US city councils join the battle against Congo's 'conflict minerals'

A handful of cities in the US are exploring ways to make sure that their public funds are not inadvertently fueling the conflict in Congo.

Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters
Gold miners form a human chain while digging an open pit at the Chudja mine in the Kilomoto concession near the village of Kobu, 100 km (62 miles) from Bunia in northeastern Congo on Feb. 23, 2009. Civil conflict in Congo has been driven for more than a decade by the violent struggle for control over the country's vast natural resources, including gold, diamonds and timber, most of which is exploited using hard manual labour.

It’s certainly a belated realization, but the war in eastern Congo – broiling for well over a decade – is no longer hidden or ignored. Encouragingly, with this heightened public awareness has come not apathy rooted in the complexity or magnitude of the conflict, but rather a dedication to proactively confront the dynamics that even people far removed from Congo can influence.

As with other social movements, students have led the way. Across the United States, student leaders are stirring up interest on campuses, collecting pages of signatures, and petitioning their administrators and trustees to enact policies committing endowments and procurement plans to “conflict-free” investments and purchases. Attention from Congress and from celebrity activists to the connection between the conflict and the purchases of minerals from mines controlled by armed groups has provided tangible action to rally around and the necessary spotlight.

Now, city councils in Pittsburgh and St. Petersburg are setting the pace among U.S. cities to commit to ensuring that public funds are not perpetuating the conflict in eastern Congo. The Enough Project presented on the conflict minerals issue to the St. Petersburg city council earlier this week and expects a vote over the summer.

At least three other city councils are also considering actions to address support that their city budgets may be unwittingly providing to armed groups perpetrating atrocities in Congo.

“It’s probably a bit early to declare this interest from city councils a trend, but the actions by Pittsburgh and St. Petersburg are certainly getting attention, especially from Congo activists who are looking for a bigger way to make an impact beyond just their own personal actions,” said Chloe Christman from the Raise Hope from Congo campaign at the Enough Project in Washington, D.C. She said that she is being contacted regularly for suggestions on how to get city campaigns started and potential language for resolutions.

Greg Queyranne in Vancouver, British Columbia, is one advocate who recently got in touch. After traveling to Africa’s Great Lakes region in 2010, Queyranne returned to Vancouver committed to building awareness among Canadians with the aim of replicating legislative successes like the U.S. conflict minerals bill that is helping galvanize conscientious consumers in the U.S. As a result of his efforts, the city council of Vancouver will soon consider a conflict-free resolution, and he is optimistic that the councilmembers will elect to become the first city in Canada to take a strong stance against conflict minerals.

While city resolutions, like some universities actions, are not binding commitments to only buy certifiably conflict-free products, they nonetheless send a significant collective statement to companies dealing in minerals from eastern Congo to clean up their supply chains. If the moral imperative weren’t convincing enough, mounting consumer demand should be a signal to companies that opportunities await those who can deliver what the people want.

The collective next step advocates can take to help cut off armed groups from the minerals trade in eastern Congo is to urge Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to call a high-level meeting to create a single, comprehensive international certification system. Sign the petition Clinton: Take the Lead on Stopping Conflict Minerals

– Laura Heaton blogs for the Enough Project at Enough Said.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Africa bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.