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Guest Host: Paul Brown
Less than two years ago, American lawmakers used a financial reform bill to implement a new plan targeting the international trade of “conflict minerals.” It was designed to stop the sale of valuable materials that finance violence in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo. But some argue that the plan may actually be taking a tougher toll on poor workers in Africa’s most vulnerable economies than the warlords it intended to stop.
- Laura Seay Assistant Professor, Political Science, Morehouse College (Atlanta, Ga.)
- John Bradshaw Executive Director, The Enough Project
MR. PAUL BROWNFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Paul Brown from NPR News, sitting in for Kojo. Later in the broadcast, nursing moms demand their rights in the district and beyond. But first, the international aftershocks of financial reform legislation crafted here in Washington. Nearly two years ago, Congress passed a law designed to change the way Wall Street does business. It also contained language aimed at altering economic reality in the Democratic Republic of Congo, more specifically the trade of minerals that benefits warlords.
MR. PAUL BROWNThey're called conflict minerals and they help fuel the cycle of violence that has wreaked havoc in Democratic Republic of Congo for years. Some people now argue that while the U.S. plan was written with good intentions, it's unleashed devastating unforeseen consequences on the Congolese people and economy. Legions of miners are out of work. They're caught among the various players in this situation and they're living in a place where violence is still very much a part of everyday life.
MR. PAUL BROWNJoining us today, Laura Seay is a professor at Morehouse College. She writes the blog Texas in Africa and regularly contributes to the Atlantic. She's with us from studios in Atlanta, GA. Laura Seay, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
MS. LAURA SEAYThank you so much for having me.
BROWNJohn Bradshaw is executive director of The Enough Project. It's an advocacy organization that focuses on genocide and crimes against humanity. John, thanks for coming in to our studios here.
MR. JOHN BRADSHAWThanks for having me.
BROWNJohn, your organization was one of the most vocal supporters for using the American financial reform bill that was -- whose aim was to curb bad behavior on Wall Street basically. To target the trade of conflict minerals, why was this something you got behind? What did the language actually -- why did you want to see it as part of this bill? First of all, why did you get behind this?
BRADSHAWWell, Paul, in the Congo, as you alluded to earlier, there have been tremendous cycles of violence that have gone on for many years, really going back 150 years, we can say, when the Belgian government was in control of the Congo. There has been a fight for the natural resources of the Congo that has led to tremendous violence and human rights abuses from the time of King Leopold on.
BRADSHAWSo, in this current situation, we looked at the human rights abuses, rape, violence that is going on in connection with these mines, where some of the so-called conflict minerals come from -- tin, tungsten, tantalum, gold -- that are used in a lot of electronics products that we use here in the United States and around the world. This was one way to try to find a pragmatic solution to try to take away some of the financial support to these warlords that were using these mines to support the militias that commit these abuses. So -- yeah.
BROWNHow does money from that sort of mining get to warlords? I mean, how does this -- how did this issue arise in the first place?
BRADSHAWRight. Well, the conflict there in the Congo goes back many years to a lot of ethnic clashes and land rights dispute. But the control of the mines, which is more recent vintage allowed these warlords to take the minerals out of the mines and sell them, usually smuggling them out of the country and then take the proceeds of that to buy weapons or to pay their soldiers or to pay for food that would support their own militias.
BROWNAnd so, for people who are listening now, if you, for example, have a handheld device, a cell phone, some sort of communications device, tablet computer, you name it, it's likely to have metals and minerals inside it that may have come from a Congolese mine. And the money that you spend on your handheld phone, part of that ultimately winds up in the hands of a warlord committing some pretty atrocious acts in Democratic Republic of Congo. That's what you're telling us, John.
BROWNHow do you stop that?
BRADSHAWWell, it's a very challenging problem and we don't pretend that just addressing this problem of conflict minerals through this one section of the Dodd-Frank bill will end all the violence in the Congo. But it is one way to try to take some of the fuel from the fire there that is supporting this cycle of violence. If we are able to get the warlords out of these mines and replace them with a legitimate mining sector, where miners working there are paid well, not abused, have proper safety conditions.
BRADSHAWThen the minerals can go into a legitimate channel of trade where they are traced, audited and certified, so that consumers here will be able to look at their cell phone or other electronics and say, we know, certainly, that the minerals in this device did not come from one of these conflict mines. Hopefully, they would come from the Congo but from legitimate mines where there's a responsible trade.
