Why U.S. Leadership is Critical to Reforming the Mineral Trade in Eastern Congo
December 29, 2010
In mid-September 2010, President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) announced a comprehensive ban on mining in three provinces of the conflict-wracked Eastern Congo. During my recent visit to the region, the ban was a central preoccupation for most of the diggers, traders, government agents, and civil society representatives with whom I met. Many were skeptical of the sudden action, and many more fearful of the security and economic consequences of a long-term embargo on mining in the region. Kabila’s ostensible justification has been that the trade does not benefit local populations and that the ban on minerals will allow the government to rid the sector of the “kind of mafia” that currently control it.
Agricultural production: Re-establishing the agricultural sector is essential. Agricultural production used to be the region’s primary economic driver; the region is fertile and primed for agricultural development beyond imagination. One need only to cross the border to Rwanda to see the possibilities. The first step towards the any re-establishment of agricultural production however must be stability and reduction of violence so that Congolese citizens can actually engage in agriculture unmolested by armed groups.
Creating mineral processing centers: Creating local mineral processing centers to legitimize and create jobs in provincial urban centers is another method for mitigating the impacts of an embargo or illegal exploitation. The establishment of processing centers would not only create legitimate jobs in extraction and transportation at and around the centers themselves, but would also generate additional revenue to regional provincial and local governments by adding value and selling and trading a refined product, as opposed to the sacks and truckloads of raw materials that are being bought, sold, and smuggled now. If well managed, this additional revenue could be reinvested in infrastructure and other community-based initiatives.
Economic incentive for private investment and infrastructural development: Infrastructure development can play a critical role in attracting potential foreign investment and in creating employment for local communities. For instance, investment in medium to large scale private sector mining could spawn increased revenue and job creation in the short term in order to foster the stability that in turn would encourage longer-term growth. Initiatives such as road building and development of communications infrastructure are critical to pave the way for potential foreign and regional investment.
- Renewed diplomatic relations in the Great Lakes: The political and military relationships in the region have improved to the point where there is significant room for cooperation and dialogue. President Kabila and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda are increasing their security and diplomatic cooperation following years of mistrust. There appears to be growing political will in the region to tackle the problems arising from illegal mining in eastern Congo, as evidenced by the ongoing ICGLR process.
- Calls for U.S. Leadership: The U.S. has played a role in both bringing about a regional diplomatic transformation, primarily through the recent rapprochement between the DRC and Rwanda, as well as pressure for regional certification of conflict minerals. In the Enough Project’s continued communication with regional governmental leaders, CEOs, and senior executives of affected companies, and in ongoing travels to the field, the question is constantly raised: “Where is the U.S.? They need to be doing more.” U.S. assistance is being sought—regional stakeholders would welcome, and are looking for, intervention.
- The shift in commercial logic: The international push on conflict minerals has provided leverage on armed groups that did not exist until now. This push is a means to an end. Both Congo and Rwanda have begun to show signs that they understand that ultimately transparent, legal, and peaceful regional development is in their interest. Enemies of both regimes, as well as their own militaries, sustain themselves off the profits derived from resource exploitation, and their logic has shifted from violent extraction to legitimate development—the environment is less accommodating for those contributing to instability in Congo.