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09.21.10

Enough is Enough: Ending the Deadly Trade in Congo's Conflict Minerals

Our cell phones and laptops are often powered by minerals that come from war zones in Congo, where rape and mass killings are rampant. John Prendergast on how companies can stop fueling the war.

Every once in a while during the course of a war, a confluence of factors comes together to provide a window of opportunity for real change. After 125 years of having its natural resource base and people pillaged and looted by international businesses, governments, neighbors, and local collaborators, Congo is on the precipice of its own Enough Moment.

Consumers and human rights activists in America and around the world are saying “enough is enough” of the killing, raping, and smuggling in order to satisfy our demand for cell phones, laptops, and other electronics products powered in part by conflict minerals from the Congo. And their cry for change is in the form of the congressional legislation that requires real transparency from the electronics and other companies profiting from this exploitation is echoing from the board rooms of multinational companies, to the presidential palaces of Central African leaders, right down to the barracks of the armed groups that are feeding off this war like economic parasites.

It is this concept of the Enough Moment that forms the foundation of my new book with Don Cheadle, The Enough Moment: Fighting to End Africa’s Worst Human Rights Crimes. (See www.enoughmoment.org) For the most horrific human rights crimes such as rape as a war weapon, child soldier recruitment, and genocide, there are specific policies that can counter these scourges, and the human rights movement is essential for generating the political will to utilize these policies.

Congo is a case in point. Over the last month in visits to Central Africa and Silicon Valley, I’ve talked to the CEOs of electronics companies, the leaders of Central African nations, mineral exporters and traders, mine owners, miners and their families, survivors of some of the horrific violence associated with the conflict minerals trade, U.N. peacekeepers, Congolese civil society groups, and even some of the armed warlords. The U.S. Congressional bill signed by President Obama, plus the global conflict minerals campaign, has got everyone’s attention, and all those that are profiting say they are willing to change. President Kabila of Congo has instituted a temporary ban on minerals from the war zone, which may have short-term negative effects but it opens a very significant door for serious policy reform. President Kagame of Rwanda indicated his support for a mineral certification program, asking me repeatedly, “Who would oppose this?” A major electronics company’s CEO has shown me how he is personally investing his company in tracing and auditing its supply chain for products like cell phones and laptops to ensure that they are conflict-free. The traders and exporters are screaming about a possible international embargo and are forwarding proposals of their own.

Everyone has realized that the status quo is unacceptable, the profits purchased with so much Congolese blood are at risk, and that change is required. The opportunity is huge. This is Congo’s Enough Moment.

What is missing is a conductor to orchestrate the process of change aimed at producing a solution that involves governments in Central Africa and around the world, companies that benefit from these minerals, and civil society groups in Congo and globally that have worked to bring this issue to light.

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The solution must satisfy consumers of the end products, so that they know what they’re buying is truly conflict-free. And it must satisfy survivors in Congo’s war zone, so that they begin to see movement toward stability and an end to the abuses that haunt them daily.

Everyone has realized that the status quo is unacceptable, the profits purchased with so much Congolese blood are at risk, and change is required.

That missing conductor is the United States, and more specifically, its highest ranking official engaged on U.S. foreign policy: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who traveled to the east in August 2009. The U.S. needs to step up, as the home to many of the end-user companies that profit most from Congo’s conflict minerals. Throughout my recent trip with traveling partner Ashley Judd, I kept hearing, “Hillary is key.” Secretary Clinton’s trip provided hope because she went beyond simple sympathy and identified some of the core causes of the conflict, including conflict minerals, an unreformed army, and the need for an enhanced strategy to deal with the primarily Rwandan militia called the FDLR.

A year after her trip to Congo, the time has come for Secretary Clinton to personally reengage, to travel again to eastern Congo, and to take advantage of this moment of opportunity to catalyze a minerals certification process that is internationally accepted as the standard. Certification here should build on the important lessons of the Kimberley Process for blood diamonds and include independent monitoring and civil society participation. Her Under-Secretary for Economic Affairs, Robert Hormats, should be deputized to lead U.S. efforts to work with regional governments to develop the process aimed at certification. The U.S. and other interested countries should then use the leverage afforded by support for certification to create a more serious, long-term army reform program with the Congolese government, and work with Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda to develop more comprehensive counter-insurgency programs to end the threats posed by the FDLR and LRA.

There are solutions to Congo’s multi-layered crisis. Addressing conflict minerals is a catalyst that can help leverage forward movement on other interlinked issues that continue to drive Congo’s unparalleled violence. Secretary Clinton’s and Under-Secretary Hormats’ leadership in forging an internationally accepted mineral certification program could help catalyze movement towards real solutions to Congo’s complicated conflict. This is Congo’s Enough Moment, and it must be seized with urgency.

(See www.enoughmoment.org)

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