Point/Counterpoint: "Conflict Minerals Law Will Have No Effect in Eastern DRC" vs "Conflict Minerals Law Will Have Little to No Effect in Eastern DRC"

The Christian Science Monitor’s excellent Africa Monitor page currently has posts up from Jason Stearns and Laura Seay on the U.S.’s recently passed conflict minerals legislation.

The CSM post-naming elves (creators of my personal favorite: “Why Somalia would make Afghanistan seem like Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood for US troops“) have titled these posts:

Why recent US ‘conflict mineral’ legislation is a good thing for Africa” (Stearns)

It’s like a little debate, see?
Except as I see it, the difference between Stearns’s and Seay’s positions is not where the action on this issue is. Neither of them agrees with the central premise of the conflict minerals campaign, which assumes that competition over control of minerals is a primary driver of the conflict. One of them thinks the legislation might have some marginal positive effect despite being epiphenomenal to the sources of conflict and the other believes it probably won’t. Frankly, there’s not a lot of daylight between these viewpoints. (Hence the post title homage to the Onion’s classic post-9/11 Point/Counterpoint: “We Must Retaliate with Blind Rage” vs. “We Must Retaliate with Measured, Focused Rage.”)
The more interesting debate here is the division between the advocacy community, led by Enough, and the expert community. As far as I can tell, Enough has not yet managed to get a single serious researcher of the eastern DRC to sign on to their analysis of the conflict. (Would anyone like to dispute this? I am willing to lower the bar to anybody who has spent more than six weeks straight in the Kivus.)
Stay tuned for Amanda’s analysis of the legislation itself…

Kate Cronin-Furman


  1. Yes, I would like to dispute your assertion… "serious researcher", subjective…

    Wonder why you are so critical of people trying, heart and soul, to help Congo, rather than spending your energy to do the same.

  2. Hi Scott,
    Global Witness is an advocacy organization.
    Their advocacy is specifically focused around the claim that resources fuel conflict. Therefore, their campaigns are aimed at imposing regulations and/or bans on the use of certain resources.
    So, saying they side with the advocacy community when it comes regulation of conflict minerals in kind of begs the question, because they are one of the loudest voices in that exact community.

  3. Global Witness is much more of a research organziation than an advocacy organization. They have staff that will work a problem for 2, 3 years before they put out anything. Those staff members then advocate. The researchers are the advocates. It is a great model. I guess if you meant "academic" experts, then they won't count. But they do meet the 6 week requirement, and are "serious researcher(s) of the eastern DRC". They are REALLY well respected by the academic community and the policy making community. So its actually not question begging on my part, but equivocating on your part to say that NGOs can't be serious researchers. BOOYAH! Anyways, Jason Stearns (grudingly) counts. But alas, maybe the contest should continue, just to see what other academics think. Thanks for the analysis.

  4. Yes, Global Witness does respectable research, but again, they do research within the context of a specific advocacy strategy.

    And I think Jason Stearns would be pretty unhappy to hear himself cited as agreeing with Enough. He has expressed grudging support for the conflict minerals legislation, sure, but he's been very vocal about the flaws in the advocacy approach and its portrayal of the situation in the Kivus

  5. Thanks Kate. 1. Again, if you think serious researchers can't be advocates, then you have to stipulate that in the contest and say why that is true. 2. I guess this points to the question of whether the criticism is of the campaign or the legislation. (Jason Stearns is agreeing with ENOUGH if we are just talking about the legislation). If it is of the campaign and not the legislation, then critics need to show that a different campaign message could have still delivered passage. All campaigns have to simplify the message to deliver successful policy outcomes. It's important to have clarity in the critique of groups like ENOUGH, and recognition of the constraints that they face, to be able to improve upon their work. Otherwise the conversation devolves into a "advocates don't know what they are are talking about" vs. "academics/researchers don't do anything" back and forth that is not particularly productive. Thanks for all the work on this and other topics.

  6. Jason Stearns: I do have a feeling that some people love to hate Enough and Eve Ensler because of their flashy celebrity style of advocacy more than for its content. Let's keep our feet on the ground and our heads screwed on.

  7. (I would have posted this yesterday and using OpenID, but Blogger is being weird and I’ve given up… wah)

    I remember being furious when my hometown paper (archives still not online, grrr) published an op-ed on why we desperately need a border fence with Mexico, and a “counterpoint” on why we probably need a border fence with Mexico but should consider the ramifications and all that. There was nobody saying that the border fence is a ridiculous idea, a waste of time and money that will only make things worse. I’ve never put any stock in the point-counterpoint format again (except in The Onion, of course).

    Speaking of which, you might like this: http://www.theonion.com/video/report-baby-skull-jewelry-may-be-linked-to-violenc,14402/

    And, while I’m on the subject of The Onion, I think you two would really, really like this: http://www.theonion.com/video/jennifer-aniston-adopts-33yearold-boyfriend-from-a,17768/

  8. I'm not an expert on the DRC and it's been a while since I read the report, but didn't the UN Group of Experts more or less make the assertion that conflict minerals were, in fact, at the heart of the conflict? And a recent OECD press release more or less suggests that the GOE will do this again in an upcoming report (incorporating the OECD's Due Diligence standards for conflict minerals, which, because of its development also suggests that there's a connection between the DRC conflict and conflict minerals).

    So why do these reports not constitute support from serious researchers? I assume there's a good answer – I just don't know what it is.

  9. Anon, the UN Group of Experts declared that conflict minerals are a key source of financing for the conflict for some armed groups. Nobody disagrees with that claim. That's different from the minerals being a "cause" of the conflict. Even if one disagrees with that claim, the Group of Experts was careful to put the minerals issue in wider context, pointing out that security sector reform is the single most important thing that has to happen if peace can be restored in the eastern DRC.

    Nell, really caring about something is meaningless if the solutions a group proposes won't solve the problem. And I would note that by writing a widely read blog and pointing out flaws in the strategy, Kate and Amanda are doing a lot to help the DRC. Bad facts, like those Enough promotes, lead to bad policy. Exposing those flaws is a service.

  10. Yikes. You are looking for serious groups, and all you can find is Global Witness. Anyone who has been quoted in a Global Witness reports has little respect for the accuracy of their information. They are well known for twisting quotes so far out of context as to be meaningless. Many times the researchers are the same as the campaigners — how can you get objective reporting with that model?

  11. I would also like to dispute your assertion.

    I wonder why it is such a guarantee that a policy choice is good when researchers sign on to them.

    Surely, history shows us plenty of examples of bad policies advised by academics – think University of Chicago and Structural Adjustment?

    Even if they do have it right on this one, I haven't found the DRC researchers very helpful. Usually going on about how much more complex the situation actually is, and rarely offering useful advice on how advocates can get the 'better proposal' (if any) to be implemented by the world's superpowers and the regional governments. There is just such a big difference between the perfect solution and what you can get the public to get their governments to do.

    Only time will tell if this law made any difference. If it made things (even just the part of mining-related abuses!) better, great. If nothing changes, no surprise. I have the feeling most foreign interventions aren't making that much of a difference there anyway. And if things get worse, is it the fault of advocates' misinformation or of researchers watching on from the sideline?

  12. Tghe "conflict Minerals Bill" is pure American Fascism.

    On GLOBAL WITNESS — just another part of the problem pretending to be part of the solution, see:

    BLOOD DIAMONDS: Doublethink and Deception Over Those Worthless Little Rocks of Desire — http://www.allthingspass.com/journalism.php?catid=48

    On Jason Stearns — see:

    and also:

    On ENOUGH see:

    And on EVE ENSLER see:

    keith harmon snow

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