02 November 2011

Conflict Minerals: Evaluations Desperately Needed

The conflict mineral debate is another one that has been heating up as of late. I will admit that I am still doing a lot of reading and learning about the subject. However, it appears that there is good reason to believe that section 1502 could have negatively affected artisinal miners in the DRC. There seem to be a varied group of voices that make the case for further investigation into the legislation and the situation on the ground. David Aronson has been an a hawkish advocate for rethinking conflict minerals. His article in the NYT a few months ago really stirred the pot, but he has been make some points that are worth considering.

In his blog on Friday, Aronson argues that social impact assessments should take place to try to understand what is happening and how the lives of Congolese are being affected by 1502. Say what you want about conflict minerals, but I have a hard time believing that the questions Aronson poses should not be answered with further research.
A social impact assessment would enable us to develop a clearer sense of what impact the embargo has had. It would focus on such questions as these:

How has the embargo affected the miners, their communities, and the broader economy of the region? If miners have seen their income decline, by how much? What alternate income sources are available to them? What survival strategies did they have in place and have those proven sufficient? Have they been able to make up for their losses, and if so how? If not, how are they surviving? What are the implications for their health? for their diet and nutrition? for the schooling of their children and for access to health care? for the achievement of such life goals as, for example, saving enough to marry or building a better home? for helping non-immediate family members? Has it caused a heightened risk of mortality? How has it affected relationships within the family? Has it brought stress to family relationships and led to increased friction and conflict? Has it had differential impacts on women, men, children, the aged? What is happening in those communities that are no longer served by incoming planes?

What impact has it had on the comparative strength of various rebel groups, militia, or FARDC units? Which groups have suffered a decline in their profit from the mineral trade, by how much, and how have they responded? To what extent, if at all, have they benefited, by moving into the illegitimate or black market trade? To what extent has the embargo encouraged smuggling and other forms of fraud? To what extent have government tax receipts from the trade diminished, and what impact has that had on governance?

What secondary effects has the embargo caused? Given that the mineral trade was one of the region's primary sources of income and foreign currency, how have those who served the economic needs of mining communities been affected? How important was mining to the regional economy as a whole and how big a loss has the embargo been? Given the dearth of reliable statistics, how can this be measured? Who has been most/least affected? What regions or territories? What impact has the embargo had on sectors such as construction or banking?
Defenders will say that they either know the answers or try another tactic to divert the conversation. I am certainly willing to hear more, but the evidence right now does not bear out and I am not convinced that Aronson's questions have been answered. Enough and Global Witness should not be chastised, rather they should be encouraged to pursue more rigorous and independent evaluations. At the very least, doing so will help to understand how to implement future external legislation. A similar situation may present itself in the future and proper evaluations can provide a framework of the outcomes of these actions.