BROWNBut the bill itself, the law, doesn't require any work standards, all it does is say that you have to know where these minerals came from and that the money is not going to warlords. So, it seems that it takes care of part of the problem but not all of the problem. It still leaves the future of individual miners and communities, in a sense, up for grabs. That's at least -- that's what I'm hearing.
BRADSHAWWell, we believe that once a system is in place that's workable. And we are right in the middle of now trying to set that up and we'll talk about that more I'm sure. That once we have that legitimate trade, these companies will want to be seen to be sourcing responsibly even if they are not mandated to do that. Consumer pressure and the moral hazard that they would face by being known to be companies that source from these conflict mines would be a deterrent to them.
BROWNLet's bring Laura Seay in here. Laura, you have argued that even though parts of this law affecting Congo have yet to be implemented that they've already started to unleash some really, really difficult times on some of the most vulnerable people in the Congolese economy. Tell me from your perspective what the impact of this law, which attempts to prevent money from getting to warlords from the mining of valuable minerals and metals, tell me what you think it's doing.
SEAYWell, what we've seen -- and again I think it's really important to emphasize the provisions have not even been released. We don't actually know what the rules are going to be. The SEC has delayed their announcement. You know, it'll be a year in April since they were supposed to be out. But there have been some unintended consequences. The biggest...
SEAYYes, yes, absolutely. In the -- about six, eight months after the law was passed in early 2010 -- yeah, 2010, sorry -- the Kabila administration implemented a ban on the mineral trade from three of the eastern provinces -- North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema. So, all trade shut down. What happened during that period, which lasted for about six months, was actually increased militarization of mines. You had units of the national army.
SEAYAnd it's important that people know that the Congolese National Army is not a source of stability. It is a source of danger. It is in fact the armed group that commits more human rights violations that any other in eastern Congo. And this group actually took over some mines that had previously not been militarized. After the ban ended, shortly thereafter the Malaysia Smelting Corporation which has bought about 80 percent of the minerals from eastern Congo for smelting announced that it would stop buying Congolese minerals because it couldn't guarantee and any would be conflict free.
SEAYAs the Dodd-Frank provisions will eventually require, it couldn't guarantee that any of them would be due to the environment in eastern Congo. And so, what we've seen is, over a year now, where miners, particularly miners working in the Kivu provinces are basically not able to sell most of their minerals. We've seen a 90-percent decline in 10 exports from eastern Congo, for example.
SEAYSo you have a lot of people who are out of work. You know, that means that they, you know, and yes, I absolutely agree with John that the conditions in the mines are horrific. You're talking about child labor. You're talking about sexual abuse. You're talking about long hours with very little pay. But it's the only economic opportunity that many people had and they've taken that away.
BROWNAnd John is also saying that some -- importantly that money from this mining is going to warlords. And that's what his organization wants to stop as much as anything else.
SEAYRight. So you have the problem with -- this has negatively impacted mining, the livelihood of actual miners who are not militants, who are fighting for any armed group. But the problem is that actually hasn't led to much of a reduction in violence that we're seeing from these groups. There is evidence the UN Group of Experts, which releases an annual report at the end of every year, the report for 2011 says that, yes, warlords have lost sources of revenue, but they haven't stopped engaging in violence at all.
SEAYAnd the violence, if anything, has gotten worse in recent months. So I think we have a challenge here, which is that a lot of people have lost their jobs and lost their livelihoods, but they aren't really any better off than they were before.
BROWNWell, we've heard each of your positions, the basis of each position. Now, let's see if we can bring some listeners along through the hour. The number to call, 1-800-433-8850. How much attention do you pay to where the materials that make up your electronic devices come from? Do you think about that? What do you think about it? What do you think should happen to protect people in the countries where the materials in your cell phone or your tablet computer are mined? 1-800-433-8850.
BROWNOr you can email us also at email@example.com. John Bradshaw, if this law is not working perfectly but you feel that it's basically where the U.S. needs to be going in its stance on this issue of the mining of materials for their use in all manner of goods. Do you see any areas for change in the legislation or policy to meet some of -- to address some of the concerns that Laura Seay is bringing to us?
BRADSHAWWell, the Securities and Exchange Commission has yet to release the final regulations, as Laura mentioned. It's been over a year since or coming up on a year since they were mandated to release those in April and we expect them to come out within the next few months. So, we'll have to see how those regulations are actually implemented. But on the question of some of the problems that have been caused, we support efforts to work to improve the livelihoods of some of the displaced miners.
