Sunday, September 18, 2011

"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.     

One of the main challenges for improving the situation in Congo is the demilitarisation of the mining sites and guaranteeing security. This would be the ideal measure, but the practical situation on the ground is very fragile. How can thousands of porters carrying 50 kilograms of tin ore each use bush roads without being attacked by armed groups? This is complex. On one hand there is a need to demilitarise mining sites and bush roads used by porters and on the other hand, who should secure the paths and mining sites?  Here is a task for the police, but they need to be paid. A suggestion would be to invest part of the money allocated to MONUSCO to the police, in order to protect the civilian population. These police forces could then secure the mining sites and the population in the short and long term.  

If the EU wants to do something then go to Congo and speak with locals, take into account local  perspectives, and involve the private sector and civil society. It should make sure local efforts are integrated in international processes. In that way, a European law on conflict minerals might be able to fill the gaps Dodd Frank has left opened.   

--Excerpted from ROUNDTABLE ON CONFLICT MINERALS LEGISLATION: Towards prevention of trade in conflict minerals and promotion of trade in clean minerals from Congo, published by 

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