Thursday, September 29, 2011


I suppose any sort of artist who deals with violence struggles with the question of how to depict it. TV producers covering 9-11 in real time made an instant decision not to show us images of people plummeting from the Towers--a decision that still seems right a decade on. The most violent thing I've ever seen on film was the episode in Jewel in the Crown when Mildred Layton tosses a glass of water at Barbie Batchelor. But Laocoon was originally painted in gory polychrome and the Sopranos was hardly an exercise in restraint. Emmett Till's mother held the service with an open casket, the pages of Dante fairly dance with horror, and no one calls Guernica gratuitous.  Fiction or reality, epic poetry or television specials; if there is a rule here about when violence should be rendered and when only alluded to, I can't find it.

Nor is it an entirely misguided to reset the violence of Congo in the British countryside. Violence in the Congo has become a dog-bites-man story; it needs to be seen afresh or it won't be seen at all. Besides, white people's sympathetic motor neurons don't register the experience of the darker skinned, or anyway not as much. A few years ago, a Belgian charity used popular cartoon characters to depict the plight of the refugees they were helping. I wondered if we could ever borrow the Simpsons for a similar purpose. Done right, this could be effective.

So what's the matter with Unwatchable? Nearly everything. It's too much and not enough, shocking yet inert, baffling rather than mimetic. It substitutes agitprop for understanding. We end less enlightened than we began, alienated instead of sympathetic. It is possible to depict the most horrifying sort of violence, I suppose, but only if it's done in good taste, a quality as elusive as humor--and at root as moral.

SEC to Hold Roundtable on Conflict Minerals

This is VERY BIG news. It tells me two things. First,the SEC believes it has some latitude in deciding how to implement the law.Second, the agency is concerned about the possible negative repercussions Dodd-Frank might have for Congolese. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be hearing from "human rights groups, and other stakeholders." (That's an instructive comma if ever there was one.)

However, there's a lot that this press release leaves unanswered. How much latitude does the SEC believe it has? On what grounds? The fact that the SEC is interested in the "challenges" of making "workable" rules suggests that it believes feasibility is among the criteria it can consider. Several industry associations have asked the SEC for a phase-in period. Lawyers for those associations have argued that the law is written in a way that gives the SEC the right to impose one. But what about Dodd-Frank's impact on the Congolese? What gives the agency the latitude to consider that in its rule making? How will it determine that impact? Will it entrust that mission to human rights groups? If so, which ones? Stay tuned: we'll know more as the SEC finalizes its speakers' list.

SEC to Hold Roundtable on Conflict Minerals


Washington, D.C., Sept. 29, 2011 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that it will host a public roundtable next month to discuss the agency’s required rulemaking under Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which relates to reporting requirements regarding conflict minerals originating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and adjoining countries.

The event will take place on October 18 from 12:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. and will provide a forum for various stakeholders to exchange views and provide input on issues related to the SEC’s required rulemaking. The panel discussions will focus on key regulatory issues such as appropriate reporting approaches for the final rule, challenges in tracking conflict minerals through the supply chain, and workable due diligence and other requirements related to the rulemaking.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Plea from South Kivu Mining Cooperatives

Three mining cooperatives in South Kivu wrote the following letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission in early April, 2011, expressing their concerns about the catastrophic impact Dodd-Frank's conflict minerals provisions would have on their livelihoods. The original letter filed with the SEC can be found here.

We are the mining cooperatives corporation of the Eastern Congo, based in Bukavu town. So this is the sound of the three provinces “South Kivu, Maniema and North Kivu regarding the Dodd frank bill, the American law regarding the minerals of the DRCongo. We are representing more then 1.000.000 of traditional miners, now located in cooperatives throughout the 3 provinces and are serving more than 5.000.000 of people by their traditional employment, around the great lakes region.

Regarding the Dodd Frank bill, we have got time to think about it, study some deadlines and appreciated the law in the aim to protect the region people against conflict crimes.

