After a long silence I got caught last week by an intriguing report on conflict minerals (a theme I have worked on for some years). Donald Trump -already infamous for his tough stance on immigration -made himself unpopular among several international aid organisations by announcing the partial abolishment of the Dodd Frank reforms (also know as ‘Obama’s Law’). News agencies reported a two-year suspension of regulatory controls designed to prevent US companies from importing so-called ‘conflict minerals’ from Central Africa. The Trump administration motivated the executive order (see leaked memo here) by citing “mounting evidence” that current blood minerals regulations are causing serious harm to some parties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and, as a result, are contributing to instability in the region that could threaten the national security interests of the US.
Apart from the expected outrage of international campaign groups (Global Witness called the Trump order “a gift to companies wanting to do business with the criminal and the corrupt“), some voices from Eastern DRC appear to partially confirm the US’s fears. A recent IRIN investigation -notably written by a former Global Witness campaigner- claims to find merit in Trump’s observation that conflict minerals legislation is, indeed, leading to a loss of livelihoods in the region -in addition to the already massive repression of artisan miners’ rights. The IRIN report (a first of two, apparently) further confirms existing evidence –amongst others gathered by myself and my PhD student Christoph Vogel– about the detrimental impact of pilot projects seeking to implement ‘transparent commodity chains’ from Eastern DRC.
At this stage, it is difficult to estimate what to make of the current US stance on conflict minerals. Apart from clearly being ‘anti-Obama’ (just like any order Trump has signed so far), the leaked memo does not seem to take a clear direction towards an alternative legislation -which is worrying many observers. Since the ‘no conflict minerals’ rule came into effect, the US has effectively lost much of its minerals suppliers from Central Africa to China and the Far East. Besides its unconditional protection of US companies’ interests abroad -no surprise in the current constellation- the US administration is indeed recording a certain opposition towards international human rights campaigns in Central Africa. In the face of falling prices and trampled miners’ rights, the effect of this development -which literally risks to move from a negative, ‘no blood minerals’ closed door policy, to an even more negative ‘no rules at all’ -is likely going be felt most severely at the lower scales of the commodity chain: on the shoulders of those workers who continue to supply our phones and computers with highly performative minerals, without any form of protection, representation, or rights.
gold digger in Kamituge (2005) (C) Timothy Raeymaekers
I am somewhat proud to announce the publication of my first single authored book with Cambridge University Press: Violent Capitalism and Hybrid Identity in the Eastern Congo: Power to the Margins.
The book discusses the radical transformation of eastern Congo’s political order in the context of apparent armed destruction and state weakness. Throughout the seven chapters, I trace back today’s violent rule patterns to a tumultuous history of extra-economic accumulation, armed rebellion and de facto public authority in the margins of regional power plays.
The book’s originality lies in its critically assessment of East Congo’s presumed collapse into “chaos”. Looking beyond the dominant paradigms, my main focus lies on cultural and economic uncertainty. Rather than curing the world’s ills – which, unfortunately, remains the dominant tendency in contemporary conflict analysis – I try to answer the difficult but important question what institutional changes result from strategies of daily risk management in an environment characterised by violent competition over the right to govern.
Today the journal International Peacekeeping published my article on post-war conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. You may find a free link to the e-print version here (up to 50 clicks). Here’s a few excerpts…
Four years ago Jeffrey Herbst and Greg Mills made a case for the abolishment of the Democratic Republic of Congo as a unitary state in favour of dealing with those agents and institutions that are “actually running” the country – a position against which I strongly reacted. Now they are back with a similar argument, which requires an equally strong reaction. A guest post by Christoph Vogel (cover picture courtesy of Justine Brabant)
The relationship between armed conflict and mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo is undergoing rapid and radical changes. This autumn, the new Fairphone has reached the production phase, based on certificates provided by the conflict-free tine initiative and Solutions for Hope projects in the Central African country. In the meantime, initiatives are competing for the public’s and market attention. Time for a critical update.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is often represented as an isolated “Heart of Darkness”. Its booming cross-border trade nonetheless represents a powerful answer to state collapse and armed conflict and introduces new, surprisingly liberal, forms of government.
Observers often agree that ‘history repeats itself’ in Eastern Congo – from the slavery conditions imposed by Belgian King Leopold over Mobutu’s predatory state, to today’s armed militias. The reason why these ghosts come haunting Congo’s present is primarily related to unending competition over the ‘right to protect’ unfree populations.
The existence of such regionalized markets for protection in Congo’s eastern borderlands results in a situation whereby violent accumulation often outlives ideal statehood: soldiers, armed rebels, police and ‘non-state’ authorities fight for the right to exploit local communities and accumulate capital through extra-economic means. One the one hand, this pushes people further into poverty and undermines their efforts to earn a living; on the other, it leads to more stationary forms of predation as a result of post-war integration of such protection rackets into national state government. (cover picture courtesy Justine Brabant)
This guest post by the The Committee of Congo-in-Europe describes the motives for the march of John Mpaliza and his friends to ask for justice in DR Congo. John is an inhabitant of Reggio Emilia (Italy) since 18 years. He left on foot from Reggio Emilia in July 2012 to reach the European capital, walking over 1.600 kilometres during one and a half months, and traversing seven European countries.