September 30, 2010

Letter to the Editor: Conflict Mineral Ban Would Hurt Congo

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To the Editor:

Re: “Conscientious Investment” Opinion, Sept. 28

Tuesday’s editorial, “Conscientious Investment”, advocated that the University cease buying electronics from companies except for those certified by the Securities and Exchange Commission as using only “conflict free” minerals. For the sake of the Congolese people about whom the editorial revolves, I sincerely hope that the administration does not enact such a policy. At best, it would be inconsequential; at worst, it will further destabilize the Democratic Republic of Congo and fuel increased violence.The conflict in the Congo is a complex situation. It has its roots in everything from Belgian colonial policies in the 1960s to the Rwandan genocide, but not in minerals. In fact, there is not a shred of academic evidence that defines a causal link between minerals and the continuing violence, which began well before the mineral trade was even established. The driving forces behind the conflict are ideological — specifically, disagreements over land rights and citizenship statuses — rather than economic or financial.In reality, the majority of the minerals exported from the Congo represent a primary source of income for more than one million peaceful civilians in the region rather than the armed groups. Any serious push for conflict-free minerals will cause businesses to pull out of the Congo entirely instead of attempting the expensive and difficult task of verifying their entire and often informal supply chain. This will reduce the demand for Congolese minerals as a whole and will leave countless numbers of peaceful civilians jobless, thereby forcing many of them to turn to the armed groups for an income.Meanwhile, there is no reason to believe the armed groups will stop their violence once their funding from the mineral trade is cut. Minerals are far from the only source of income available to those waging the violence. If the Congo stops enjoying an external mineral market, these armed groups will move onto taxing other commodities such as cattle or charcoal, or will simply prey on peaceful civilians for more funds instead. Furthermore, the region is already awash in cheap small arms and machetes that can be used to perpetuate the ongoing terror, and the trademark of the violence in the Congo — mass rapes — will persist even without constant funding. A continuation of the violence in the Congo requires only an ideological drive, which is something that refusing to buy Congolese minerals does nothing to address.The argument that buying electronics with Congo-sourced minerals supports the violence waged by the armed groups is factually unsubstantiated and logically inconsistent, and represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the conflict. Therefore, I am extremely disappointed that the Student Assembly apparently neglected to complete any diligent research into such a complex and delicate situation before passing a resolution, and also that the editorial board of The Sun had the audacity to call the Congolese people “often overlooked” after doing exactly that themselves. I hope that both the S.A. and The Sun will rescind their declarations in place of a plea for a more informed and logical path towards peace for some of the most disadvantaged people on earth.

Luke Pryor ’11