages after being brutally terrorized and had randomly found each other. They banded together to form a grass-roots group called I Will Not Kill Myself Today. The women of eastern Congo are enduring their 12th year of sexual terrorism. The girl children born of rape are now being raped. What will it take for the United Nations to finally do something meaningful to stop the violence? The women are waiting.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Congo Still Home to World's Most Photogenic Disaster

Foreign Policy magazine features a photographic essay on the world's most fragile countries.

Query: Do these photographs serve a purpose any longer? Is anyone still moved by them? Or do they simply confirm the viewers' belief that such places are hopeless?

Photo Caption & Credit: The displaced children seen here, in a camp in eastern Congo, are among the 1 million displaced from North Kivu province alone.

Kimia II Assailed and Defended

From OCHA, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, comes a long post worth reading in its entirety on Kimia II, the joint DRC-Monuc operation to clean out ex-genocidaires in eastern Congo. Oxfam, ICG, and the Catholic Bishops oppose it. Oxfam argues that although “a solution is needed to halt appalling levels of human rights abuses committed by armed rebels, the answer cannot be action that knowingly increases levels of human suffering.” But Alan Doss defends Kimia, and says it must continue: “If we do nothing I think that there will never be lasting peace in the Kivus as long as one group or another remains out of the control of the state.”

Since the beginning of the year, some 800,000 people in the Kivus have fled their homes, even as rape and reprisal killings mount.

Le Phare reports that at the press conference releasing the report, OCHA representatives gave examples of recent violence committed by both sides in the war. The FDLR attacked the town of Mianda during the night of June 20-21, burned 121 homes and destroyed a health clinic. It's not known if they killed anyone, but several villagers drowned trying to escape. In Rutshuru, on the other hand, it is the Congolese army that is committing atrocities.

Relief workers worry because ongoing violence prevents them from operating in areas in Masisi and South Lubero, although refugees there are reputed to be in desperate need of food.

Maxine Waters Introduces Bill to Combat Vulture Funds

From Congo Global Action, I am alerted to this press release:

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) introduced the Stop Very Unscrupulous Loan Transfers from Underprivileged countries to Rich, Exploitive Funds or “Stop VULTURE Funds” Act (H.R. 2932), legislation designed to protect impoverished countries from lawsuits by so-called vulture funds.

Congresswoman Waters said, “Over the past year, we have seen how the actions of a small number of unscrupulous and exploitative investors can hurt innocent people and cause economic chaos. We cannot allow the world’s poorest countries to be exploited by these bad actors.”

Vulture funds are private investment funds that buy up the debts of poor countries at reduced prices, usually for pennies on the dollar. They then sue these countries to recover the original value of the debts plus interest. Several poor countries that have received debt cancellation from the United States, other participating donor countries, and multilateral financial institutions have subsequently been sued by vulture funds.

Congresswoman Waters said, “The Stop VULTURE Funds Act would protect impoverished countries from the predatory practices of vulture funds and allow these countries to use their limited resources to meet the needs of their people.”

UPDATE: A similar bill has been introduced in Britain. Leading the cause is the British NGO Jubilee Debt.

It would be easier to throw oneself into fighting for these campaigns if one felt the money the vulture funds were after would really be going to feed babies and equip schools, rather than line pliticians' pockets.

Bleak Picture of Congolese Reconstruction

One year and one day from now will be the 50th anniversary of Congolese independence. No one celebrating the birth of the Congo then could have prophecied what a nightmare the first fifty years of independence would be.

Tragically, it's not at all clear that the next fifty years will be any better.

A new book published by the Belgian NGO 11.11.11 paints a bleak picture of current reconstruction efforts in the Congo. The military is incapable of bringing peace to the east, and its joint operations with Monuc have failed to produce results. The economy teeters on the edge of collapse; public finances are routinely mismanaged; the country's foreign reserves have dissipated. The collapse in world commodity prices has had a particularly disastrous impact. Yet the IMF refuses to release the Congo from loan commitments accumulated during the Mobutu years totalling $6.3 billion until it renegotiates key elements of its deal with China. That deal promised $9 billion worth of infrastructure projects in return for access to Congolese minerals. With both the West and China prepared to hunker down in a contest of will, the Congolese are caught in the middle.

Vulture funds circle, buying off Congolese debt at discount prices and then suing the government for its return, plus extortionate interest. FG Hemisphere, incorporated in Delaware, recently won a $105 million verdict in a South African court against SNEL, the Congolese electricity company.

Meanwhile, three quarters of Congolese people are malnourished and live on less than a dollar a day.

Update: It's not clear how to order the book online. It doesn't seem to be available for download or on Amazon.fr.

Congo Gangs Masquerade as LRA, Looting & Terrorizing Local Populations

Father Luigi, aka Kaka Luigi, reports that the Congolese army recently arrested seven Congolese in northeastern Congo who were pretending to be LRA. They were looting and terrorizing the local population. Uganda, Sudan and Congo waged a joint campaign in the border region from January to March without successfully neutralizing the LRA. Uganda estimates that some 500 LRA remain in the area, including the LRA's notorious leader, Joseph Kony.

