October 14, 2011 · 0 Comments
By Justin Podur:
David Aronson’s August 7th NYT op-ed, “How Congress Devastated Congo”, suggests that the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform act is destroying the eastern DRC’s development prospects by discouraging legitimate mining trade and encouraging smuggling via Rwanda. Dodd-Frank is certainly inadequate for trying to “asphyxiate” the mineral-fueled conflict. But it is just as certainly not what has devastated Congo.
Aronson reports the supposed effects of Dodd-Frank:
“The pastor at one church told me that women were giving birth at home because they couldn’t afford the $20 or so for the maternity clinic. Children are dropping out of school because parents can’t pay the fees. Remote mining towns are virtually cut off from the outside world because the planes that once provisioned them no longer land. Most worrying, a crop disease periodically decimates the region’s staple, cassava. Villagers who relied on their mining income to buy food when harvests failed are beginning to go hungry.”
No doubt these things are true. I saw all of them myself when I was in South Kivu this summer. But none of them can be attributed directly to Dodd-Frank. In addition to the long-run devastation and absence of recovery from the 1996-2003 wars, Aronson’s article omits the September 2010 to March 2011 mining ban imposed by President Joseph Kabila. Aronson’s article about the unintended consequences of measures intended to attack the illegal minerals trade would have been more accurate if it had focused on that mining ban, which did not weaken the hold of military elements over Kivu’s mines but did starve the mining sector of the economy.
Aronson’s analysis of the current phase of the conflict is, unfortunately, completely wrong.
“Most of the militias that wreaked havoc between 2003 and 2008 have since been incorporated into the Congolese Army. The two or three of any significance that remain get their money from kidnapping and extortion, not from controlling mining sites or transport routes.”
In fact, incorporation into the Congolese Army was through “mixage”, which means the militias retained their own command structures – as well as their links to outside powers and, crucially, their control over the mines. Most mines in South Kivu are still under the control of militias – the fact that the militias are wearing Congolese Army uniforms does not change the economics.
Global Witness’s May 2011 report, “Congo’s Minerals Trade in the Balance”, contains crucial information that Aronson’s readers will want to see. Global Witness describes Dodd-Frank as “a major step forward and could, if implemented correctly, lead to an improvement in the humanitarian situation in eastern Congo by raising the cost of trading in conflict minerals and cutting off financing to warring parties.” The act, which imposes supply chain due diligence on purchasers of minerals, is not the cause of economic depression in South Kivu. It has, indeed, had hardly any impact at all, positive or negative.
Aronson’s report of Bosco Ntaganda, “a freelance killer with his own ethnic Tutsi militia, which provides “security” to traders smuggling minerals across the border to neighboring Rwanda”, and his smuggling operation is also no doubt accurate, but Ntaganda is not the exception but the rule. The economy of Congolese minerals involves most of the benefit being captured by Rwanda. This has been the case since Rwanda invaded Zaire to overthrow Mobutu and close the Interahamwe and FAR-run Rwandan refugee camps in the Kivus in 1996.
The way forward is not to remove what little accountability measures exist for the minerals trade. Instead, it is to support the miniscule legitimate minerals trade and confront the illegal trade, including the principal regional supporters and beneficiaries of it in Rwanda. The Rwandan role is skirted by almost everyone in their public statements, but the evidence is completely clear, even from Aronson’s article and Global Witness’s report. If Congress devastated Congo, it was not through Dodd-Frank and it was not this year. It was through unconditional support for Rwanda and Uganda while those countries pillaged their neighbour since 1996.
Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer. He spent part of the summer in Bukavu, in South Kivu, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).