This summer, the Wilson Center’s Africa Program, in co-sponsorship with the Enough Project, assembled a panel of experts from American, British, and Congolese governments, private industry, and the NGO community to discuss the deplorable situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) involving conflict minerals and certification as a way forward.
After introductory remarks by Wilson Center President Jane Harman, Africa Program Director Steve McDonald introduced John C. Bradshaw, executive director of the Enough Project, who moderated the panel discussion. [Video Below]
Under Secretary of State Robert D. Hormats began by saying the “extremely traumatic” humanitarian situation in the restive areas of the eastern DRC requires “a bold, resolute, and morally inspired response by the United States and other countries.”
Sasha Lezhnev, policy consultant for the Enough Project, explained how the demand for tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold – for use in batteries, circuit boards, and screens in computers and cellphones – are, in effect, driving the conflict in the DRC.
However, Ambassador to the United States from the DRC Faida Mitifu pointed out that a significant 70 percent of the economy in the eastern regions of the country depends on mining, thus any initiative would have to take into account the livelihoods of the people. In order to assist those communities while a process is formulated, Lezhnev called for targeted development projects in the most affected regions.
The Kimberley Process: A Potential Model?
“If we want to have a lasting impact, we’re going to need a certification process,” Lezhnev said, and we must learn lessons from the Kimberley Process (KP) in order to implement a suitable framework in the DRC.
Clive Wright, who served as the diplomatic negotiator for the KP and head of the foreign policy team for the British High Commission in Ottawa, described the intricacies of the process and its genesis. Under the provisions of the KP, the trade of rough diamonds is permissible, provided that there is a certificate from the country of origin and complementary legislation is in place in the importing country. This agreement was made through consultations and dialogue between the private sector and civil society.
Though successful in certain respects, Wright listed several shortcomings of the KP: it is not legally binding, therefore there are no levers to pull that compel government action; the process is void of an independent monitoring mechanism; and a consensus clause allows one government to block any action which clears the way for the status quo to prevail.
To implement a policy similar to the KP that guarantees legitimate minerals trade in the DRC, Under Secretary Hormats highlighted four key actors that have critical roles independently and collaboratively: 1) regional governments; 2) industry; 3) civil society; and 4) the U.S. government.
Governments in the region face considerable challenges, said Hormats, as rebel groups trade across borders and evade efforts to rein in the commerce of precious gems, minerals, and arms. The states surrounding the Great Lakes – including Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Kenya, and the DRC – have coalesced around these issues and developed a plan that will require effective coordination to ensure credibility. Some countries have already established traceability schemes, which are crucial for states that share borders with the DRC, since smuggling is incessant.
With regard to rebel factions, Kinshasa has occasionally participated in joint operations with the governments of Rwanda and Uganda “to stabilize [and] contain the activities of armed groups,” said Ambassador Mitifu. Progress, though slow, has also been made in demilitarizing the mining areas in the Kivu provinces as well as Maniema and in weakening the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple’s (CNDP) parallel administration.
The government in Kinshasa has made significant steps toward a certification framework and taken punitive action against military personnel who have engaged in illicit trade, said Ambassador Mitifu. She outlined the efforts the Kabila administration has made to address the issue, including initiatives to put in place a credible certification system so that clean minerals can be exported. In conjunction with MONUSCO – the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC – the Congolese government has introduced centers where miners can bring their products and feed them into a legitimate supply chain. Finally, Kinshasa is working closely with the private sector, international organizations, and local NGOs to minimize fraud and enhance cooperation. Nevertheless, governance and corruption represent a formidable roadblock in the implementation of any certification process.
Tim Mohin, the director of corporate responsibility for Advanced Micro Devices – one of the largest semiconductor manufacturers in the world – argued that industry can positively influence the supply chain by creating conflict-free smelter programs and a due diligence bulwark where anyone along the supply chain can trace their resources back to a certified smelter.
Customers, Mohin said, are going to have to insist that businesses comply with this tracking system. Under Secretary Hormats agreed with this sentiment, saying that companies that look into the origin of their minerals send a powerful message to the region and the world. He also expressed hope that “companies [would] work to find ways to adhere to legislation [Dodd-Frank] and honor their obligations to their shareholders without shunning the region’s minerals entirely.”
The most difficult stretches along the supply chain are getting buy-in from the miners and the smelters; overcoming the constraints of socio-economic realities on the ground and geo-politics; and the lack of a sustainable tracing system that spans the spectrum of the supply chain. In addition to shored-up U.S. involvement, Mohin called for increased public-private sector partnerships with incentives reminiscent of the Fair Trade system, development aid to assist displaced people, and enhanced security for artisanal miners and their businesses.
Civil Society and Government
Hormats commended the pivotal role civil society has played and must continue to play in highlighting the humanitarian issues at stake, as governments and companies have been only “dimly aware of the link between human rights abuses and the minerals trade.” Furthermore, Wright encouraged civil society’s participation because it serves as a “great policeman” that monitors the bad behavior of governments, especially when the allure of profiteering seeps into deliberations. Moving forward on boosting security for civil society on the ground in the Congo will be essential.
The U.S. government, Hormats asserted, has to do its part to support initiatives on the table to create conflict-free supply chains. If more revenue is invested in legitimizing supply chains, a substantial portion of the problem would be solved. USAID and the State Department are working with civil society to take action against those responsible for illegitimate trade and exacerbating the conflict. Of course there remains work to be done, but as Under Secretary Hormats indicated “this is the most significant moral issue of our time.”
Derek Langford is a program assistant with the Wilson Center’s Africa Program.