Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Response to Enough

The Huffington Post has published Enough's response to my New York Times op-ed. I think it's unconvincing, for several reasons.

1) The primary argument of my piece is that the Dodd-Frank Act is having a devastating impact on Congolese. Enough doesn't deny that; in fact they acknowledge that "dislocations are inevitable," and estimate that mineral exports from the Kivus have decreased by 75 percent as a result of the law. Some 200,000 to 400,000 people work as artisanal miners in the Kivus. Most of them are young men and heads of households, so it's probably fair to say that one million people, including women and children, depend directly on mining for their livelihood. If a million people one step up from absolute poverty have lost 75 percent of their income, that's a disaster. Those "inevitable dislocations" translate, as I said in my op-ed, to mothers giving birth at home instead of in clinics, children dropping out of school, families going hungry, and whole communities being cut off from the world.

2) Enough continues to maintain that the mineral trade is fueling the conflicts in the Congo. That was arguably true for the period from 2003 to 2008. It was during that period, between the official withdrawal of Rwanda and Uganda on the one hand, and the "global and inclusive agreement" on the other, that a large number of militia groups flourished. There is a serious, sometimes acrimonious debate about the role that minerals played in the conflicts during those years--a debate that feeds into a broader academic discussion about the root causes of civil wars.

But from 2008, nearly all of the militia groups that were once active in the Kivus were incorporated into the national army. The one exception is the FLDR, the remnants of the ex-genocidaires, who are responsible for about 75 to 80 percent of the rape victims seen by Panzi hospital each year. Embattled and hunted down, they have taken refuge in the vast untouched forests of Shabunda, where they make their money by kidnapping and extortion.

The bottom line: while there may have been a time when you could plausibly have argued that the mineral trade fueled the conflicts, that time is past. Most of the militia that participated in the trade have been neutralized, and the one that hasn't been neutralized isn't involved in the trade.

A few minor points: Enough says nothing about my observation that one of the few beneficiaries of the law has been Bosco Ntaganda, a major war criminal, although they do call for his arrest. They claim that I said that the Chinese have taken over the Congolese mineral market, although all I said was that they have "opened up a trading post in North Kivu."  They claim that by using the word "jobs" to refer to what the miners do, I implied that they receive regular wages and benefits. I don't think the word "jobs" has those connotations, but nor do I think that artisinal mining is characterized by debt servitude and child labor, as Enough apparently does. I think it's mostly characterized by young men who prefer to take their chances digging mud out of hillsides to a lifetime of subsistence agriculture.

I do agree with Enough on several points. I think some good might yet come out of tracing and tagging schemes. Arresting Ntaganda and setting up special mixed courts to address the atrocities committed during the two Congo wars are both items high on my wish list. I also think it's vital that relevant civil society viewpoints "be incorporated into the implementation of the legislation." And I agree that "Congolese civil society organizations should have a seat at the table in international negotiations around mining reforms." Finally, I endorse Enough's recommendation that during the "transition from a war economy to legitimate business, mining communities must be supported. To this end, companies and donors should establish a mining community livelihood fund."

My only difference is this: I wish Enough had made sure the groups were heard from and the fund set up before they took it upon themselves to wipe out a million people's livelihoods.


  1. If you claim that the trade in minerals stopped fuelling violence in 2008, then how do you explain the UN GOE report stating that the mass rape of over 300 people in August 2010 was directly linked to competition over mineral resources? Please see -

  2. Some reflections on "livelihoods"

    Just as the multinational companies must weigh their risks before deciding to invest in the DRC, so the young Congolese men and women must do the same before deciding to risk their lives in taking up mining. And just as it makes little sense to suggest to mining companies that they close the mines and invest in agriculture or other ventures, so it does not work to think that miners will be open to abruptly changing their livelihood.
    What the artisanal miners are asking from the international community is a framework where the environment, their own safety, child labor laws are enforced, and humane living and working conditions are strongly defended.
    Perhaps it is time to begin listening to the artisanals.
    Mungwa Pierre