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, August 3, 2011

Interview with Eric Kajemba on Conflict Minerals

The following is an interview with Eric Kajemba, founder and director of Observatoire Gouvernance et Paix (OGP), a civil society NGO based in Bukavu. Eric's work is focused on improving the accountability of government institutions and has worked extensively on the minerals trade. 

Q:What has been your analysis of the export ban on minerals [imposed by the Congolese government between September 2010 and March 2011] and the Dodd-Frank legislation in the US?

A: In general, these two things are linked. The export ban came as a consequence of the Dodd-Frank law. The government was thinking it had to do something in reaction to the US legislation, so it suspended exports of minerals from the eastern Congo. This has had a very negative impact on the local population. One problem we had was that exporters were stuck with their stock and couldn't get rid of it. Secondly, the negociants [trade middle-men] usually work on credits, but they weren't able to pay their arrears, so they had to mortgage their houses. In sum, the artisanal mining sector employed many, many people - these people lost their jobs over night. Also, many of them were demobilized soldiers, so this had the added effect of producing insecurity.

But the Dodd-Frank legislation did not explicitly require an export ban.

No. But the government was supposed to render transparent the chain in order to comply with the law. This had perverse consequences. The army kicked diggers out of the mines, only to become diggers themselves! That happened in many mines. The army just took over.

But how did they export the minerals if there was an export ban?

There was fraud. Even today with the embargo, people export. Fraud has increased considerably.

But there have been other consequences as well, for example, with other aspects of the local economy. For example, in places like Shabunda, people relied on planes to bring them goods and merchandise - rice, sugar, and so on. Those same planes then left with minerals back to Bukavu. But now that the planes cannot transport minerals [due to the export ban and embargo] they don't fly there with goods any more. So the impact has been huge in many areas. 

Do you disagree with the spirit of the Dodd-Frank law?

No. The motivation behind the law is very good - to impose transparency. But it the implementation has been the problem. We are not in a country with a functioning government, you cannot just assume that certification and due diligence can spring up overnight. Plus, there were efforts under way already by other actors to impose transparency; ironically, the Dodd-Frank law slowed these efforts down, as they were financed by the minerals trade.

No, I agree with the law, but it should have been implemented in stages, over two or three years. It was too strict, too abrupt: no tagging, no sale! But there were initiatives like that of the German Federal Institute for Geosciences (BGR) and the International Tin Research Institute (ITRI) - and other initiatives at the local level that may actually have been undermined in the short term by the law.

It is true that there is no official embargo on the Congo today, and that the Dodd-Frank law did not call for such an embargo. But the truth is that as soon as the Conglese export ban was lifted, the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) [an electronics industry body] in the United States imposed a de facto embargo. Traders here only had time to sell their stock and then everything stopped again! Now most of the minerals seem to leak out through smuggling. It is the Chinese who are still buying officially, and we think that the rest of the stuff smuggled out might also be going to China.

There has been speculation that Rwanda has been laundering Congolese minerals and then selling them as their own.

That's difficult to know. Rwanda has also been hit hard by Dodd-Frank, as well. It is true that there is a lot of cassiterite smuggled into Rwanda. I am sure there are parallel structures in Rwanda, a black market. On the other hand, I think there are intensifying efforts to be more transparent - for example, they turned back Chinese trying to export minerals through Rwanda.

What do you think about the ITRI and BGR initiatives?

We need a big discussion on the way forward. We need a bunch of things, not just tracing and tagging. We need to sit together to figure out. There are a lot of initiatives that have been proposed, but this has added to the confusion. We need one approach. The centres de négoce and tagging are not enough. Tagging is good - but you can end up tagging dirty minerals, as well! There is a whole bunch of work to do. Let's not confine ourselves to tagging.

What else can be done, then?

What we are trying to is to support local communities to supervise their own mines at a grassroots level. We will try to give them a mechanism to overview the process - to see if soldiers are taxing the minerals. We want to do this as civil society and then make reports that will we publish that will help keep mines clean. This, we hope, will happen in synergy with our Congolese and foreign partners. In general, we feel that these initiatives haven't taken into consideration the contributions of local organization. But we are discussing with them now.

