The op-ed article by David Aronson in the NYT, entitled “How Congress Devastated Congo”, triggered a vivid debate on various online platforms over the merits and shortcomings of Section 1502 of the Dodd Frank Act on conflict minerals. The piece in the NYT, criticizing the unintended consequences of Dodd Frank, prompted the Enough Project to respond in the Huffington Post, clarifying “What [The] Conflict Minerals Legislation Is Actually Accomplishing in Congo”. Other newspapers and commentators have picked up on the discussion, including the UK’s Guardian, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General for Sexual Violence in Conflict, Ms Margot Wallström, and a number of bloggers.
While it is certainly interesting to follow the exchange over positive and negative consequences of US policy making on Central Africa, the discussion seems to be somewhat missing the point. First and foremost, the law has already been passed. Most probably, the Congolese people would benefit more from an exchange on how to alleviate the unintended consequences of the law, rather than whether or not it was a good idea to start with. Secondly, there appears to be almost a competition as to who is the most legitimate representative of the interests and views of the Congolese people. My guess would be that with 70 million Congolese, each of the writers captures the views and interests of some of them.
It is encouraging to see that at last Congolese are joining the discussion. Preceding the op-ed article was an interview by Jason Stearns with Eric Kajembe, founder and director of Observatoire Gouvernance et Paix (OGP), a civil society NGO based in Bukavu. Though still in minority (and sometimes struggling with the English language) it is important to capture those voices. And to see that even the Congolese have diverging opinions on the merits of Dodd Frank.
One point that emerges from contributions by Congolese is that the situation in the DRC is far more complex then conflict minerals. This is not to say that Western observers are not aware of those complexities, however, it reflects the various issues that need to be addressed in conjunction with conflict minerals as well as the difficulty of prioritizing them. To mention just a few, areas include security sector reform, corruption as well as sexual and gender based violence. On the last issue, it is worth noticing the absence of the voices of Congolese women on the various online platforms.
The challenge then remains to move forward with the implementation of Dodd Frank, while finding ways and means to alleviate negative side effects of the law and without neglecting the broader socio-economic context in which the illegal exploitation of and trade in minerals is taking place.
Many people are working hard to put in place the necessary transparency and chain of custody schemes and have made significant progress over the past year. Progress that, if compared to other development related projects in the region, is very impressive. Buyers are noticing this progress: companies like Motorola and AVX Corporation have launched the “Solutions for Hope” project, committing to purchase Tantalum from Katanga Province in the DRC. One of the world’s largest tin smelters, Malaysia Smelting Corporation, decided to remain engaged with the Congo
Undoubtedly, the campaigns by NGOs like Enough Project and Global Witness have helped to bring public attention to the suffering in the DRC. Certainly, the Dodd Frank Act has provided significant pressure on all actors concerned to step up and address the problem. And, sadly, there have been unintended, negative consequences in the process.
In the words of Eric Kajembe: “The motivation behind the law is very good […]. But the implementation has been the problem.” Let’s re-focus the discussion on the implementation.