Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bisie: A Reality Check

One of the most repeated criticisms of my NY Times piece about conflict minerals is that in my zeal to make the case against Dodd Frank I ignored the many positive developments that were happening on the ground as a result of it. Principal among those developments was said to be the de-militarization of Bisie, the largest tin mine in the Kivus.
Below I cite three instances of advocates making that argument, but there have been many more. Advocates have advanced the claim that Bisie has been demilitarized not only in writing but in conference after conference and to numerous journalists, diplomats, and policymakers. In fact, I can't think of another development they have cited nearly as often as this one to demonstrate the legislation's achievements.

  • However, we have already seen a number of changes in the minerals sector, which can, in part or in whole, be attributed to the impending arrival of DoddFrank, or rather DoddFrank in its full form. Those include some very positive impacts. For the first time in five years, the Congolese Government has removed national army units from the region’s most important mine, which is called Bisie in Walikale in North Kivu, which accounts for around 70% of the tin ore production from the province. That is pretty unprecedented in terms of the history of this conflict. Mike Davis, Global WitnessHouse of Commons, Tuesday 13 September 2011, Oral Evidence Taken Before The International Development Committee Inquiry Into Working Effectively In Fragile And Conflict Affected States: DRC, Rwanda And Burundi 
  • International pressure generated by the Dodd Frank Act and UN and OECD initiatives has already persuaded the Congolese government to remove army units that were illegally occupying key mining areas. The most important example is the withdrawal of troops from the region’s largest tin mine, Bisie, which accounts for 70% of the tin ore produced in North Kivu Province. This paves the way for the establishment of a conflict free mineral trade that meets international due diligence standards and can foster peaceful economic development in the region.     Global Witness, Unsigned. August 10th, 2011. "The Dodd-Frank Act – recent developments and the case for urgent action." 
  • Since the legislation passed, it has had a direct impact on armed commanders. Our team travels frequently to Congo, and we have seen first-hand how the Congolese army has pulled out of several major mines. For example, the Bisie mine produces some 70 percent of North Kivu's tin ore and was occupied illegally by a renegade unit of the Congolese army for years, but was demilitarized this year. Whether this demilitarization lasts is dependent on further reform, but it is starting to occur at Bisie and several other mines.     Sasha Lezhnev, The Enough Project, on Aug 09, 2011     "What Conflict Minerals Legislation Is Actually Accomplishing in Congo"
Given that Bisie was the advocates' primary example of success, it is worth checking in with some researchers who have actually visited the mine recently. IPIS and Fatal Transactions are well-known for their thorough mapping reports of the conflicts in the Congo. No one would call them stooges for the Chamber of Commerce. Recently, a couple of their researchers visited Bisie. This is what they had to say:
Much has happened in the mining sector of Eastern DRC over the last year. President Kabila imposed a ban on all mining activities last fall, during which production fell considerably. As soon as the suspension was lifted in the spring of this year, the major global electronic companies stopped buying minerals from the region, provoking a de facto embargo on Congo’s minerals with detrimental effects on the sector. At the same time, the Congolese government has taken major steps to restructure its army in the east of the country. These different decisions in the mining and security sectors have affected the nature and volume of minerals production and export and have reconfigured the security situation in the region. The consequences of these actions are discussed and illustrated with the use of the most important and well-known cassiterite mine in North Kivu called Bisie.

Bisie shows first that production fell significantly during the ban, but mining activities unquestionably continued, as satellite imagery indicates. Second, despite the ban’s focus on ending the involvement of military and civil authorities in the illicit exploitation and trade of minerals, certain military units strengthened their grip. Third, while the regular army withdrew from many mining sites as a result of military restructuring, armed groups sometimes filled the void, increasing widespread insecurity. Fourth, the de facto embargo has decreased the potential profit for armed groups and corrupt military units, but it has also left many miners unemployed, increased smuggling, and undermined the continuation of important government and industry-led due diligence initiatives.
Sarah Zingg Wimmer, Filip Hilgert
IPIS and Fatal Transactions, 28 November, 2011
 Bisie. A one-year snapshot of the DRC’s principal cassiterite mine
So to summarize: The electronics companies stopped buying the minerals, thus imposing a de facto embargo.  The embargo has led to a precipitous drop in mineral exports, and driven the remainder of the trade underground. While some army units have left Bisie, other units have strengthened their control over other portions of it.  Elsewhere, militia groups moved back in as soon as the army withdrew. While armed groups may, on the whole, be making less money than they used to from minerals, the embargo has deprived miners of their livelihoods, increased smuggling, and thrown a wrench into the various government and industry-led due-diligence initiatives that were in place and trying to move the issue forward. 

If that's the advocates' primary example of success, I'd hate to see what their idea of failure is.

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