The LRA went on a rampage in northeastern Congo in December 2008, after the Ugandan army launched a failed raid on the LRA headquarters in Uganda. About 1000 Congolese were killed on or around Christmas Day.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

China Comes to Africa, on Chinese Terms

This article from the Wall Street Journal suggests that China's continuing investments in Africa may offset declining investment from the West, but that the Chinese often have their own way of running things:
In African countries where China has invested, many local people complain that the Chinese companies import everything -- including bottled water and toilet paper -- from home, bypassing the domestic economy. In mineral-rich countries such as Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, some Chinese companies have a reputation for exploiting workers. ...

In 2005, 46 Zambians were killed in an explosion at a copper mine owned by China's state metals conglomerate. A government inquiry showed the company had cut corners on safety and banned union organizing.

The Chinese company paid compensation to the victims' families and allowed a union to be formed. The following year, Chinese security guards at the mine opened fire on Zambian workers who were protesting the company's failure to improve working conditions and to deliver back pay promised in a new union deal.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Army Chief Defends Monuc

MONUC features an interview with the commander of MONUC Forces, General Babacar Gaye. Money quote:
The situation is a concern to all international actors who follow this crisis and that support this population. They are concerned first because these operations, as was feared, have created new population displacements, but especially because unfortunately these operations are accompanied by collateral damage that arise from the fact that some FARDC soldiers, who are, without doubt, insufficiently controlled and kept in line. The FARDC has realized this and I must say that there have been important efforts in that direction.
It is not enough to denounce the behavior of the FARDC, it is necessary that everybody contribute towards managing this problem. For MONUC, protection of civilians is not only in the hands of the soldiers, all substantive sections of the Mission participate. We have put in place Joint Protection Teams in which you will find humanitarian actors, child protection specialists, human rights and other sections. These teams serve as an interface between [MONUC] troops and the civil population. We have multiplied our deployments, within the limits of our capacity.

For a Fun Time

Colette Braeckman reports that a French theater director is reprising an Athol Fugard play, originally written during the apartheid era, with Rwandan and Congolese comedians in the roles originally meant for a white and black South African. The play, which sounds like a blast if you find your Beckett just a wee uplifting, features the two men imprisoned together on an island off the coast of Africa, who support each other not out of any hope of ever being released than out a a shared sense of dignity they derive from their memory of reading Sophocles' Antigone. The play is in Brussels at the Theatre de Poche until June 27, and will tour in several cities in Congo and Rwanda afterwards. Director is Roland Mahauden, with Ados Ndombasi and Diogène Ntarindwa.

I hope someone makes a documentary about the play's reception in Africa. It's always interesting to see how different cultures reflect on and draw meaning from each other.

The Congolese Army Disintegrating in Kivu

Marie France Clos has an excellent article in Libre Belgique on the disastrous state of the Congolese army in the Kivus. In brief, the Congolese troops sent to the Kivus haven't been paid in months, and are defecting not individually but whole companies at a time. Some are going into business with the "enemy" ex-genocidaires (FDLR). Others are simply terrorizing the populace. The only group willing to fight the FDLR are the Tutsi CNDP, formerly led by Laurent Nkunda (and now by the war criminal Jean Bosco). The CNDP is responsible for massacring families in the area of Hombo in May--the ex-gen retaliated by killing civilians in Muturungi. Meanwhile, Monuc soldiers sit with their hands under their ass, and will only take up arms to defend themselves.

According to an article in the Rwandan New Times, a group of Mai-Mai fighters known as the Alliance des Patriotes pour un Congo Libre et Souverain (APCLS), is said to have joined forces with the FDLR.
Most Mai-Mai fighters were earlier integrated into the Congolese National Army (FARDC) but this faction recently pulled out of the alliance and is stirring more trouble in DRC's unstable east.

"The main problem is that they don't agree with the programme of integration, which is the main reason why there is conflict between them and FARDC. Like many other rebel groups, the problem is about issues such as ranks, and pay," said Lt. Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich Chief Military Spokesperson for the UN mission in DRC - MONUC.

Dietrich noted that although discussions for integration into FARDC were still ongoing, APCLS combatants and FARDC clashed several times recently.
Colette Braeckman adds more detail on the army's failures: Umoja Wetu destroyed the FDLR's command structure and dislodged them from the more productive mining sites, she says. But it left the bulk of the forces untouched. These have responded with massacres and rapes: The UN has registered some 1330 rapes in South Kivu since the start of 2009, and FARDC forces are as guilty as the FDLR. Monuc continues to sit on its hands. But, tellingly, no one in the area wants to see the Rwandans return.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

China vs The IMF

The feud between the IMF and China over Congolese copper simmers on. Peter Lee at Asia Times Online has one perspective. Money quote:
The fact that the IMF is engineering the renegotiation of one of China's most important overseas resource deals - perhaps as part of an effort to get the Congo to accept its true role as a Western client - is unlikely to endear the organization to Beijing.