BRADSHAWThe U.S. Agency for International Development has launched a project, a $20 million project throughout the Congo to help increase livelihoods. Some of these miners will be able to move into other areas. Eventually, though, the real key to solving the problems there is to create this legitimate mining industry where miners will have real jobs. When people talk about miners being displaced from their jobs or their livelihoods, really, that's a bit of an exaggeration.
BRADSHAWThese are not really jobs. They're almost close to slavery or at least indentured servitude. The miners are paid a pittance. They work in these horrific conditions. The women in those are subject to sexual violence. The Congo has been called the rape capital of the world. Child labor is also happening there. So, sometimes it's portrayed as, well, the bill has forced all of these people out of these great jobs in the mines.
BROWNBut these are not people who are going to work in a job that any of us would recognize as a job.
BRADSHAWRight. When I was out in Goma last year and talking to some of these displaced miners, I actually asked one of them, when some people say this is slavery, is this slavery or were you working in the mines voluntarily? And this guy said, well, I did have an option, be a slave or die. So in that sense, it was voluntary working in the mines.
BROWNRight. Let's bring in Chrisso (sp?) , I hope I've got your name pronounced correctly, from Washington, D.C. How do you pronounce your name? Sorry about that.
BROWNChrisso. What's on your mind today?
CHRISSOYes, thank you for having my call.
CHRISSOAnd I am glad that finally is somebody is talking about the situation in the, you know, Congo. There is something going on for years now. And, well, the simple thing to do is exactly what the people of the Congo did on November 28th. They went to the poll to what they believed would have been a democratic, you know, elections. But as it turned out, the current regime, the Kabila regime, trying every single way of bringing into power, they had rigged the, you know, whole election. So now he has -- I mean, even though we had multi-fraud et cetera, the will of the people was clear and they had hope for Mr. Tshisekedi.
CHRISSOSo now, the people have found a leader, Mr. Tshisekedi who is not corrupt, okay. Now, so prior to have all these laws ripping and trying to, you know, try to implement them would not solve the problem. The problem is, we need a change of leadership. So the international community has a responsibility to get rid of Mr. Kabila because they are the one who, in 2001, put it in there. And in 2006, you know, also through a so-called free and fair, you know, election which wasn't free and fair at all.
BROWN...but let me ask you a question, Chrisso. Given the realities of what is happening in Democratic Republic of Congo and if I could say, probably, the limited likelihood that the government will change immediately, what do you think should happen regarding the situation of these miners in Democrat Republic of Congo? And I also want to throw this question out, open to John Bradshaw and Laura Seay, our guests. So, why don't we go to Laura? We haven't heard from her in a moment. Laura, how realistic would it be to expect any sort of leadership change in Democratic Republic of Congo anytime soon? And if it's unrealistic, what is, at least, a partial solution to some of the problems that you've mentioned?
SEAYSure, that's a great question. And I think Chrisso is right in pointing out that the problems in the Congo are fundamentally political problems. Are there economic factors related to that? Yes. But, you know, it's a political problem and it requires a political solution. You're talking about a place that is very poorly governed, that in some places is not governed at all, that in some places is governed by warlords.
SEAYPeople like Bosco Ntaganda, who is a notorious warlord who is increasing his level of control in Goma right now, and who is also indicted by the ICC and the government won't hand him over, apparently because he made a deal with President Kabila to insure that people in areas under his control would vote for Kabila whether they wanted to or not in exchange for Bosco continuing to go free and having access to the mineral trades. So, you know, is it realistic to expect a change of leadership? I don't think so. We all...
BROWNWhat do you think, John Bradshaw?
BRADSHAWWell, the caller is right in identifying the massive fraud that took place in the Presidential election.
BROWNWhich was recent. I mean, this was just a month ago.
BRADSHAWYes, November 28th, yeah, yes. And the legislative election results are being announced on January 28th and may well be equally non credible.
BROWNBut they are the results. They will be the results.
BRADSHAWRight, right. I think it's unlikely that President Kabila will be put out of office any time soon. The best we might hope for is some kind of transitional or unity government. But even that seems like a stretch, given the current situation. But I absolutely agree with Laura that the essential problem in the Congo is the lack of good governance. The rule of law is extremely weak. It's another issue that the Enough Project works on, in addition to conflict minerals as trying to reform the justice sector.
BRADSHAWIf we do -- once we do get the Dodd-Frank regulations into place and some of the other schemes that are working now on the ground to try to control conflict minerals, it will only work if there are independent monitors either from the UN or some other international body who are monitoring this on a very regular basis. Because if we leave it up to the Congolese government, where there's so much fraud and bribery, the system would not work.
