Should you support the “conflict minerals” movement?

Laura Seay at Texas in Africa says no.

Jason Stearns at Congo Siasa says yes.

Both know what they are talking about. What’s a non-expert like me to to do?

Here’s the source of my concern. In my experience, advocacy groups like Enough create simple but problematic messages that get the attention of the US public and Congress, but eventually come back and bite good policy in the ass. The advocacy message drives aid, policy priorities, and national agendas to an amazing degree. Get it wrong, and  you focus policy attention on the right problem but the wrong solution.

Sometimes the correct message is complicated, and doesn’t sell well in the New York Times or Congress. Fair enough. People at Enough know a lot more about marketing than me. I think they’d argue that it’s more important to get attention than to get the message exactly right.

Let’s say they’re right (a point I don’t necessarily concede). Here’s my advice: If you’re going to run a vulgar campaign, have the nuanced message in your back pocket for the people in the field who actually have to take action.

I’m not yet convinced Enough is willing or capable.

People like Jason Stearns support the conflict minerals movement because making the mineral trade more transparent is a part of the solution. I agree. But, as Jason says, it’s just a small part of the solution:

…we must be sure not to reduce the conflict to minerals, minerals, minerals. The charcoal trade around Goma alone was estimated to total $30 million a year by the national park, and armed groups benefit from this, as well. Cattle herding plays a key role in the conflict, as the ex-CNDP in particular has deployed its soldiers to protect tens of thousands of cattle, worth $300-$900 each, many of which have crossed the border from Rwanda. And coffee, tea, fuel and timber also play a large role in the local economy. En bref, armed groups can benefit from any profitable trade in the region, not just from minerals.

My fear: oodles of energy get directed to the minerals issue, armed groups re-balance their portfolio, and not much changes in the way of rebel finance. “Conflict cows” doesn’t sell so well, and so Enough declares victory, seizes the next sexy issue (my prediction: “John Prendergast: Kony Hunter”); the US will continue it’s 50-year policy of supporting dodgy dictators in Kinshasa, all the while wondering why things never seem to get better; and the eastern Congolese go about their business of evading rapers and abductors.

Perhaps Enough can convince us otherwise? I await the nuanced message in the back pocket.