What Life Is like in Eastern Congo

From Creative-i, I learn of this study regarding life in eastern Congo.

The International Center for Transitional Justice, the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley and the Payson Center for International Development at Tulane University conducted a survey of 2,620 Congolese between September and December 2007. The study focused North and South Kivu, Ituri, Kinshasa, and Kisangani. The results of the survey were predictable but shocking nonetheless. A summary of the survey revealed:

• 80 percent of respondents said they had been displaced at least three times in the last 15 years
• 75 percent said their cattle or livestock had been stolen
• 66 percent said their home had been destroyed or confiscated
• 61 percent of those polled in the east said they witnessed the violent death of a family member or friend
• 60 percent said one more of their household members had disappeared
• 53 percent reported being forced to work or being enslaved by armed groups
• 46 percent had been threatened with death
• 35 percent said they had been tortured
• 34 percent said they themselves had been abducted for more than a week
• 31 percent said they had been wounded in fighting
• 23 percent had witnessed sexual violence
• 16 percent had been sexually violated and 12 percent multiple times

• 85 percent of people polled believe ‘those responsible for the violence should be held accountable’

In North Kivu, at the epicenter of the violence, responses to the question ‘who protects you’ were quite revealing. Respondents answered God (44 percent), the army (25 percent), the police (8 percent), nobody (7 percent), U.N. peacekeepers (6 percent).

The Beat Goes On

Meanwhile back at the ranch, developments in the Congo mineral trade continue apace:

Reuters has an excellent article on the woes of four gold mine companies operating in the DRC: AngloGold Ashanti, Banro, Gold Fields, and Moto Goldmines. An update on that story: Moto Goldmines was just acquired by Redback.

Franz Wild at Bloomburg reports that higher taxes on tin are threatening to undermine the recovery of the tin market. But Joe Bavier at Reuters reports that tin exports are up despite "the threat of United Nations sanctions and pressure from rights campaigners linking the trade to local conflicts."

Wild also reports on the eternal soap opera that is the Inga dam power plant, which could someday produce twice the electricity of China's mammoth Three Gorges project. (And someday I will teach my cat calculus and win the adoration of Megan Fox.) BHP Billiton is interested in bidding on the project.

The Dutch Friends of the Earth published a report condemning the involvement of Dutch companies in irresponsible tin trading.

And last and certainly least, Congo Resources can finally take credit for changing the world, or one tiny insignificant part of it. A few weeks ago we reported that AMD had chosen to nickname its latest microchip the Congo, which struck us as regrettable. The Enough Campaign picked up the story, and they in turn were picked up by the big boys at Daily Kos. Before you could say conflict minerals, AMD had a full-fledged mini-public relations disaster on its hands. The upshot? The "Congo" will heretofore be spoken of as the "2nd Generation Ultrathin Platform." See here and here for the full story.

More on the Joint MONUC/FARDC Operation

By far the most important development in Congo during my two-month hiatus was MONUC's decision to launch a joint strike with the Congolese army (FARDC) against the ex-genocidaires (FDLR). This has predictably turned into a disaster for the people of eastern Congo.

I have been a tepid supporter of MONUC since its creation. It has never been given anything like the tools or the personnel to do the jobs asked of it, and while its many failings and embarassments have been fodder for anti-UN neo-cons in the US, they are symptomatic of the gap between MONUC's mission and its resources rather than any discrediting flaw in the ideal of international peacekeeping. The people of eastern Congo desperately need protection, and who will provide it to them aside from the UN?

That said, from the beginning, MONUC's decision to join forces with FARDC to root out the ex-genocidaires struck me as a very bad idea, and that's in fact how it's turning out.

I'll have much more to say on this topic, but here's a quick round-up of reactions to the MONUC/FARDC mission:

Eve Ensler is upset.

Enough is upset that the world isn't more upset.

Reuters reports the army reform is failing.

The Inner City Press reports that Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former MONUC commander, said that recent events in Eastern Congo are "shameful" and "destroy the reputation of the UN and of MONUC."

And various people see active dissimulation and conspiracy instead of policy inertia and indifference. See here and here, for example.

One quick thought. Whether it's MONUC with FARDC against the FDLR or the US with Museveni against the LRA, people are asking variations on the same question: who's redeemable? Who can we work with? If all sides are responsible for human rights abuses, is it ever OK to help those who are somewhat less awful fight those who are more awful? I don't know the answer, but I remember an old line from one of Graham Greene's characters that might be apposite: "Better to have blood on your hands than water, like Pilate." What I can't remember is whether this was said by someone we were meant to admire, or someone with a gift for self-justification.