BROWNLaura Seay, what do you think needs to happen to improve the situation for miners and to slow the flow of money to warlords if the Dodd-Frank Act does not seem to be going in a direction that you think is workable or is helpful?
BROWNWhat do you propose?
SEAY...we need -- sure. I think we need a more comprehensive approach. I think we need to recognize that the conflict minerals focused and rules focused on taking away that sort of revenue are not going to make much of a difference in terms of solving the conflicts, in terms of getting warlords to lay down their arms. They have many other sources of revenue upon which they can draw.
BROWNSo what would make a difference?
SEAYWhat would make a difference? I think that we -- you know, John has just pointed out the need to focus on justice reform, on ending impunity for crimes so that people like Bosco Ntaganda cannot walk free. Security sector reform is another issue, getting the army under control, providing training, professionalization of soldiers.
BROWNWho would do that?
SEAYWho would do that?
SEAYIt's a great question.
BROWNWho would do that?
SEAYIt has to be the international community. Now, the United States government is involved in this in some extent. Africom, the African command through the Defense Department has trained one brigade of soldiers out in Kisangani. There are some other sort of experimental issues. There's a group at Texas A&M, at the Borlaug Institute there, that is running a farm, training soldiers to grow their own food so that they won't have a reason to go and loot communities to provide for their basic needs. But it's a really difficult situation and you need reform across multiple sectors, simultaneously. And I think that's why, you know, if there were an easy solution to these problems, we would've already found it.
BROWNRight. We probably wouldn't be talking about this. Let's hold on for just a moment. We'll take a brief break. We'll come back and John Bradshaw, we'll go to you. This is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," I'm Paul Brown.
BROWNIt's "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," I'm Paul Brown from NPR news sitting in today for Kojo. And we're talking about Democratic Republic of Congo, the trade in minerals, money from which often goes to warlords and the attempt to stop that flow of money to sources that then create violence. Also the difficult working conditions of miners in Democratic Republic of Congo, people who are mining valuable materials, trace elements, metals that are used in the devices that we all carry around here in the U.S., cell phones, personal computers, iPads, tablet computers.
BROWNWe'd love to hear from you. We've got some calls on the line and we'll be going to them in a moment. I want to come back here to John Bradshaw, executive director of the Enough Project. And, John, you wanted to say something here before the break.
BRADSHAWRight. I just wanted to pick up on something that Laura mentioned that if we are able to eliminate the source of revenue from conflict minerals for warlords, that they have other sources of revenue to continue to support their militias. But it needs to be noted that there is no other source of revenue that is as lucrative as these minerals, especially gold which can be easy smuggled. And the other minerals are incredibly valuable. So, yes, they could get engaged in agricultural trade or other things to make money, but that is not going to be as effective.
BROWNLet's go to the phones here and speak to Antwal (sp?) , is that your name? Hello?
BROWNYeah. Can you tell us your name? I'm not sure that I've -- that I'm pronouncing it correctly.
ANTWALMy name is Antwal.
BROWNOkay. And what's on your mind, Antwal?
ANTWALActually, I have a question for John. But before that, for us, I'm originally from the (word?) and I work here as an independent consultant and I'm (unintelligible) election. One of the things that we did when there was a run up to the passage of the Dodd-Frank law, we called the Enough Project and we told them that they were pushing for a law that the Congolese people did not want because it was not going to work. We asked them, why when they pushing for people -- Obama law, which is not the only law that Obama has known to have advocated for in his past when he was a senator.
ANTWALWhich was the PL109-456 entitled to Democratic Republic of Congo Relief, Security and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006. In that law, it was pretty much clear that there were instances of punishment, either for the government or DRC50, not respect governance principals for people, for companies that were doing business in the Congo and smuggling, oh, just, you know, participating in the plundering of minerals for their neighbors. But the Enough Project would not listen.
BROWN...John, what's your response?
BRADSHAWWell, this is a source of great dispute. We have a very vibrant Congolese Diaspora here in the U.S. and there are many views. There are many in the Congolese community here that support us. But more importantly, we have people that we work with on the ground in the Congo, from Congolese Civil Society Groups that support us, many, many such groups. We have staff members that work with us at the Enough Project. I am in contact with them either by email or phone every day. We know what's going on, on the ground. We have heard tremendous positive feedback from people there.
