A new report says it would be a mistake
to ban the mining of so-called conflict minerals in the eastern DRC. The report
contradicts what many humanitarian agencies have been calling for. It says the
mining provides a livelihood for many poor people.
study was conducted by Resource Consulting Services of London and funded by the
British Department for International Development, the London School of
Economics and others.
Garrett of Resource Consulting Services, co-author of the report, spoke from
London to VOA English to Africa Service
reporter Joe De Capua on why banning the sale of minerals from the eastern DRC
could be the wrong policy.
our opinion, and this is based on solid, on-the-ground research, we believe
that banning or even disrupting the trade will have a severe effect on the
livelihoods of up to one million people in the Great Lakes region…. And a ban
or disruption of the trade could, therefore, jeopardize the future or even put
the lives of these people at risk," he says.
adds, "I believe that any kind of such measure will not have too much of an
effect on the actual conflict dynamics in eastern Congo."
asked whether he disagrees with critics who say the mining operations are
fueling the conflict, he says, "No, we do not disagree with that as such. We
need to distinguish between some of the insecurity dynamics…and the minerals
trade. Yes, it is absolutely clear that a number of armed groups are benefiting
from the trade in minerals…. At the same time, though, we believe that policing
approaches, as such, don't necessarily work in the Congo to solve this issue.
This is predominantly for logistical reasons, such as the topography.… It's very
hard to implement effective control mechanisms on the ground. And also the
state institutions that would for a fundamental part of such a structure are
those taking part or controlling the mining of cassiterite, coltan and
wolframite are not treated as criminals, then how should they be treated?
Garrett says, "We believe one has to distinguish between the actors who are
involved in the trade. There are some people, particularly those who trade with
the FDLR rebel group, which is a rebel group that is on the terrorist list of
the US State Department, who should be treated as criminals. However, we need
to nuance the actors in the trade. "
co-author of the report says, "There are a number of people who are actors in this
trade because the trade serves their profit motives. So, if we can put the
right incentives in place for these actors to also benefit in peacetime from
these trades, then we could form a constituency that would allow us to reform
the trade and ultimately disconnect it from the military aspect that currently
has a severe negative impact on the trade, as such."
the combination of difficult terrain and widespread insecurity, how can any
organization be imposed on the mining operations? Garrett says, "Ultimately,
the main reason why a number of these armed groups, including the Congolese
army, are allowed to benefit from this trade is the general lack of governance
in eastern Congo, which is ultimately due to the severe under-capacity of the
calls on the international community to support and help rebuilding Congolese
institutions "to lay the foundation for a large reform process." This includes
a well-trained, well-paid national army. "Unfortunately, at the present, the
Congolese army is a major source of insecurity instead of a force for order,"
report also says the situation in the eastern DRC differs from the blood
diamonds scenario of Sierra Leone, where many people were forced by armed
groups to be miners. Garrett says, "One has to nuance the way the military…gain
from the mineral trade…. The blood diamond scenario… where militiamen or armed
groups forced the miners to mine at gunpoint is largely absent in the eastern
Congo. And a lot of the miners actually choose to mine simply because there
aren't any other…livelihood alternatives they could pursue."
the armed groups, he says, "The way the military gain happens is that it's more
a kind of subtle taxation of the trade whereby the military groups tax the
trade just enough for it to still be profitable and also generate an income for
the miners themselves. And so long as we cannot establish viable alternative
livelihoods in that particular region, the miners and the local population will
continue to regard mining as the most viable livelihood mechanism."
Many humanitarian groups are calling
upon manufacturers of digital and electronic equipment, which contain the
minerals, to ensure they do not buy minerals from the eastern DRC. They say
profits are used to fuel conflict and violence, including widespread rape. They
say there are a number of simple ways to audit where the raw materials for
their products come from.