Now the problem stays in the application process of this law. The law aims to help Congolese people to get their minerals certification by a right traceability. The artisan mining has been the employment of the 85% Congolese jobless from 30 years ago. This deal has been done in amateurism without any organization. So the traceability and certification are new lessons to teach to this people.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Risk of Advocacy Self-Defeat: Perspectives of CSR Managers

One reason companies like Apple and Intel pulled out of the Congo so precipitously is that the advocates wouldn't accept anything less. The following excerpt from Resource Consulting Services' publication, Beyond Conflict: Reconfiguring approaches to the regional trade in minerals from Eastern DRC, describes how advocacy impatience convinced industry groups that there could be no alternative to withdrawing from the Congo entirely.

“Imagine you are the CSR manager of a company that sells billions of dollars worth of electronic goods and you know you have customers with a conscience. One day NGO representatives come into your office and tell you that your product may contain conflict minerals. The next morning you realize that the same NGO has started to talk to your customer through the press. The next afternoon your sales manager tells you about a call from a sales representative, who was asked whether it was true that the product was fuelling conflict.“

You don’t know what to answer. You don’t know Eastern DRC, the region the NGO is talking about, because your company doesn’t source minerals directly. Unfortunately that also means you cannot rule out any negative externalities of the trade. In the meantime your PR department is going ballistic, because your brand name and the word conflict are too often printed and mentioned in the same sentence. The next morning you gather your troops in a meeting room and a response is internally identified: we will urge our suppliers not to source from Eastern DRC; we will try to put as much distance between our valuable brand and this conflict issue on the ground.

The next day a representative from the government development agency is in your office. He explains the issue from a development perspective and suggests that the minerals are not only associated with conflict, but also with livelihoods and basic survival. The suggestion is that instead of withdrawing from the trade, you should help to reform it. This is unknown territory for you, but given that your company subscribes to a triple bottom line approach, you agree to a dialogue. You speak to the CEOs of your competitors and you collectively agree to start your own industry wide research into the subject. You are aware that a evelopment process takes some time, but you are willing to take the risk, so long as it is acknowledged that you are actively trying to contribute to a solution.

Then the train hits the wall.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Economist Confirms: Dodd-Frank a Disaster for Congolese

This week's Economist has an article confirming three of the most important points I made in my op-ed:
1) Dodd-Frank has resulted in a de facto embargo on exports of minerals from eastern Congo.
2) That embargo has had disastrous consequences for hundreds of thousands of miners and their dependents, as well as for the regional economy as a whole.
3) It has perversely helped, rather than hurt, the militia it was meant to target.

This article does contradict my reporting in one respect. It says miners blame the "American law" for their plight. The people I spoke to called it the "Obama law." This probably represents a regional difference: I was mostly in South Kivu, the Economist's reporter mostly, from what I can tell, in North Kivu. Here's an excerpt from the article:
The dusty streets of Goma, North Kivu’s capital and a mining hub, illustrate Congo’s ills. Metals dealerships dominated the city’s economy until last year but are mostly padlocked now. Repair shops and bars that relied on mining business are empty. So are most public offices. Local government, financed by mining taxes, is insolvent; salaries have not been paid in full for months. 
In the past year Goma has suffered a miserable decline. Hundreds of mines in the surrounding countryside have cut output by as much as 95%. At the Humule coltan mine a few gumbooted miners scramble up a red-earth ravine where last year there were thousands. Most stopped coming because they could no longer find buyers for their nuggets of coltan, a metal used in electronic gadgets. They blame what they call “the American law”. 
An obscure provision in the 2010 Dodd-Frank banking act forces companies listed in America to disclose the exact source of metals procured from Congo. The intention behind the law was good. Congolese militias and rogue army units, whose members rape and murder with abandon, finance themselves through mining and extortion from miners. The law tries to shame big buyers, such as Apple and Motorola, who use Congolese coltan, into dealing only with bona fide suppliers. But the effect has been to frighten them away from Congo altogether. 
So the local economy has dropped off a cliff. Some unemployed miners had been expected to join militias, though evidence that they have done so is scant. Still, militia leaders and corrupt army commanders targeted by the Dodd-Frank law are doing rather well. Unlike legitimate dealers, they run smuggling networks and take metals across borders to sell them. Officials in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda are complicit or turn a blind eye.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Were Congolese Excluded? (Third of Several)

In my NYT op-ed I reported that knowledgeable Congolese felt excluded from the conflict minerals debate. It was, they told me, a dialog dominated by Western advocacy groups confronting Western electronics companies. As a result, they said, immensely important decisions about the lives of millions of Congolese were made without any input from them.

