Boycotting Conflict Minerals?

In Adam Hochschild’s excerpt entitled “The Blood Diamond Myth”, the acclaimed historian and author is doubtful that the boycotting of ‘blood minerals’ from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) would improve the situation for the Congolese people. His reasons for his arguments is that most of the minerals exported from the DRC do not come from conflict zones, and if they are from conflict zones then it is very hard to trace them.

I think that Hochschild is largely referring to regions like Katanga, which is conflict free mineral rich region. Despite the fact that this maybe true, I believe that the conflict areas (the eastern regions of DRC) act like a veil for the proliferation of corruption and mismanagement in other non-conflict regions. Due to the fact that all the world’s media, and development focus is in the eastern regions of DRC, it leaves much of the rest in the dark. I think that helping to stop the conflict by re-establishing law and order in the Eastern Regions will be the first step in reigning in corruption in other parts. As long as there is war, it will be the smoke screen for corruption and mismanagement. .

I agree with him that a boycott would not by itself stop the flow of conflict minerals. Worldwide demand is very high for minerals like coltan and cassiterite from the DRC, what should happen instead is to try to have these channels legitimized, and production institutionalized, with proper revenue collection system. He says that it is very difficult to trace the source of conflict minerals which is true is one begins the trace from hubs like Singapore or Dubai, but if the trace begins from to the source (i.e. Goma in DRC, and Rwanda and Uganda) efforts might be more successful.

His argument that the conflict diamond accords (Kimberley Process) came about only because the diamond cartels experienced a dent in their profits may be true, but it is important to acknowledge that boycott pressure and the international campaign against blood diamonds pushed the diamond cartels to be involved in the talks with the UN, and human rights organizations. The result of these talks was a diamond certification scheme to help prevent support to armed groups that were funded by diamonds.  Although it is indeed weak and needs much support to implement it, it is still a step in the right direction and shows the importance of engaging all parties in helping to solve problems. In the DRC, ending the conflict in the East it would require the participation of mining companies, rebel groups, civil society, and outside players (neighboring governments that profit from DRC’s resources).

As a comparison to DRC, Hochschild uses Botswana; a regional neighbor with well managed diamond mines benefiting its population by bringing healthcare, education, and good infrastructure. Hochschild says “Botswana has something essential Congo does not: a government known for being both functional and honest.” This is true, the problems faced in the Congo are definitely due to bad governance issues, however I believe it is only one aspect of the reason why.

Both countries have different histories and this is a very decisive reason for their different outcomes. Since independence Congo has been unstable, but Botswana enjoyed stability. Congo was ruled by a corrupt dictator for three decades, and then was plunged into a devastating civil war, while Botswana enjoyed a stable political environment with low level of corruption. To add to this each country is bordered by different neighbors with the DRC having mostly conflict prone countries: Ugandan; Rwanda; Burundi; Angola; Central African Republic; and Congo Brazzaville. Botswana on the other hand had relatively more stable neighbors: Zimbabwe; South Africa; Namibia; and Zambia). The lack of law and proliferation of corruption added to DRC’s problems as several governments including those of Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, have often taken advantage of this to get access DRCs mineral wealth which increased the lawlessness.

Hochschild says “The real problem is not conflict minerals, but the fact that Congo’s long-suffering people reap only a tiny share of their country’s vast wealth.”  As stated earlier, I think the a major reason for why Congolese are not reaping the rewards of the mineral wealth is because of the ongoing war, which the country has experienced since the mid 1990s.

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