Tuesday, December 1, 2009

OpEd: Conflict Minerals

Conflict Minerals: A Cover For US Allies and Western Mining Interests?

By Kambale Musavuli and Bodia Macharia (Friends of the Congo)

As global awareness grows around the Congo and the silence is finally
being broken on the current and historic exploitation of Black people
in the heart of Africa, a myriad of Western based prescriptions are
being proffered. Most of these prescriptions are devoid of social,
political, economic and historical context and are marked by
remarkable omissions. The conflict mineral approach or efforts
emanating from the United States and Europe are no exception to this
symptomatic approach which serves more to perpetuate the root causes
of Congos challenges than to resolve them.

The conflict mineral approach has an obsessive focus on the FDLR and
other rebel groups while scant attention is paid to Uganda (which has
an International Court of Justice ruling against it for looting and
crimes against humanity in the Congo) and Rwanda (whose role in the
perpetuation of the conflict and looting of Congo is well documented
by UN reports and international arrest warrants for its top
officials). Rwanda is the main transit point for illicit minerals
coming from the Congo irrespective of the rebel group (FDLR, CNDP or
others) transporting the minerals. According to Dow Jones, Rwanda's
mining sector output grew 20% in 2008 from the year earlier due to
increased export volumes of tungsten, cassiterite and coltan, the
country's three leading minerals with which Rwanda is not well
endowed. In fact, should Rwanda continue to pilfer Congos minerals,
its annual mineral export revenues are expected to reach $200 million
by 2010. Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
Herman Cohen says it best when he notes having controlled the Kivu
provinces for 12 years, Rwanda will not relinquish access to resources
that constitute a significant percentage of its gross national
product. As long as the West continues to give the Kagame regime
carte blanche, the conflict and instability will endure.

According to Global Witnesss 2009 report, Faced With A Gun What Can
you Do, Congolese government statistics and reports by the Group of
Experts and NGOs, Rwanda is one of the main conduits for illicit
minerals leaving the Congo. It is amazing that the conflict mineral
approach shout loudly about making sure that the trade in minerals
does not benefit armed groups but the biggest armed beneficiary of
Congos minerals is the Rwandan regime headed by Paul Kagame.
Nonetheless, the conflict mineral approach is remarkably silent about
Rwandas complicity in the fueling of the conflict in the Congo and
the fleecing of Congos riches.

Advocates of the conflict mineral approach would be far more credible
if they had ever called for any kind of pressure whatsoever on mining
companies that are directly involved in either fueling the conflict or
exploiting the Congolese people. The United Nations, The Congolese
Parliament, Carter Center, Southern Africa Resource Watch and several
other NGOs have documented corporations that have pilfered Congos
wealth and contributed to the perpetuation of the conflict. Some of
these companies include but are not limited to: Traxys, OM Group,
Blattner Elwyn Group, Freeport McMoran, Eagle Wings/Trinitech, Lundin,
Kemet, Banro, AngloGold Ashanti, Anvil Mining, and First Quantum.

The conflict mineral approach, like the Blood Diamond campaign from
which it draws its inspiration, is silent on the question of resource
sovereignty which has been a central question in the geo-strategic
battle for Congos mineral wealth. It was over this question of
resource sovereignty that the West assassinated Congos first
democratically elected Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba and stifled the
democratic aspirations of the Congolese people for over three decades
by installing and backing the dictator Joseph Mobutu. In addition, the
United States also backed the 1996 and 1998 invasions of Congo by
Rwanda and Uganda instead of supporting the non-violent, pro-democracy
forces inside the Congo. Unfortunately and to the chagrin of the
Congolese people, some of the strongest advocates of the conflict
mineral approach are former Clinton administration officials who
supported the invasions of Congo by Rwanda and Uganda. This may in
part explains the militaristic underbelly of the conflict mineral
approach, which has as its so-called second step a comprehensive

The focus on the east of Congo falls in line with the long-held
obsession by some advocates in Washington who incessantly push for the
balkanization of the Congo. Their focus on Eastern Congo is
inadequate and does not fully take into account the nature and scope
of the dynamics in the entire country. Political decisions in
Kinshasa, the capital in the West, have a direct impact on the events
that unfold in the East of Congo and are central to any durable

The central claim of the conflict mineral approach is to bring an end
to the conflict; however, the conflict can plausibly be brought to an
end much quicker through diplomatic and political means. The so-called
blood mineral route is not the quickest way to end the conflict. We
have already seen how quickly world pressure can work with the
sidelining of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda and the demobilization
and/or rearranging of his CNDP rebel group in January 2009, as a
result of global pressure placed on the CNDPs sponsor Paul Kagame of
Rwanda. More pressure needs to be placed on leaders such as Kagame and
Museveni who have been at the root of the conflict since 1996. The
FDLR can readily be pressured as well, especially with most of their
political leadership residing in the West, however this should be done
within a political framework, which brings all the players to the
table as opposed to the current militaristic, dichotomous, good-guy
bad-guy approach where the West sees Kagame and Museveni as the
good-guys and everyone else as bad. The picture is far grayer than
Black and White.

A robust political approach by the global community would entail the
following prescriptions:

1. Join Sweden and Netherlands in pressuring Rwanda to be a partner
for peace and a stabilizing presence in the region. The United States
and Great Britain in particular should apply more pressure on their
allies Rwanda and Uganda to the point of withholding aid if necessary.

2. Hold to account companies and individuals through sanctions
trafficking in minerals whether with rebel groups or neighboring
countries, particularly Rwanda and Uganda. Canada has chimed in as
well but has been deadly silent on the exploitative practices of its
mining companies in the Congo. Canada must do more to hold its mining
companies accountable as is called for in Bill C-300.

3. Encourage world leaders to be more engaged diplomatically and place
a higher priority on what is the deadliest conflict in the World since
World War Two.

4. Reject the militarization of the Great Lakes region represented by
AFRICOM, which has already resulted in the suffering of civilian
population; the strengthening of authoritarian figures such as
Ugandas Museveni (in power since 1986) and Rwandas Kagame (won the
2003 elections with 95 percent of the vote); and the restriction of
political space in their countries.

5. Demand of the Obama administration to be engaged differently from
its current military-laden approach and to take the lead in pursuing
an aggressive diplomatic path with an emphasis on pursuing a regional
political framework that can lead to lasting peace and stability.

To learn more about the current crisis in the Congo, visit
www.friendsofthecongo.org and join the global movement in support of
the people of the Congo at www.congoweek.org

Kambale Musavuli is spokesperson and student coordinator for Friends
of the Congo. He can be reached at kambale@friendsofthecongo.org

Bodia Macharia is the President of Friends of the Congo/ Canada. She
can be reached at bodia@friendsofthecongo.org

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