Washington Post Chronicles UN/Congo-Created Disaster

People are responsible for the predictable consequences of their actions. The UN and the Congolese government knew that an attempt to round-up the ex-genocidaires would provoke them to lash out at innocent Congolese civilians. Given these circumstances, it was incumbent on them to have the power to achieve their objectives quickly and decisively. Yet it was clear from the outset of the operation that they lacked the manpower, training, and equipment to do the job. The results are detailed in a story in today's Washington Post, titled Fresh Nightmare in Congo.
MINOVA, Congo -- A Congolese military operation against Rwandan rebels who have caused years of conflict in eastern Congo is unleashing fresh horrors across this region's rolling green hills.

The mission, backed logistically by U.N. peacekeepers and politically by the United States, aims to disband the remaining 7,000 or so Rwandan Hutu rebels who fled into eastern Congo after the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

But since the operation began in January, villagers have recounted nightmarish stories that raise questions about whether the military action will ultimately cause more destruction than it prevents.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Remember how Congo and Rwanda Suddenly Teamed Up to Fight the FDLR?

In an operation they called Umoja Wetu? The sudden reconciliation of the two former enemies flummoxed many observers, who were understandably relieved that the driving enmity behind Africa's first continental was finally at an end. For example, here, and here, and here. But I said: something's not right, there must be another agenda at work besides two former enemies suddenly seeing the light. At first, I speculated Kabila had given Rwanda access to the Kivus in return for Rwanda eliminating rebel leader Nkunda. But then came this story from Stop the War in North Kivu, about a major methane plant project.

Further confirmation came last week that the methane deal provoked the two nations' sudden reconciliation. Joe Bavier of Reuters writes:
Former foes Congo and Rwanda have agreed to a joint project to produce 200 megawatts of power from methane gas reservoirs in the lake on their shared border, a senior Congolese power official said on Friday.

The joint power generation deal is the latest sign of improved relations between Rwanda and the much larger Democratic Republic of Congo, who have fought wars, largely over mineral resources in Congo's east, during the last 15 years.

Lake Kivu, which straddles the border between the two Great Lakes region countries, contains large amounts of the highly combustable gas dissolved in its deep, cold waters. ...

The power deal follows joint military operations earlier this year to root out the Rwandan Hutu rebels which have been at the heart of much of the violence between the two nations. ...

The military operations marked a dramatic shift in regional politics, with Rwanda helping end a Congolese rebellion Kigali had been previously accused of backing in exchange for being allowed to send its army to fight the Rwandan rebels.

Serufuli said the deal was also part of the framework of improving relations between countries and would dispel security concerns the investors may have before they get involved in the $300 million plan.
As a legitimate effort to stamp out the FDLR, Operation Umoja Wetu was a disaster. Few FDLR were killed or taken, and the FDLR took out its wrath on the Congolese, killing hundreds and displacing tens of thousands. But as a signal to investors that they need not have security concerns, the operation appears to have been a success.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Minerals Are the Problem, but Can they Be the Solution?

The Enough Project, an American advocacy organization, and Resource Consulting Services, a British research firm, recently published dueling papers about the role of minerals in fueling the conflict in the Congo. Enough, which attempts to galvanize a domestic constituency to oppose genocide and mass murder, says there’s a “strong and undeniable” link between electronic devices such as cell phones, whose manufacture requires minerals found in eastern Congo (among other places), and the horrifying level of rape and violence in that region. They call on consumers to demand that electronics companies make sure that their products contain only conflict-free minerals. RCS argues that the proliferation of violence in the region is a manifestation of the Congolese government’s failure to control its territory. They call for a broad-based, bottom-up effort to rebuild the state by incorporating the various stakeholders into a legitimate, formal economy. The RCS report, which appeared a few weeks after Enough’s did, repudiates the American group’s apparent call for a boycott of conflict minerals. It argues that a boycott would harm the region’s million or so subsistence miners while doing little to address the conflict’s root causes.

First, a little background. Africa’s first continental war began in 1998, after the man the Rwandans picked to replace Mobutu, Laurent Kabila, spurned his patrons mere months after they had installed him in Kinshasa. Piqued, Rwandan president Paul Kagame launched a swift and devastating response, and it was only with the timely intercession of Angolan troops that Kabila was able to secure his capital. Years of low-intensity warfare left the country variously bisected, trisected or more, as the two invading powers, Rwanda and Uganda, established and dissolved proxy militia whose opportunistic alliances even experts need flashcards to keep straight. Eventually, Rwanda, the main antagonist, agreed to withdraw, but not before the eastern third of Congo had become virtually ungovernable, as Hobbesian a place as Somalia or the tribal areas of Afghanistan. Although the level of inter-military violence was never particularly high, the disruptions caused by the war brought about levels of mortality unseen anywhere since World War II. The International Rescue Committee’s detailed studies suggest that five million more people have died in the Congo than would have died had there been no war, and that the Congo continues to experience some 45,000 excess deaths each month. Another troubling development has been a sharp rise in the incidence of rape. Exact figures on this are impossible to ascertain, but the UN says that at least 27,000 women were raped in South Kivu in 2006 alone; the NGO Care says that at least 400 women are raped each month; and journalists sometimes estimate that there have been more than 100,000 victims in the last few years. Indeed, violent rape requiring surgical intervention has become the war's signature contribution to the world's litany of horrors.