What about BGR?

BGR work on a larger scale, with state for training experts. They associate civil society, but they are very bureaucratic. We share a lot of information, but we can feel the competition between ITRI, PACT, ICGLR - this competition is not good.

What about the advocacy done by ENOUGH in the US?

Unfortunately I think this is the opposite of what we want - ENOUGH has hardened its tone. They only show the negative side of artisanal mining here. This one-sidedness of their advocacy has had negative side-effects. No,  we know we can't stop Dodd Frank, but we need to be aware of these negative consequences - we are not very happy with Global Witness or ENOUGH, but we feel they are very influential, and we are ready to work with them. On the other hand, we are also afraid of our government and what they are doing.

Let me explain further. We have documented the links between minerals and armed groups, we know these exist. But minerals were not the initial source of the conflict, as you know. There were many other factors. So we think the emphasis should be on security sector and governance reform, not on an embargo.  We need to do more than just biometric IDs [one of the initiatives donors have supported] for the army, we need a real security sector reform.

How do we go about that?

Take the question of military involvement in the minerals trade. The soldiers who are involved in these things are known! There are Congolese generals are involved in this! But there is no real will by the government to clamp down on them. It is true, Umoja Wetu and Kimia II did have a serious impact on FDLR, and we need to consolidate this. The links between minerals and the FDLR was seriously broken during this time. But soon afterwards, the FARDC started to behave like the FDLR, exploiting minerals and taxing people. The real emphasis should be on building strong institutions, not just embargoes and export bans. We need to focus on the army.

Then there is the whole question of zones of exploitation, which the laws in theory have called for - so long as artisanal miners don't have a place to mine, this situation will continue. But they don't, which is a huge problem. A large international company will come and kick them out, then they take up their machetes. This question of artisanal mining zones is absolutely needed.

Is there the political will here in the Congo?

Let me giving example of Katanga - they have local political dynamic that pushed the thing in a good direction, and they will be able to get around this embargo to sell minerals. Even if in the meantime they are giving us in the Kivus a bad name. They have been pro-active, they have started tagging, working with MMR and ITRI. When there is political will, you can do this. But that is just provincial, we need Kinshasa involved. We don't feel that they are.

Do you have anything else you would like to add?

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the State Department need to know that we don't reject their legislation. It is there, we will work with it. But they need to understand that Congolese have suffered. We say: the process needs to be sequenced. We need to work together. There are NGOs here in the East - BEST, Pole Institute, there are many organizations working on this. I agree, we have problems, but some are trying to do good work.



Anonymous said...


As much as I love your blog and combination of wit, grace, and incisiveness you bring to it this is perhaps the most one sided piece you have ever written.

Here, as I see it, are the problems from a self-proclaimed and hardworking Enough activist:

While I am glad to see your interviewee recognizes that “security” and “governance” reform are the real problems here, he stopped short by explaining what that could mean and instead implies we Americans are the cause of their suffering. I fundamentally reject this. It is up the government of the DRC to take care of its citizen's- not the US. As you have informed the readers of this blog, this government has signed deal after deal and pocketed the money and then has the nerve to ask the world to help fund its elections. That Gecamine deal alone is more than enough to deal with the measles outbreak, pay its striking teachers, bring some measure of order to boat travel who’s accidents have claimed nearly 1,000 lives, pay for its elections in full, and reform the whole trade in conflict minerals. Ofcourse, we all know what they are doing with the money and it won’t be solving any of the problems I outlined.

Also, the notion that we need to slow down implementation of Dodd-Frank because it is “hurting” the Congolese is ridiculous. Are not Americans allowed to demand our government protect us from products that are tainted in some way? At its base, these conflict minerals are no different than a Toyota truck or Chinese-made toy and as you know we placed heavy sanctions on these categories of products and it changed behavior. It’s called capitalism. I’m sure workers in those Chinese factories suffered but their owners made the changes and the ban was lifted.

