Small but positive signs of progress with Congo's 'conflict minerals'
Recent actions taken against Congo's 'conflict mineral' trade by companies and the international community signal that although progress is slow, it is happening.
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Finally, and perhaps most importantly, several major international companies appear to be retreating from their rejection of due diligence – which have included threats of boycott of the Congo or just exporting minerals to China and India – and investing in these efforts. The main such company is Malaysia Smelting Corporation, which has been the biggest buyer of Congolese tin in the past. On May 21st, the Congolese mining minister announced that MSC was going to take over all the Sakima concessions – which include some of the largest tin mines in the country – in Maniema, North Kivu and South Kivu. This would be the first step towards switching from artisinal to indistrial mining in the region. For now, all of the mines in the Kivus (with the exception of Banro's gold mines) are mined with picks and shovels. MSC has also indicated that it will invest $10 million in tagging and tracing schemes through ITRI, the tin industry coalition. That suggests that MSC intends to continue to produce for the US an European markets.Skip to next paragraph
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Other industrial actors may get involved, as well, including a quixotic foray into Rwanda by Rajesh, the largest jewelry manufacturer in India. Bloomberg reported that Rajesh exports may invest up to $1 billion in developing a gold refinery and a diamond business in Kigali. While Rwanda may have some gold – I don't think it is very much – they don't have any diamonds to my knowledge, and probably the vast majority of these precious minerals come from the Congo. Rajesh did indicate that they would try to set up some traceability scheme to ensure that their trade would not dip into conflict minerals. But gold is much more difficult to trace than tin and tantalum, both because it can be easily smuggled, but also because the gold mines are very remote and it could be harder to set up tagging schemes there.
There are still reasons to be skeptical. Ten million dollars will not be nearly enough in the long run to set up tracing schemes. And, as Global Witness and I have pointed out in the past, the current ITRI schemes just record the origin of the bags but do little to account for the militarization of the trade route, as well as other ways through which armed actors can profit. They only way to really control for military racketeering is through nuts-and-bolts investigations through independent monitors. Enough and several industry groups (Motorola and HP, I think) recently submitted a proposal for such an oversight group, based on a draft that Steve Hege and I elaborated in 2009; Global Witness is also calling for something similar.
In addition, Rajesh's venture still seems bizarre and perhaps misplaced, given how complex and mired in abuse the gold trade is. Recent reports from the Misisi gold mines in Fizi – some of the biggest gold pits still artisanally mined in the Congo – suggest that Congolese army officers continue to control the trade there.
But while much remains to be done, these developments are welcome steps in something that looks like it might be the right direction.