So how to assess these two organizations’ competing claims? Start with an uncontroversial observation: The wars in the Congo have been fueled by a quest to control the country’s vast mineral deposits. Those deposits include diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, tin, tungsten, coltan, and an array of other valuable minerals—as many as 1,100 others, according to the World Bank. RCS estimates that armed groups, including a wayward offshoot of the Congolese army, pulled in some $180 million last year from the taxation and sale of these minerals. For some of the armed groups the mineral wealth has been fortuitous, a way to provision themselves while they pursue their political agenda; for others, the goal all along has been plunder. Experts continue to debate the proportion of greed and creed motivating the various antagonists. But most would agree that the wars wouldn't be nearly as intense and intractable if eastern Congo were merely a well-irrigated landscape of cassava fields interspersed with tea and quinine plantations, rather than the geographical prodigy that it is.

This observation may not be controversial, but in practice it has often been overlooked. For the past decade, much of the gray literature on the DRC was driven by the “spillover” metaphor. In this view, the ex-genocidaires who took refuge in eastern Congo after Paul Kagame defeated the genocidal Rwandan government in 1994 posed an existential threat to the new regime. Their continuing presence in Congo, and the Congolese government’s failure to contain them, explained and justified the Rwandan army’s repeated incursions into Congolese territory. Few have been more prominent in propagating this view than the New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch, who reprised it in a recent article about the reconciliation process in Rwanda, but the International Crisis Group, the Enough Project, and the U.S. Institute of Peace have all published analyses of the war that omit any serious discussion of the role that mineral wealth has played in fueling it.

That omission always struck me as unfortunate. During the Rwandan–spearheaded overthrow of Mobutu in 1996-97, the Rwandan army hunted down and exterminated tens of thousands of ex-genocidaires, their kin, and innocent Hutu non-combatants. But after that, Rwanda seemed to lose interest in chasing down the remaining ex-genocidaires, a group comprised mostly of young Hutu who weren't old enough to have participated in the original genocide. From 1998 to 2003, during Rwanda’s quasi-official occupation of eastern Congo, the Rwandan army rarely engaged its former enemies in combat, and sometimes even collaborated with them on mining operations. In 2000 and 2001, Rwandan forces waged pitched battles against the Ugandan army for control of gold mines on the outskirts of Kisangani, a river town in north-central Congo. Thousands of Congolese civilians died in the crossfire. Uganda was Rwanda’s erstwhile ally in the war against Kabila, and Kisangani is a thousand kilometers from any population of ex-genocidaires. So it would be as if the United States, having invaded Iraq, started cutting business deals with al Qaeda but killed thousands of Iraqi bystanders in a battle against the British for control of the oil fields of Kirkuk. For their part, the ex-genocidaires launched only a handful of derisory attacks on targets inside of Rwanda after 1997, and to my knowledge haven’t launched any since 2001. They do, however, continue to prey on Congolese civilians, and are among the worst of the militia terrorizing the innocent in eastern Congo.

It is a measure of the continuing guilt that some Westerners feel about the genocide—or more accurately, that they believe the West incurred for failing to prevent the genocide—that there is still such a reluctance to call out the Rwandans for their activities in the Congo. (The Canadian general Romeo Dallaire, who as commander of the UN troops in Rwanda in 1994 is one of the few Westerners to have genuinely experienced remorse, has not hesitated to criticize Rwanda's actions in the DRC.) It is surprising, too, that some research and advocacy organizations took so long to recognize the salience of mineral wealth to the ongoing strife in the region. The information was certainly available. The definitive research on Rwanda's role in trafficking Congolese minerals and supporting rebel groups has been done by UN panels of experts in a succession of reports dating from 2001. In 2001 Blaine Harden published a vivid story in the New York Times magazine detailing the travails of a Congolese madam catering to coltan miners, and Global Witness, a British advocacy group that focuses on conflict resources, produced its first report on the DRC in 2004.

Meanwhile, in a series of papers beginning in 1999, Paul Collier and his colleagues at the World Bank pioneered the intellectual framework for a political economy approach to Africa’s civil wars. Collier’s insight was that the likelihood of a civil war in any given African country depends on the feasibility of rebellion. Like any good scientific thesis, this one came with confirmable hypotheses--for example, that countries with weak states and plenty of dispersed pockets of wealth are more likely to experience civil war. Another was that the grievances of the rebel (or invading) militia would be largely pretextual. If you accept, as I have argued here (and elsewhere for much of the last decade), that Rwanda's incursions since 1998 have been driven more by greed that grievance--more by the lure of minerals than the desire to protect itself from the remnants of the ex-genocidaires--then the Congo would seem to be a perfect illustration of Collier's argument. The clarity of this line of thought persuaded many of us (including myself), to look into ways of closing off or sanctioning the rebels' financing. Endless rounds of diplomacy would accomplish little, we argued, since the differences between the various antagonists weren't the main reason they were at war; but if we cut off their source of income the rebellions would shrivel up.

