I spoke at a World Bank event last week (November 9) on the various initiatives underway to develop conflict-free mineral sourcing from the DRC. Also speaking at the event were Brad Brooks-Rubin, of the US State Department, Assheton Carter, of Pact; Rick Goss, of the Information Technology Industry Council; Sophia Pickles, of Global Witness; Gotthard Walser, of the World Bank; and Mvemba Dizolele, of the Hoover Institute.
I made four points--or tried to, rather. The speakers were given only five minutes each, and it turns out that five minutes goes by very quickly when you're the one doing the talking. So I'm not sure I got more than one and a half of my points out cogently.
The first point is that we are on the way to fetishizing conflict mineral programs. We are at risk, that is, of forgetting that conflict-free mineral supply chains are not an end in themselves. They are a means: The end is bringing peace to eastern Congo. Now even if you believe, as I do not, that ending the trade in conflict minerals is a major step to ending the violence in the Congo, and even if you believe, as I do not, that such efforts will prove effective and feasible, you have to wonder at the proportionality of all this. Compare how much discussion and analysis we've conducted on conflict minerals to, say, attempts to reduce or eliminate the FDLR's presence. There are easily some 50 to 70 serious papers in the blogosphere about cleaning up the mineral chain. There are none, so far as I know, about what is needed to neutralize the FDLR. Or consider a recent Tulane study that found it will cost nearly $8 billion to implement 1502. Can that really be the most effective use of our limited resources--when all Hilary Clinton was able to dredge up on her visit two years ago to help the victims of sexual abuse was $18 million, less than one-four hundredth that amount? It is time to ask whether our preoccupation with conflict minerals isn't coming at the expense of addressing other, more effective ways to remedy the Congo's problems.
The second point I made is that civil society leaders in Kivu take an agnostic, "led a hundred flowers bloom" attitude toward the various initiatives underway. Their concern is less about the details of any project than about making sure they participate in the conceptualization and design of the project--and not just in its implementation. "Pour nous, sans nous, c'est contre nous," has become something of their battle cry. We westerners have to be sensitive here, because they already feel as if they were shut out of the discussion about conflict minerals from the start, and that this failure to consult has already had disastrous consequences for them. So as we talk about buy-in and local ownership, and use those phrases we do, we have to mean them. We can't just fly in with a pre-established plan and trust that our money will encourage our partners on the ground to happily implement a project not of their own making.
The third is that we have to find a way to overcome the de facto embargo if we are going to successfully develop conflict free programs and initiatives. It's hard to identify "best practices" for exporting minerals out of the Congo if no one will buy them once we do. What company would be willing to accept Congolese minerals--even for free--unless they come pre-certified and guaranteed not to provoke the wrath of Global Witness or Enough? And how much more difficult will it be to develop those programs out of whole cloth rather than bit by bit?
My fourth point was that we still need to take account of the impact the law has already had on the people of eastern Congo. We need, that is, to conduct a social impact assessment. There is a lot of evidence on the ground that DF-1502 has imposed an unconscionable level of deprivation on many thousands of Congolese people. Any responsible effort to develop and implement conflict free supply chains has to begin, right away, with an effort to alleviate the suffering it is causing now. We can't ignore that suffering, we can't dismiss it as an "inevitable dislocation," we can't refuse even to study what impact the law has already had. Or rather, we can, but only at this cost: of becoming a passerby to an accident we ourselves helped cause.