Conflict Minerals in the DRC: Still Fighting Over the Dodd-Frank Act, One Year LaterAugust 11, 2011 By Schuyler Null
One year after the Dodd-Frank Act passed Congress with a provision that was aimed at preventing the sourcing of “conflict minerals” by SEC-registered companies, backlash seems to be growing over the impact of the measure, particularly on artisanal miners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The DRC was singled out as a particular focus of the proposal, thanks to the vocal support of several key NGOs, including the Enough Project and Global Witness, that hoped to impact the rampant violence and rape in the country’s eastern provinces. However, reports are now filing in that the bill has instead led to a de facto embargo on all minerals from the DRC, as U.S. companies find it easier to completely avoid them rather than face an audit. This embargo hurts local livelihoods, as – in addition to militias, rebel groups, and corrupt national army units – many people in the region depend on legitimate artisanal mining; in all, 16 percent of Congo’s population relies on mining in some way, according to the Wall Street Journal (though, as Texas in Africa’s Laura Seay points out, it’s unclear where they got that number).
The negative article from the Wall Street Journal was followed last weekend by a New York Times op-ed from David Aronson, who blogs at Congo Resources. Aronson is insistent that those on the ground in eastern DRC were adamantly against the law from the beginning:
Rarely do local miners, high-level traders, mining companies and civil society leaders agree on an issue. But in eastern Congo, they were unanimous in condemning Dodd-Frank. The Rev. Didier de Failly, a Belgian priest who has lived in Congo for 45 years, insistently warned Western advocacy groups of the dangers posed by their campaign. He told them it was no defense for them to claim that they weren’t proposing an embargo, since what they were doing would inevitably lead to one.
But once the advocacy groups succeeded in framing the debate as a contest between themselves and greedy corporate interests, no one bothered to solicit the opinion of local Congolese. As the leader of a civil-society group, Eric Kajemba, asked me, more in confusion than in anger, “If the advocacy groups aren’t speaking for the people of eastern Congo, whom are they speaking for?”
It’s a bit disingenuous to suggest that supporters of the bill (like Enough and Global Witness) haven’t been on the ground in the DRC – they certainly have. In a letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal, Enough Project Executive Director John Bradshaw pointed out that a “coalition of 40 Congolese human-rights groups have called it ‘the leverage needed to instill and impose ethical business practices in the Great Lakes region.’” And that, since its passage, “the bill has diminished the ability of the Congolese Army to illegally profit from the minerals trade” and “caused rebel groups to retreat from mining communities.”
However, it is fair, I think, to criticize the assumption the human security situation would be fixed by increased transparency in the minerals trade. Minerals are simply not the main reason that armed groups roam the Kivus. Here’s Kate Cronin-Furman, from Wronging Rights, on the casual causal connection between minerals and violence:
Yes, armed groups operating in the eastern Congo fund their activities in part through the sale of minerals that are used in the manufacture of consumer electronics. And yes, those armed groups are implicated in horrific atrocities against the civilian population of the region. But so are armed groups that aren’t heavily involved in the mineral trade. There’s no evidence that attacks on civilians are either more intense or more concentrated in areas associated with mining or supply routes. And I remain unconvinced that competition over mineral wealth is a primary driver of the violence. The roots of this conflict lie in contested claims over land and citizenship rights, which have become further entrenched by the impact of regional geopolitics. So yes, we would all prefer that our shiny new gadgets arrived free of associations with bloodshed and sexual violence, but we shouldn’t expect that removing our link to it will have much effect on the conflict itself.
For what it’s worth, I wrote essentially the same thing over a year ago while the Dodd-Frank Act was being considered, saying that there appeared to be a disconnect between the objectives and methodology of the provision and suggesting more attention be paid to improving security on the ground.
Carol Gallo on UN Dispatch writes that “the disconnect seems to be that the simple narrative needed to create a groundswell of public support is not the same narrative that should be used to formulate policy.”
In an interview with Jason Stearns of Congo Siasa, Eric Kajemb, founder and director of Observatoire Gouvernance et Paix (and the “civil-society leader” quoted in Aronson’s piece), suggests a more gradual implementation of the measures in the Dodd-Frank Act as a way forward:
The Securities and Exchange Commission and the State Department need to know that we don’t reject their legislation. It is there, we will work with it. But they need to understand that Congolese have suffered. We say: the process needs to be sequenced. We need to work together. There are NGOs here in the East – BEST, Pole Institute, there are many organizations working on this. I agree, we have problems, but some are trying to do good work.
For more, read the full interview by Jason Stearns with Eric Kajemba on Congo Siasa, and see Laura Seay’s thoughts on how those with good intentions – specifically the folks at the Enough Project – can still misread a situation, on Texas in Africa. The Enough Project also posted a lengthy reply to Aaronson’s op-ed here, pointing out the progress towards transparency that Dodd-Frank has enabled and encouraged. You can also find the full letter to the editor from John Bradshaw in response to the Wall Street Journal article here and keep an eye out for further response from them on their blog, Enough Said.
Update: The Enough Project has a post on their blog as well as two responses from their team on Huffington Post addressing backlash, and Global Witness has an extensive post on five of the most common misconceptions about the impact of Dodd-Frank.