Enough, along with the International Crisis Group, was one of the laggards in focusing on the mineral connection; for years it largely promoted the spillover view of the conflict. As recently as December, 2008, for example, Enough was writing that "Dismantling the FDLR [ex-genocidaires] would force the CNDP, the Congolese government, and the Rwandan government to negotiate solutions to the other major tensions driving the conflict." (It never explained how: a bogeyman doesn't have to be real to be frightening.) Their current position, that “the deadly nexus between the worst violence against women in the world and the purchase of electronics products containing conflict minerals from the Congo is direct and undeniable,” may not explicitly contradict their earlier analysis, but it constitutes a welcome and overdue change of emphasis.

That said, there is something disproportionate between the rhetoric the Enough Campaign uses to discuss the Congo’s woes and the recommendations it makes to help resolve them. I noted earlier that RCS framed its paper in opposition to Enough’s apparent proposal to boycott Congolese conflict resources. It is easy to see why RCS believed a boycott to be Enough’s principal recommendation. Here, for example, are the opening paragraphs of their Activist Brief:

The time has come to expose a sinister reality: Our insatiable demand for electronics products such as cell phones and laptops is helping fuel waves of sexual violence in a place that most of us will never go, affecting people most of us will never meet. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the scene of the deadliest conflict globally since World War II. There are few other conflicts in the world where the link between our consumer appetites and mass human suffering is so direct.
This reality is not the result of an elaborate cover-up, either. Most electronic companies and consumers genuinely do not appreciate the complex chain of events that ties widespread sexual violence in Congo with the minerals that power our cell phones, laptops, mp3 players, video games, and digital cameras.
[N]ow that we are beginning to understand these linkages, we need to do all we can to expose them and bring this deadly war fuelled by “conflict minerals” to an end. As a start, the Enough Project has worked with other like-minded groups to create a conflict minerals pledge that commits electronics companies to ensure their products are conflict-free.

Since any mineral emerging from the eastern DRC almost certainly makes profits for one or several of the militias on its way from a Congolese pit to a port on Africa's Indian Ocean, most readers might assume that Enough is calling for a boycott of all of eastern Congo's minerals. That was certainly my first impression. Enough insists, however, that it is aware of the pitfalls of a boycott and is simply calling for greater due diligence. “This is not something that can happen overnight,” said David Sullivan, one of Enough’s analysts. “We are committed to ending conflict minerals down the road, but we think a lot can be done by companies leveraging their purchasing power and expertise to bring greater transparency to the supply chain.”

The challenges a group like Enough faces must be considerable. It can’t be easy to arouse public indignation over events that occur in obscure places. To find ways of channeling that concern into productive political action must be harder still. Yet I can’t help but feel that after issuing such a roar, Enough has given birth to something of a mouse. What do we want? Greater transparency in the supply chain linking the minerals produced in eastern Congo to consumer electronic companies! When do we want it? At some point in the future, provided that the transparency we seek doesn’t have the inadvertent effect of dampening demand for Congolese minerals or contributing to the further immiseration of Congolese miners! Hard to put that on a bumper sticker; harder still to imagine how such a modest, finely threaded recommendation could have a major impact on the situation in Congo. In the end, I’m left wondering if Enough would have made consumer electronics their principal focus had they found more promising ways of personalizing the issue and galvanizing public concern.

Resource Consulting Services is in the happier position of having to draw up its recommendations for a much narrower group, the professionals in the NGO and government communities whose remit the Congo is. Their primary recommendation is to convene “an independently facilitated, solutions- and action-oriented multi-stakeholder dialogue,” whose purpose would be to “ground policy makers in the reality of what can and cannot be achieved, and ensure [that] interventions are aligned with local stakeholders’ priorities and perspectives.” If all that sounds like a mouthful, it is. RCS has done some excellent, even outstanding, research on the sociology and economics of mining camps in eastern Congo, but its language in this report can be labored, as in its call for a “political process that will inspire the creation of political institutions that can transform the incentive systems for economic actors.” The report also has a disconcerting, lapel-grabbing habit of assuring its readers that it is “grounded in reality,” or that its proposed reform process “can be achieved.”

The premise of the report is that the Congo’s resources can become a force for development, “both because they sustain livelihoods, and because they are the principal source of revenue for states to finance security, social services and infrastructure.” They argue that the way to harness these resources is to formalize the mineral trade. And the way to do that, they say, is to bring stakeholders together, help them recognize that there are more profitable ways to arrange their relationships, and then help them forge those new arrangements through a joint, consensual process.

