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Why recent US 'conflict mineral' legislation is a good thing for Africa

Some point out that most Africa conflicts are about much more than a mad scramble for minerals. Others say new US legislation against 'conflict minerals' will cramp some countries' economic progress. But here are some reasons why it's a good thing.

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But, for the first time since the beginning of the conflict, this lobbying has prompted a substantive push by legislators in the US. We now have a meaningful piece of legislation asking the Security and Exchange Commission to regulate the supply chain. This will be difficult to implement, but in the end should do something that I applaud: render companies accountable for the conditions under which their product is produced. As a consumer, I do not want my sneakers to be made by 9 year-olds , I do not want my sweatshirts to be produced in abusive workshops. If we can introduce legislation to promote accountability in the business sector in the eastern Congo, it is a good thing.

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Yes, I wish we could have greater engagement in strengthening the Congolese judiciary and police. I wish there could be meaningful land reform and that disputes over farming rights could be settled by expert mediators (UN Habitat is beginning to do this). I wish we could have transparent democratic institutions throughout the country. But none of those issues stand necessarily in contradiction with due diligence in the minerals trade. I can't tell you how often I have been in meetings with officials at the State Department, insisting that they help in security sector reform and in paying attention to the return of Congolese Tutsi refugees. Nothing much came of that. Now that we have a chance to help promote meaningful reform in the minerals trade, I think we should seize the opportunity.

Of course, we should remind our interlocutors in Washington, New York, Kinshasa, Kigali, London, Addis and Paris at every step of the way that we want greater engagement on strengthening state capacity, promoting checks and balances, enhancing judicial capacity and independence and reforming the army.
But this does not stand in contradiction to due diligence in the minerals trade.

--- Jason Stearns blogs at Congo Siasa.

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