We activists at Enough are not the enemy, Jason. The enemy sits in Kinshasa and it is time that the people of the Congo rise up against its leaders as brave Malawans are doing at this very moment. They will have this chance very soon and us Enough activists will support them but we must call on the Congolese to do more than just vote but also hold their representatives accountable once their representatives take their seats.

Please don’t take any of this personally, Jason. It just feels from time to time you poor cold water on activists here in America. Being one for the Congo is not a walk in the park and while we may not know every damn detail about the Congo as you do as a scholar without us worker-bee’s your policy prescriptions won’t see the light of day in Congress or elsewhere.

Some respect would be nice.

- Mel

Anonymous said...

Mel provides remarkable insight into the mindset of people in America who "advocate" for Africans.

Jason, you obviously touched a nerve. How does interviewing a Congolese who provides in depth expertise on an issue that he has studied for years become a one sided piece? It is highly unlikely that Eric Kajemba would get interviewed on CNN, 60 minutes, NPR or the Cobert Show. If he had such a platform,it would run counter to the narrative that Africans need
advocates in the West to speak for them and save them. It would rob the advocates of their savior complex.

This is truly fascinating - so a Congolese provides an analysis, which is widely supported by many Congolese scholars and the analysis is interpreted as your making his organization the enemy.

If activists in America don't want cold water poured on them, they should listen to the people who are aggrieved - try listening to people who are going to bear the brunt of your poorly thought out policies.

The notion that Dodd Frank is protecting Americans from products that are harming them is preposterous -- isn't the argument by these advocates that Dodd Frank is supposed to be protecting Congolese women from being raped?

So the enemy sits in Kinshasa? A lot of Congolese would agree that one of their enemies (two others are certainly in Kigali and Kampala thriving on US and British tax payers money and US military training) sit in Kinshasa but isn't this the same enemy that Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson visited in 2010 to impress upon the Congolese government to leave the lopsided Freeport McMoran contract in place? One of 63 contracts that John Reboul, of Ropes & Gray, which analyzed five of the major contracts in detail for The Carter Center, described as "some of the most one-sided agreements I have seen in 30 years of practice."

A word of advice for American activists, if you do not want cold water poured on your misguided policies, consult with the people first. And no
you do not have to "know every damn detail about the Congo." You just have to humble yourself to listen to the people and treat them as living thinking human beings and not objects to be saved or rescued.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mel, for your tirelessly advocacy on behalf of the Congolese and the issue of conflict minerals. I am pretty sure this was a painful post for you knowing how dedicated you are to this cause and I thank you for posting it.

Anonymous responder to Mel:

I really appreciate your response but the main charge behind Mel’s argument- the complete and total responsibility of the Congolese people and the government in Kinshasa to solve this and many of its problems- has gone unanswered.

It is a fact that Kinshasa can implement its responsibilities of this law. It is simply refusing to do so and we all know why.

If the DR Congo wants to trade with Americans, they must like all countries ensure their goods and services meet our standards. As an aide to one of the US Senators who led the creation of Dodd Frank (I worked for Senator Dodd himself at the time), I distinctly remember calling various representatives who lobby on behalf of the Congo(both those who support the regime and those who don’t) to weigh on its provisions.

Unfortunately, only the regimes opponents did and as such we have the law today that we have.

Everyone who advocates on behalf of the Congolese in America is fully aware of the capacity of the Congolese to solve their own problems. We also have formed deep and long lasting relationships with Congolese civil society groups who advise us and the notion that all of them are at variance with this law- as you imply- is simply false.

It is incredibly astonishing that those of you on the “you activists don’t know what you are doing” side would engage so arrogantly with people like Melanie who take time out of their busy lives to advocate on an issue as tangential to Americans as the Congo. I believe we all share a better and more just future for the Congo as a goal and given our opponents in this fight- corporate interests and domestic military interests- I strongly suggest you cease ad hominem attacks and avoid getting intoxicated by your “analysis”.

D.C is not run by scholars. It is run by politicians. Thus, analysis without power in Washington is essentially worthless and if you honestly think good policy leads to good politics you know nothing about corridors of power in D.C nor how to organize the American people against the interests that neither serve them nor the Congolese.