But it's always possible for Dodd-Frank advocates to find, or hire, Congolese who will say the opposite. At a recent event on Capitol Hill, for example, Enough introduced Fidel Bafilemba, their field research consultant, as the person who would "finally tell the truth" about how local people felt about Dodd-Frank.

This poses a dilemma: how can I persuade fair-minded readers that the people I spoke to in Congo represent the consensus view among knowledgeable Congolese, while the Congolese the advocates cite are the exceptions? Short of going there themselves, readers might have to conclude that they lack the knowledge needed to make any conclusions.

It happens, however, that an organization with impeccable credentials for supporting the rights of workers in Third World countries wrote a contemporaneous paper about this very topic. The organization describes itself this way: "MakeITFair is a European project focusing on the electronics industry, especially on consumer electronics like mobile phones, laptops and MP3 players. We want to let young people across Europe know about the labour abuses and environmental problems that are going on right now around the world – just to satisfy our demand for all the latest electronic gadgets." You would think that a group like this would be enthusiastic supporters of the work from Enough and Global Witness. Go look at their website to check out their bona fides. Yet in an October 2010 report, they wrote the following:
Recently, numerous efforts and initiatives ranging from legislation to certification have focused on the link between the conflict and the trade in minerals from Eastern DRC. The makeITfair project, however, deplores the lack of communication with local stakeholders when formulating what should be done. The report entitled ‘Voices from the inside’ presents local views on mining reform in Eastern DRC. Although civil society groups welcome policy makers who are trying to ‘clean up’ the mining business in Eastern DRC, they want to have a stronger voice in the debate and more input into the initiatives that are currently taking shape. 
"When high level institutions and industry are busy drawing up standards, local views and priorities are in danger of remaining unheard. The makeITfair project wants to channel the voices of people and civil society in Eastern DRC," says Päivi Pöyhönen, researcher at Finnwatch and coauthor of the report.
They go on to say:
Recently, numerous efforts and initiatives ranging from legislation to certification have focused on the link between conflict and the mineral trade from Eastern DRC. Despite the fact that all such initiatives aim to end the mineral trade funding armed groups in Eastern DRC, there is growing concern that there is a boycott in practice on minerals from Eastern DRC, which may lead to worse consequences for the people on ground.
 In the field interviews it was demonstrated that all members of civil society groups in Goma and Bukavu welcome the attempts of policymakers to ‘clean up’ the mining business in Eastern DRC. However, they want to have a stronger voice in the debate and more influence over initiatives that are currently taking shape. Most of the respondents rejected the idea of an embargo on minerals from Eastern DRC, while they expressed their concerns about the feasibility of traceability mechanisms, the lack of sensitization and organization of stakeholders at the grassroots level, and the lack of attention to social problems associated with the exploitation and trade in mineral resources. These problems include land disputes, forced labour and sexual violence. During interviews in Goma and Bukavu in May 2010, IPIS encountered very few representatives of civil society groups who were in favour of an embargo on minerals from Eastern DRC. By far most informants questioned the usefulness of an embargo.  
So to summarize:  We have hard evidence, in the form of a contemporaneous report from a credible source, that local experts felt excluded from the debate, and that these local experts were warning anyone who would listen that the conflict minerals initiative was about to result in the imposition of an embargo on the minerals, with disastrous consequences for their own people. Which is exactly what happened.

"Go to Congo and Speak with Locals"

Aloys Tegera is Director of Research at Pole Institute, a research, action and capacity institute based in  Goma, DRC. Pole Institute has become a recognized think tank in the Great Lakes region and works on issues ranging from natural resources, governance issues and community identities. The following is a statement he made regarding the possible new EU regulations regarding conflict minerals.