BRADSHAWThat there is a sense that once the regulations are in place and the system is up and running, it will have a very positive impact. It has had a positive impact in reducing violence, according to the UN group of experts, the report that Laura cited earlier. I think we have a different interpretation of that. We read, saying that there was a lessening of violence in many minds. But the idea that we had no contact with people on the ground in the Congo or didn't know what people there thought is not correct. We have a very good sense of what the people thing there. And of course, there are some disagreements.
BROWNAntwal, why do you think that this law is not the way to go? Why do you think that what is already in place is sufficient?
ANTWALWell, actually, he could've addressed one thing he did not address. What was the need for a new law when the first law on the books was not being enforced?
BROWNJohn, what do you have to say about that?
BRADSHAWWell, I think there's some validity there. The bill that was passed prior to this was not being used to the full by the U.S. government. But we saw this as a very specific pragmatic opportunity to address one part of the conflict, the bill which the caller is referring to is a very broad based approach to addressing issues in the Congo. And we thought this was a very good opportunity on the Dodd-Frank Bill, since it falls under the purview of the Security and Exchange Commission. And we had very good support on Capitol Hill. Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington and Senator Durbin from Illinois, a lot of very important members fully supported this.
BRADSHAWI should also say, there are a number of companies in the electronics industry and other industries that fully support what we're doing. We have a multi-stakeholder group that we've pulled together that involves industry members as well as NGOs and also investor groups who think that their investors would like to know about whether or not there are conflict minerals in the products that these companies produce. So there's a very broad based coalition, including ordinary citizens, people on campuses across the country, several state legislatures who have supported this. So I think that we feel that we are on a good path with this bill.
BROWNAntwal, thank you very much for calling. We appreciate your bringing this up. And I want to go to Laura Seay here and ask you if you don't believe that this law is the way to go. And you've described some pretty intractable situations in Democratic Republic of Congo, some attempts at solving problems, each of which seems would take a long time.
BROWNWhat do you want to see the U.S. do to improve the situation regarding the miners and the transference of money to warlords so that when people, here in this country, buying everyday consumer products, you know, we don't feel as though we're contributing it, an absolutely atrocious situation in Democratic Republic of Congo. What would be the first action that you would see the U.S. take if this law is not the way to go?
SEAYSure. Well, I mean, I think it's really important to emphasize that the Dodd-Frank is the law. There is a chance that section 1502 and the related section 1504 will be thrown out with a lawsuit that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has threatened to file, but these are going to happen.
BROWNBut then what comes next? I mean, like my question there is what comes next?
SEAYRight. And so if it doesn't work, I think is the question. I mean, I am one who thinks that we need to have much more of an emphasis on local peace building, on drawing parties to the conflict, to the negotiating table and giving them incentives to participate in a real peace settlement. You know, there was never an attempt at a serious peace among every group that has an issue.
SEAYThere was a conference in Goma a couple years ago, but even that wasn't comprehensive and didn't try to deal with all these very localized conflicts over land, over citizenship, that are the actual drivers of this conflict that is in part fueled by the mineral trade and in part fueled by other sources of revenue. That's not an easy answer and it doesn't assuage Western consumers' guilt. But the thing is, this is not really about Western consumers. And I think that's where we see a lot of frustration from our Congolese friends.
SEAYI think John is right to point out that there is a wide diversity of view among the Congolese. You're talking about a country of more than 60 million people. There are thousands and thousands of civil society groups in the country. And you can find a civil society group to argue for whatever view you have. But what one common sense of frustration I hear from my Congolese friends and contacts is that what is an extraordinarily complex situation in the Western narrative gets reduced to the story that is about rape and about minerals and about the role of Western consumers.
SEAYAnd most of them don't really believe that Western consumers are the primary players in this situation. Instead, they're concerned about governance. They're concerned about their leadership. And they're concerned about basic security in their cities and those are not easy things to work out. But it starts with reaching a lasting peace agreement and with finding a way to get people to the table and build incentives for them to behave.
BROWNWell, I'd like to thank both of you for coming in. Also thanking all our listeners who've called in on this topic. I know the discussion will go on. It's a big issue and some very difficult problems here to solve. Laura Seay, a professor at Morehouse College, writes the blog "Texas in Africa" and contributes to the Atlantic Magazine. John Bradshaw, executive director of the Enough Project, an advocacy organization that focuses on genocide and crimes against humanity. Thank you very much, both of you, for coming in.
BRADSHAWThanks for having me.
SEAYIt's been a pleasure.
BROWNComing up ahead, breastfeeding, the reintroduction of breast feeding in the D.C. and surrounding area. Stay tuned for that on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" from WAMU 88.5.
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