This strikes me as optimistic. Only a few developed states, where the rule of law was already well-entrenched, have been able to use their resources for the public’s benefit. (Botswana being, as always, the notable exception.) Most third world states endowed with natural resources have become corrupt and dysfunctional, as elites, liberated from constituent political pressure, compete among themselves for a piece of the state’s “windfall” resource revenues. Political scientists have developed a wealth of terminology for such states: patrimonial, prebendal, parasitic and predatory, to mention only the "P"s. The Congolese state under Mobutu was the poster child for this sort of dysfunction, and there is little evidence that the current Congolese government is much of an improvement.

This, in the end, is the reason I find RCS’s proposals unconvincing: they rest on an overly benign view of the Congolese government. Nicholas Garrett, one of RCS's researchers, thinks the jury is still out on Kabila. “The development of the Congo could go either way,” he wrote to me. “One thing for sure is that the Congolese state will remain ineffective if the international community shies away from developmentally effective engagement.” I think this formulation gets it backwards. Some eight years after Kabila fils took power, the Congo remains a dysfunctional mess, incapable of the minimal functions of a state. It can’t gather taxes; it can’t retain, account for, or expend the taxes it does collect; and it’s done nothing constructive on the development front, despite one of the great boons in global commodity prices. Above all, it’s proven utterly incapable of fielding an army willing to take on the enemy rather than its own defenseless citizens. Stipulate that the Congolese government is an impediment to progress, at least in its current incarnation, and the question becomes: What can we do to help the many Congolese who are working to improve their lot if their own state is more of an adversary than a partner?

RCS and Enough both gesture in the direction of answering this question, and their answers are similar--but sketchy. Both recognize that the Congolese government’s inability to control its territory is a basic system failure, and both insist on the need for security sector reform. Neither group, however, provides much detail on how to accomplish that goal, and I for one can't see it happening. The Congolese government doesn’t care enough to make the effort, and would probably view it as a threat more than an opportunity. (I am reliably told, for example, that the chief of the police and security forces is a flat-out psychopath.) Both groups argue that MONUC—the 18,000-soldier UN peacekeeping mission to the Congo—should consider seizing the more significant mines and placing them under international administration. I’ve been advocating that idea for years; in 2005 I pressed then-MONUC chief William Swing about its feasibility during one of his visits to DC. He was reluctant to pursue the idea, perhaps because it would have greatly expanded the burden on his troops, never particularly competent to begin with. In any case, I have since learned from RCS that many of the mines are small, artisanal pits, easy to construct and abandon, and correspondingly difficult to police. This is especially true of the gold “mines” operated by the ex-genocidaires. So the perverse effect of seizing some mines might be increase the relative strength of the most negative forces in the region. Both, finally, endorse the notion of conducting an extensive mapping operation to provide a full picture of the region’s mineral trade.

There has been a plethora of work recently on Congolese minerals. I mentioned the UN, which has documented the extent of Rwandan involvement in the trade in one damning report after another, most recently in a much-lauded report published in December 2008. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have issued reports focused on specific instances of abuse arising from conflict minerals. Other groups that have done excellent work on the topic include Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) out of South Africa (but funded by Soros), Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), and the Belgian International Peace Information Service (IPIS). As far as I know, however, none of these groups go as far as Enough and RCS have in attempting to conceptualize how the minerals could be 'instrumentalized" for peace.

In testimony to Enough's lobbying power, a handful of US senators sponsored a bill in May that would require U.S. companies to track and disclose the country of origin of minerals used in common electronic products. If the bill passes, companies will face an unpleasant choice: either disclose that they are helping fund militia groups operating in the DRC, or demand that their suppliers purchase minerals from more expensive sources. It will be interesting to see if Enough has the strength to take on the consumer electronic industry and move this bill through to passage.

I have been insisting for so long on the importance of the mineral trade that I feel ungrateful for wondering, now that attention is being paid, if the focus on minerals provides the best way of addressing the Congo’s problems. But thinking about these two papers makes me question whether we've taken a hold of the right end of the bat. Unlike RCS, I don’t believe that local actors can ever incorporate themselves into an effective administration; their interests are too kaleidoscopic and contradictory. Unlike Enough, I don’t believe that a focus on the supply chain will take us very far. It may not be what they intended, but by thoughtfully laying out the opposing strategies for confronting the mineral trade, the Enough and RCS papers suggest the limits of a mineral-centric strategy for rebuilding peace in the Congo.

But if neither restricting nor engaging the trade is likely to help, then what is? Collier’s observation that the incidence of civil war reflects the feasibility of rebellion led many of us to foreground the mineral trade. But while resources may make rebellions feasible, it is weak states that make them possible. It is routinely noted that the Congolese government lacks the capacity and will to effectively control its territory and maintain a monopoly of violence. Until it starts behaving like an effective state, the Congo cannot be at peace. No amount of calling upon, enticing, or bullying the Congolese government will convince it to transform itself from a patrimonial, rentier, state to a modern, development-oriented state. The Congolese government is what it is; until a new administration comes to power, not much is likely to change.

