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Opinion: US policy on Congo conflict minerals well-intentioned, but misguided

An NGO worker in Congo says of the Dodd-Frank legislation: 'The motivation behind the law is very good – to impose transparency. But the implementation has been the problem.'

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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.

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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 give the 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.

Jason Stearns blogs about the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region at Congo Siasa.

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