Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

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.


Nkunda said...

Great post as always!

Please expound more on why you think local Mai Mai fighters or the FDLR are driven primarily by the interests of the elite.

For instance, have more FDLR soldiers repatriated/demobilized after the arrest of Murwanashyaka Ignace/Stratton? Would you draw a pattern?

My view is that most Congolese wouldn't mention elite competition as the leading cause of conflict. It definitely plays a role in exacerbating the conflict, but the real reasons are citizenship rights.

There is still fear especially among Hutu Congolese that their place in Congo is not guaranteed.

Jason Stearns said...

This is a complex issue - I wouldn't be able to do it justice in a few lines, and I doubt that any of us so-called experts really knows what "drives" an armed group. You need to understand the permissive causes (availability of weapons, recruits, financing, topography, etc.) and then look at what the triggers are (interests and grievances of various actors).

For the Mai-Mai, I think most groups are actually motivated by local factors - they are often constituted by unemployed youths and rallied by local leaders such as customary chiefs (rare), demobilized army officers and youth leaders.

The FDLR, of course, is very different. I don't think elites in Europe or the US play a huge role, although it is possible that there is some trade going on. There has been no noticeable impact of Ignace/Straton's arrests on the troops, as far as I can tell, although I am sure morale has suffered a bit.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the follow-up post, Jason.

The second issue you raise here (problems with the advocacy) clearly requires a difficult balancing act on those involved in activism - how to get enough people interested to make a change without oversimplifying and bending the truth.

In your own comments on your initial post on the issue, you said:

"The problem is that no one ever listened to us. I can't tell you how many briefings I've had with State Dept, FCO, DFID, EU and the AU about these issues. There was not enough of a domestic lobby for them to care. Now, Americans care because there has been intensive lobbying by advocacy groups, who sometimes simplify and bend the truth to pound their message through. I don't like that one bit, and it can lead to bad policy."

Would the legislation have come through without the simplified advocacy campaigns suggesting that DRC minus conflict minerals equals peace? If not, which do you take - the mass acceptance version that gets results, but not necessarily the right ones, or the more nuanced and low-key approach (the long and difficult road full of apathy) that may not move things enough to get policy through? Can the blunt simplified campaigns start that way, and be made more nuanced as more people get on board?

I guess the obvious answer is somewhere in between the two extremes, but not at all an easy task, especially given the extreme complexity of the issues and fact that the marginalization in the media gives people little background knowledge or awareness to build on...

Unknown said...

As far as I know, the arrest of the two chaps (Ignace/Stratton) has been just a media hype, but a non-event for the FDLR military.

This confirms what Jason says that the elites in Europe or the US play rather a limited role, if any, in the military affairs. However, I believe that if any solution - the multidimensional one as proposed by the UN Security Council- is to be found, it will be through the political arm of these armed rebellions, i.e. FDLR or RUD-Urunana and RPR. That is where I think the elites in the US or Europe may play a huge role.

Unfortunately, looking at how things have been going on in Rwanda lately, the perspectives of a peaceful solution become more and more bleak. Unless the US and UK governments press Paul Kagame to stop assassinating journalists and dissenters and to negotiate with his armed and unarmed opposition. I believe that the Mai-Mai phenomenon is the corollary of the political repression and abuses in Rwanda. The resolution of the Rwandan problem will, in the long run, put an end to the Mai-Mai uprising.

Unknown said...

Jason, I think that we are more in agreement than what you suggest. The way you summarize my book does not cover the whole argument and thus may be a bit misleading for readers who don’t know my work.

You make it seem as if I argue that international peacebuilders should have adopted a bottom-up approach instead of their top-down strategy. In fact, the book demonstrates that international actors should have used a bottom-up approach in addition to the dominant top-down strategy. The book insists mostly on grassroots causes of violence, and on the need for support to local peacebuilding, because policy and academic writing have usually ignored them. But I acknowledge the national and regional causes of violence in the book (I actually have a whole chapter on these top-down causes) and I emphasize the need for conflict resolution at all levels. While I argue that citizenship and land issues are important, I also emphasize the significance of economic and social issues, just like you do in your post.

BTW, the book we’re talking about is The Trouble with the Congo, And, Jason, thanks for the great plug! Looking forward to discussing all of this more at the next conference or panel.

Severine Autesserre

texasinafrica said...

Sorry for the late comment; I was traveling last week.

On the citizenship issue, I agree that the electoral cards settled some of the issues, but would argue that many Rwandaphones still feel that their citizenship rights are insecure. See, for example, the tension around the returnees in Masisi and the argument over the new voter ID's. Then you have fears of repeats of some of the shenanigans that happened in 2006, when people were being forced to hand over or eat their voter ID's. It's perfectly reasonable that some Rwandaphones in the Kivus still don't have full confidence that their citizenship rights are truly protected, especially given the still-high levels of resentment and hostility towards them.

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