Anon # 2

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm not entirely clear, anonymous person to Mel, what the point is about Carson or our military support for Uganda/Rwanda.

Isn't it fairly obvious to you by now that a large swath of government officials in DC do things that would offend most Americans? Have you been paying attention to American politics for, I dunno, the last 10 years?

Newsflash: Most American federal government officials and a good bulk of their elected representatives do things in Americans names that would make the average American nauseous.

It is for this reason why we have the Tea Party and why it is so important us regular Americans put our own "party" together for the Congo- which Mel and others are doing.

You should applaud her efforts and not pour cold water over them. If you educate and inspire the grassroots in America, the natural optimism and fair-mindedness of Americans will lead to better foreign policy. That's how change happens in America.

The Congolese people need more friends in the world my friend. Not less.


cr said...

I think this debate is becoming quite unhelpfully polarised. The US legislation is not even in force yet, so it is quite early to judge, and on the back of the export ban is not the best time to fairly judge the economic impacts.

A lot will hinge on the GESi conflict free smelter programme. They are taking quite a hard line initially in not buying from the region, but hopefully this will change over time. Industry is still interested in Congolese tin, otherwise they wouldn't have engaged with all the ongoing processes, so all the talk of an embargo might just be brinksmanship designed to influence the SEC guidance which is due out this month.

Anonymous said...

I think the worst thing about the first commentor to Mel is that he using similar reasoning the big electronic and mining companies are using to slow down implementation of this provision of Dodd-Frank.

Who’s side on your on buddy? Like corporate control over your government much?

I’m fairly certain neither the Congolese nor Americans do.

Yes, CR, its fairly clear this is brinkmanship hence the one-sided nature of this blog post.


Anonymous said...

corporate interests, congolese AND american governments, and apparently now activists now are all misguided, who's to help those who continue to be victims of rape and violence?

I feel like these victims would agree with me as to it doesn't matter who is right or wrong or in what shape or form the solution comes. Make the violence stop. That's all that matters. That's all to focus on.

Sorry for those who felt insulted and for those who are insulting, but y'all are not the focus here, it's about the victims.

Joe M.,

Rich said...

Thanks Joe M, your post stole words from my mouth. This could not be said any better or clearer than this.

I am a Congolese and quite frankly I don't understand some of these clever discourses! In fact, at times, they seem irrelevant and well depressing.

Look, there is artisanal exploitation of DIAMOND in Kasai, cobalt and many other minerals in Katanga yet we don't see the need of all these clever discourses...

In the end, it all looks like various schools of thoughts are just trying to outplay one another and almost leaving no space for a way forward ...

Anonymous said...

I personally want to thank Joe and the always luscent and lyrical Rich for trying to bring this very polarizing debate back to the central dilemma the Congolese face: the overwhelming violence and impunity that has turned their beautiful land into a now decade long killing field.

I also want to thank Mel, Anonymous 1, 2, and Peter for weighing in to the debate. It would have been more useful to have done so without the unnecessary attacks- which tends to shut down debate- but a good deal of the passion we have seen here I have no doubt stems from a deep and honest concern for the Congolese.

I finally want to thank Mssr Stearns for his blog and, while I am sure wasn’t his intent, a singularly provocative blog post. It sparked the debate which, I will always believe, is critical to resolving the continuing crisis in the Congo.

In some respects, it is likely the result of the opening of the political season in the Congo that has so many on edge. I believe this is actually a good thing but it would behoove us all to tone it down so we can be level-headed about the very real challenges that lie ahead.

That said, I actually believe the debate that is occurring within what I will just call the “Congo movement” is a fairly classic one. At its root is a dilemma that faces the “actors” of all movements: while many may share the same goals, differences in background, history, and experience often lead to a profound disagreement about how to reach those goals. While there are many movements one can pick from in human history that tells this classic tale, this particular debate can be illustrated in the abolitionist movement in the US of which I am a scholar and historian.

See the next post......

Anonymous said...