That leaves the international community. It already has a substantial presence in eastern Congo in the form of the 18,000 MONUC troops. The total bill for maintaining those troops exceeds one billion dollars a year, of which the United States contributes over a quarter. That is a tremendous amount of money, but it is magnitudes less than what the US spends on Iraq or Afghanistan, countries whose main claim on our attention is that they harbored potential enemies. A cynic might wonder if Congolese are destined to suffer because their people never hated us enough, despite our having imposed on them a dictator who robbed them blind for thirty years. Surely our historical responsibilities--and the sheer magnitude of their distress--dictate a larger response. My main recommendation, then, is simply this: for the international community to leverage MONUC into an international gendarmerie, with troops capable of enforcing order as well as peace. And my second recommendation would be to establish a bureaucracy that auctions the region's mineral wealth on the open market and uses the revenues to fund infrastructure projects and social services.

Are these realistic recommendations, in the sense of having a good chance of being adopted? Probably not, at least at the moment. The Obama administration appears no more willing to expend political capital on purely humanitarian concerns abroad than any previous presidential administration. And the Europeans rebuffed Ban Ki Moon's request for 3,000 additional troops for MONUC in December 2008. But it seems to me to be a mistake to calibrate your recommendations to what you think is politically feasible. How useful is it to propose "enactable" recommendations if they're not enough to get the job done? Better to say what’s needed, without considering the politics involved, and then work to convince the world that what’s necessary is worth the effort and expense. There are no shortcuts, no royal roads, to peace in the Congo. And there’s just no substitute for a state.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

CNBC: The "C" Stands for Confused

So CNBC had a segment today on Congo conflict minerals--specifically, cobalt. And the piece makes a lot of the usual points: that the DRC is in the midst of a deadly war, that the minerals are fueling opposing sides of that war, that most of the actual mining is conducted under dangerous & technologically primitive conditions, and that although the minerals are used in batteries and cell phones, the electronics companies say have no way of determining where the minerals they use come from, so hey, don't look to them for solutions. They even locate Jason Stearns on a hillside somewhere--it looked like the backdrop was Kampala, but I'm not sure--saying that a boycott would hurt the hundreds of thousands of artisanal miners who depend on the minerals for their livelihood.

And I keep thinking: Cobalt? You mean coltan, right? Because cobalt is mined in Katanga, where there's no conflict. And no one is asking the electronics companies to stop purchasing Congolese cobalt. So I'm getting increasingly confused.

The segment concludes by saying that one American company is hoping to solve that problem, by investing billions in the Congo. And finally a light goes off.

CNBC has been running some stories lately collectively called Dollars and Danger: Africa, the Final Investing Frontier. But they know that the fact that a US company is building a mine in Africa isn't terribly exciting. Africa's always been good for resource exploitation. So to sex it up they smush it together with another story--Congo's conflict minerals. Now they've got something: a story about a US company helping to end conflict and keep kids out of the hell trap of artisanal mining. It even features an uplifting moral: investing in Africa isn't just a way to do well, it's a way to do good.

This may be true. It may be worth saying. But unlike Mark Twain, who famously declared that he never let the facts stand in the way of a good story, CNBC is in the news business. It shouldn't be concocting stories--even if the larger point is a worthy one.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Flaunting IT

AMD, the pepsi to Intel's coke in the microprocessor wars, is coming out with a new, ultra-thin laptop technology. The new chip is codenamed the Congo.

Hard to imagine how a major corporation could have such a deaf ear. The electronics industry has been the target of a consumer campaign alleging that the minerals the electronic companies purchase from eastern Congo are helping to fuel war and rape in that country. Nicknaming their product after the Congo--well, that takes chutzpah. As long as they're at it, I propose AMD adopt a new moniker: "AMD, Proud Sponsor of African Warlords since 2002."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Quote of the Day

Almost half the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives on less than $1 per day. But while this poverty is at the root of many of the pressing problems Africa faces, so is the powerlessness of the poor. During the course of the last forty to fifty years, most Africans, in large measure because of their leaders' attitudes and policies, have come to believe that they cannot act on their own behalf. Self-determination and personal and collective uplift, values embraced by the great majority of Africans in the period just after independence, have been eroded.

Disempowerment - whether defined in terms of a lack of self-confidence, apathy, fear, or an inability to take charge of one's own life - is perhaps the most unrecognised problem in Africa today. To the disempowered, it seems much easier or even more acceptable to leave one's life in the hands of third parties (governments, aid agencies, and even God) than to try to alleviate one's circumstances through one's own effort.

This "syndrome" is a problem that of course affects far more than Africans, and far more than the poor. Nevertheless, I have found it to be as substantial a bottleneck to development in Africa as inadequate infrastructure or bad governance, and it has added an extra weight to the work of those who want to enable individuals and communities to better their circumstances.

--Wangari Maathai, Beyond the Culture of Dependency