The mining sector in Congo is a major sector, which accounts for 80% of the exports, 72% of the national  budget and 28% of GDP according to the latest available statistics. Its output and sales are of major  importance for the economy. Also other economic sectors, for example the agricultural sector, are  influenced by the mining sector. Locally, everybody depends on mining!

It is important to note that the minerals have been used in financing the war, but they are not the root cause of the war.  The root cause is the fragility of the state and its absence in many areas of the national life and here lies one of the  important challenges.

The US conflict minerals legislation in the Dodd Frank Act Section 1502 exacerbated the situation in the  DRC, which arose after the government ban was announced in 2010. Before Dodd Frank, various other  processes had started; the German Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe (BGR) had started a certification programme, the tin industry body ITRI had started tagging and bagging quantities of  tin, UN organisation MONUSCO is set to starting up trading centres and the Congolese institution SAESCAM has done a tremendous amount of work in mapping mining sites. The Dodd Frank act has led to a de facto embargo in Congo. Some heavyweight companies withdrew from the local market, and as a consequence the mining and mining-related economies collapsed.     

Friday, September 16, 2011

27,000 Americans Call on Congolese to Boycott Money

With apologies to The Onion.

A swelling chorus of Americans is calling on Congolese to help bring an end to the painful cognitive dissonance they feel whenever they play Angry Birds on their iPhone. Led by lovable celebra-dog Houser, best known for rescuing refugees in the former Zaire, the Americans are asking Congolese miners to boycott all forms and specie of money until they sort out their feelings.

Lovable celebra-dog Houser played a key role in the 1997
refugee crisis in eastern Zaire (Congo).
"Wars are happening in Congo, and some of the minerals in my phone might come from there, so --Wait! Damn that pig! -- anyway, so we're asking the miners to boycott money," said California high school junior Haley Dunphy. "They still have credit cards, right?"

Lovable celebra-dog Houser explained the reasoning behind the boycott: "Woof!" he said, "Woof, Woof!" Dog translator Cesar Turin elaborated: "The miners can make sure that the next time Americans pick up their Wii remote, they won't have to think twice about the terrible conflicts raging in Central Africa," he said. "By refusing to sell their minerals to electronics companies, they can eliminate any connection between our enjoyment and their suffering, leaving us free to enjoy our gaming untroubled."

Congolese miner Dieudonne Kimbasa, 22, expressed his eagerness to help the Americans. Reached by Tel-Sat at his family farm in Maniema, he said he was willing to do "whatever it takes" to help Americans feel better about themselves. "The American people have done so much for us over the years, from installing our beloved former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko to imposing that delightful structural adjustment program that closed our village clinic. Going without money is the least I can do," he said.

"My oldest daughter has recurrent cerebral malaria," he added, unprompted. "She was up all night vomiting. We hoped this morning to exchange our chicken for a plastic UN tarp to wrap her in when she has the chills, but it was stolen last night by Mai Mai rebels. The only thing we have left of value is that sack of cassiterite I spent last month digging up," he said, sighing. "But I guess some things are more important than money."

Quote of the Day

One of the painful things that smart people learned in the last century is that the future cannot be an object of faith...
                                     --Adam Gopnik

Meow. . .

The Lusophone
Miss France is apparently disparaging Miss Universe winner Angola for wearing jeans too often and make-up not often enough, according to a French magazine. Also, she says, the only reason Miss Angola won was because the contest was held in Brazil this year.

Kate and Amanda, I believe this one's for you!

Stem to Stearns?

There is no doubt that the implementation of the law has been sorely wanting, and that there need to be more focus on governance and political developments in general and not just conflict minerals. Nonetheless, I still believe that the Dodd-Frank bill - in Section 1502 on the Congo - should be supported.
--Jason Stearns, August 10, 2011

[T]he legislation passed by Congress last year requiring companies to scrutinize their Congolese supply chains made a lot of sense in itself, but it was ill adapted to the Congolese context. A dysfunctional and corrupt state makes tracing minerals difficult; without the local infrastructure necessary to enforce them, the law's stiff requirements have led most U.S.-based companies to boycott Congolese minerals since April of this year, depriving thousands of Congolese of their livelihoods.
--Jason Stearns, August 27, 2011