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.
The 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.
Nicholas 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.
"In 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.
Garrett 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."
However, 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 severely under-capacitated."
If 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. "
The 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."
With 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 Congolese institutions."
He 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," he says.
The 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."
As 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.