During the 1840’s, it became increasingly clear that two “nations” were forming in America- one urban and industrial centered in the North, and one rural and agricultural fueled by slave labor in the South. The founders of America had long believed that the chief challenge the new nation would face- figuring out what to do with African slaves- could likely be its undoing with one of them, Thomas Jefferson, famously calling this problem “the serpent in the garden”. During this time, a movement began among Americans to abolish slavery. It was primarily led by 3 very distinct groups: liberal, Northern intellectuals, freed blacks, and the religious community in the North. While they all agreed slavery had to end, there was little if any agreement both within and between themselves as to how to end it. Freed blacks were divided between immigration to Africa (which occurred with the founding of Liberia) whereas others felt an incremental approach was best. All felt they should be consulted with any plan, however, and bitterly resented the hijacking of the movement by others who had not actually been slaves as they had been. Northern liberals were also divided by those who advocated policy approaches and more radical ones like full scale integration of blacks in American society via simply confiscating slaves from their owners without pay by some act of eminent domain. The one group that had virtually no divisions, ofcourse, were the religiously-inspired abolitionists. For them, slavery was a sin so obviously vile and putrid that it simply had to be crushed without delay or debate. Many of their leaders threw “cold water” on the ideas of liberals and freed blacks as either to “academic” or to “accomdationist”. They did not care how it occurred nor what happened after it occurred but they wanted it ended quickly and through the power of government decree. They took their inspiration from British abolitionists who successfully ended the trade in chattel slavery by an act of Parliament in 1807. Without doubt, freed blacks and liberal intellectuals felt these religious types were zealots and deeply misguided.

While leaders in each “camp” recognized the importance of unity the issue of slavery grew ever more heated as a result of a variety social and political events that increasingly not only polarized them but the nation. As a result, they could never work out there differences. Given their greater organizational acumen, resources, and purantical belief that political power would bring them closer to their goal, the religious abolitionists soon gained the upper hand. They also found a new vehicle and a particularly moral and articulate politician by which to press their impatient demand to end slavery: the new Republican Party and a Senator from Illinois-, Abraham Lincoln. While Lincoln did his best to hold their more zealous demands at bay, a series of Republican Party victories in northern states effectively gave them considerable leverage over the grassroots of the party and thus the keys over ambitious politicians like him. Southerners, watching the perceived radicalization of the Republican Party, increasingly voted Democrat which, by 1858, effectively split the nation between a Republican North and a Democratic South. In the 1860 Presidential campaign, Lincoln, as the Republican Presidential nominee under unrelenting pressure by abolitionists, made it very clear that if elected President slavery’s days would be numbered and the threat of secession- now openly discussed among the nation’s political class- would be seen as an act of treason. Democrats similarly made it clear that if this occurred the states of the American South would duly secede from the Union.

(final post below)

Anonymous said...

As history records, Lincoln won the Presidency in 1860- a clear victory for religious abolitionists and celebrated as such. No less than one month later, South Carolina’s state legislature passed articles of secession and declared to the world it indeed would secede and threw the young democracy into its first constitutional crisis. More southern states followed and on April 12th 1861, Confederate (anti Union) forces attacked Fort Sumter, a Union garrison in rebellious South Carolina, setting off a cataclysmic Civil War. Four years later, after the death of over 600,000 Americans- more Americans to die on the battlefield than all of the war’s she has since fought combined- the assassination of who Mandiba called “one of the truest gifts humanity had the good fortune to behold” , Abraham Lincoln, the war came to an end. Lincoln did finally free the slaves, but it would be some 90 years later with the passage of the Civil Rights Acts that America’s African descendants would gain full equality in the land of their birth.

To conclude, the point of my history lesson was not to bore you nor weigh into the details of this chapter of American history. I could have chosen other movements- such as the Bolshevik/Menshavik battles in Russia or the early PLO- to illustrate my point. I simply want to clearly state that the divisions laid bare by this comment thread are fairly normal in any movement but, as the case I highlighted shows, it behooves the “Congo movement” to create channels of communications that allow American, international, academic, policy, grassroots activists, and Congolese “members” of this movement to come to some measure of agreement about strategy since it is here were we see division. Abolitionists failed to do this and the consequences were not only catastrophic but the main goal- freeing the slaves- once achieved was essentially was a pyrrhic victory when it finally occurred. There are an array of interests- multinationals, Rwandan, Ugandan Kabila’s cabal, etc- that are hoping you all fail at this goal but millions more in the entire Great Lakes region desperately need this movement to succeed.

