Congo Siasa

More thoughts about due diligence in the minerals trade

There’s been some good fisticuffs on the internet of late around conflict minerals. Laura at Texas in Africa has several good posts, and Chris Blattman picked it up, as well. Both are skeptical of the recent legislation, while I am grudgingly in favor, so let me respond to some of their points:

1. The mineral trade is not the only source of revenue for rebels in the Kivus (Laura):
Absolutely. But I would argue that it is probably the most militarized sector of the economy. It is difficult to say how much the different armed groups make, and the situation is changing. Basically, the Kimia II and Amani Leo operations have taken a lot of mines away from the FDLR; many of those mines are now occupied by Congolese army units, many of which are controlled by the ex-CNDP. Bisie, where almost 70% of tin in the Kivus come from, for example, was taken away from the renegade 85th Congolese army brigade in 2009 and is now controlled (until very recently, at least) by the 1st brigade, led by ex-CNDP officers. Many other mines are also controlled by CNDP units, and it seems that one of the terms of the Kimia II/Umoja Wetu deal of 2009 was to give army officers control over mines.
Which leads me to my main point: as long as minerals trade is so heavily militarized, different interest groups will fight over it. As far back as 2004, the CNDP traded blows with the FARDC over the Walikale mining sector.
Yes, it is true that other trades are important, as well. But none are quite as militarized and lucrative as mining, where the material is easy to tax and control. Soldiers at Bisie mine can make over $120,000 a month in taxes at the mine, without talking about other rackets associated with Bisie. I doubt anybody is making that much a month from taxing cows, although charcoal and timber might be in the same ballpark. My back-of-the-envelope calculation is that the tin trade in the Kivu is probably worth around $40-120 million a year (the low figure was official exports in 2007, the high one includes smuggled and undervalued goods). Charcoal, which is much more of a cottage industry spread out over large areas, might be worth around $30 million a year (that was the ICCN figure).
In sum, I would never say that instilling good governance in the minerals supply chain will bring an end to the conflict. It won’t. But it will diminish the stakes over which the various parties are fighting and it may make demobilization more attractive for some combatants when they can no longer occupy lucrative mines. This goes for the Congolese army, as well – the SEC regulations and the OECD guidelines should include language about abusive FARDC units, as well. Friends in Bukavu already tell me that businessmen have begun discussing – albeit rather timidly – with the Congolese army about getting their troops out of the mines.
What I don’t quite understand is why so many people appear to be vehemently against good governance in the supply chain? I agree that it is not a silver bullet, but it might very well help if done intelligently, and what is the harm? Yes, trade in the Kivus overall might decrease, but that will also be an incentive to the government to get its act together.
2. The advocacy campaign has been sloppy and sometimes distasteful (Chris):
This is what Chris says, and I think Laura would agree:

Here’s the source of my concern. In my experience, advocacy groups like Enough create simple but problematic messages that get the attention of the US public and Congress, but eventually come back and bite good policy in the ass. The advocacy message drives aid, policy priorities, and national agendas to an amazing degree. Get it wrong, and you focus policy attention on the right problem but the wrong solution.

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I made a similar point here several months ago. This is where I believe that some campaign groups have become overly zealous in flogging the message. If you get the facts wrong, if you simplify issues or distort them, it will eventually come back and bite you in the ass. Having said that, I do have a feeling that some people love to hate Enough and Eve Ensler because of their flashy celebrity style of advocacy more than for its content. Let’s keep our feet on the ground and our heads screwed on.

3. It’s really about ideological issues, such as citizenship and access to land (Laura):
This is a long debate that I often have with Severine Autesserre, whose recent book on the Congo you should read. She argues that the main reason that violence has continued in the eastern Congo is because we have not focus on the local dynamics of violence, including conflicts over land and local governance.
These issues are certainly very important, there is no doubt. But I would argue that the main drivers of violence since 2003 in the Kivus have been regional and national elites. The creation of the CNDP in 2004-6 was tightly linked to the fears by elites in Goma and Kigali that without the RCD they would no longer be able to defend their political and economic interests and defend the Tutsi community. Nkunda did not attack Bukavu or Goma in order to solve land disputes – in fact, it is the Tutsi community that stands perhaps to lose the most if the land issue is really opened up, as many of the huge plantations in Masisi and Rutshuru belong to Tutsi.
It is true that land conflict and resentments against Kinshasa made it easier for Nkunda to recruit soldiers, but most of those soldiers were poor, marginalized Hutu; many of them joined the CNDP for economic, not ideological reasons (because they were poor) and many others were forcefully recruited. Desertion rates for the CNDP were very high; interviews with defectors consistently indicate that they had joined for economic reasons and left because it was too harsh.
In other words, I don’t think that by setting up land arbitrage groups and grassroots reconciliation committees we will solve the problem of armed groups or violence. It may be necessary, but it is far from sufficient. We need to target all levels at the same time: sanction the elites for supporting armed groups, deprive them of sources of income, reconcile communities over past feuds, solve land conflicts and provide alternate sources of income for the unemployed youth. None of this is easy, but it has to be a comprehensive package.
As for citizenship, this is still an emotional issue, but no longer such a legal one. The electoral cards that most Tutsi and Hutu in Masisi were able to obtain in the run-up to the 2006 elections also function as a proof of citizenship. The issue remains a live one only really for the Congolese in the Diaspora, especially the Tutsi who live in Rwanda and Burundi and did not register for last elections. Correct me if I am wrong, but most rwandophones no longer mention citizenship as a big problem.
The above description of the interface between local-national-regional only holds for the CNDP. Other groups may be more swayed by local issues, such as the APCLS or the Mai-Mai Kifuafua.
But once, again, just because people like myself (and Global Witness, and HRW, and Amnesty) endorse the minerals bill doesn’t mean we should forget about all the other soap boxing we have done in the past on land reform, security sector reform, governance, demobilization programs, etc. etc. etc.