I am not sure what this communication channel could be given the international and ideologically diverse nature of this movement. But I strongly suggest it occur so that we keep our eye on the simple clarity of Joe’s moral argument: ending the violence in the Congo.

Please my friends. Break down these barriers of grievance, history, mistrust, and prejudice and please communicate.

So much depends on us all getting this right.


Amanda said...

Thank you so much for this post! I found it well balanced and insightful to what's happening on the ground in east DRC.

While other commenters found the post biased or disrespectful, I could not disagree more. I thought the post presented observations from a Congolese perspective, offered a way the F-D law could have been handled better, but still acknowledged the good aspects of what the law is trying to achieve.

I think it is always important to look at how humanitarian & development efforts affect the local & global situations. While it is important to want conflict-free resources, I hope that this can be achieved without lessening stability in eastern DRC or sacrificing the livelihoods of the local Congolese people. If this is too idealistic, then at the very least, the consequences of this U.S. law need to be examined and weighed by the American people and the global community at large.

Anonymous said...

As an American activist with Enough, and a Congolese American, I more or less agree with everyone here.

I do have a question for anyone up on the latest happenings with voter registration in the Congo.

Basically, can a regular citizen go to their particular polling location and ask to see the full list of all the voters in their polling district? Not to take home or anything, but just to view?

In short, is the voter list public and therefore accessible to any citizen?

Here in America, where polling locations (called “precincts”) are funded by property taxes of the cities and towns you live in, this public funding means the voter list is public. Indeed, every city and town (or most of them) has an elections department located in the City Hall where one can go to register as a voter, register for a party, etc and any citizen can get a list of voters that simply has their name and address.

I learned all this when I volunteered for the Obama campaign in Seattle where I live.

Is this possible in the DRC?

If so, I’d like to tell all my family and friends in the Congo ASAP.

Finally, if this helps, it is likely the provision in Dodd-Frank will be delayed. The SEC has, like virtually all agencies, been hobbled by Republicans attempts to slow down spending which is part of their overall plan to defeat Obama in next year’s election. Right now, the rules it must make to implement the law are way behind schedule. Why? They need more staff and with the cuts in budgets they are not likely to get them.

If someone could respond to my question I’d appreciate it.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I must say I am at a loss as to why these discussions always seem to position Congolese civil society up against international activists. As Eric Kajemba points out in the interview, it is not the law itself that called for a de-facto embargo, nor was it the intention of any of the campaigns. Rather, the de-facto boycott is created by companies that decide to stop sourcing from the region.

What I don’t understand is why that is explained as an inevitable consequence of the Dodd Frank Act, and that therefore politicians and activists are to blame for it. I would argue that it was a conscious and free choice by these companies to impose a boycott, and therefore they are the ones who are primarily responsible for it. Companies would not be violating any law if they continued to source from the DRC, or even if they continued to source the ‘conflict minerals’, as long as they report on it. And given the fact that the SEC still has not published the rules, even the reporting is not yet required. On top of that, the OECD has developed guidance on what companies can do to apply their due diligence when sourcing from regions such as the DRC. So there is really no reason why companies who sourced from the region before, are in any way forced to stop doing so now. They chose to do so.

That being said, I agree with some of the commenters above who point out that the perspectives of the local people need to be listened to. That is why it is so important that any legislative or policy proposal, whether it be in the USA, Europe or elsewhere, is fed by the analysis and position of groups such as OGP, BEST, Pole and CREDDHO. Eric Kajemba’s point that we need to look at security sector and governance reform is something that needs listening to.

Nell Okie said...

Jason, I am surprised that you didn't include your thoughts on EK's statements and wonder how this affects your support of the Dodd-Frank amendment, the work of your dear friends and colleagues at Enough and work on the Yale conflict-free campus campaign.

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