More of my negligent and shallow musings on conflict minerals…

Every so often I blog something I know little about (i.e. daily) and I get excellent ripostes. Also some angry ripostes. Yesterday’s conflict minerals debate was no exception.

Commenters made some worthy points. Here are some reflections and rejoinders.

Enough detail? Sasha Lezhnev points us to Enough’s more detailed recommendations.

My reaction: I’m not a regional expert, but I see some good ideas in there. The diplomacy plan is vague (especially what to do about Rwanda) but at least one recommendation is unequivocal: “Implement a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy”. Good idea, although its absence from the big advocacy campaign is striking.

One thing at a time, Lezhnev might say. I agree. But I wonder: will we see Enough put the same resources and energy into getting OECD nations to support the counterinsurgency?

But aren’t conflict minerals bad? Dave Algoso asks: “Is the legislation itself good? If the answer is no, then I’m totally on your side.”

Do I think a minerals movement is better than nothing? Yes. Do I hold the largest advocacy organizations for conflict and human rights to a higher standard than ‘better than nothing’? Also yes. This is why my original post was equivocal. It’s a tough call.

My fundamental point: we can’t look at a major piece of legislation and consider its marginal impact alone. We have to think about the general impacts. Will accomplishing something small and concrete make the great powers more complacent about the big and abstract objectives, or let them off the hook for harder policy choices? Will a focus on conflict minerals deflect resources and attention away from alternative sources of rebel finance?

On other issues, especially around child soldiering, I’ve seen painfully how hype can harm. Likewise, Laura Seay sees ways the conflict minerals ban may be ineffective or harmful.

Not their job. Algoso adds, “their job isn’t to spread the nuanced message. That’s the job of academics and implementers. The Enough Project’s job is to make policy change happen.”

I couldn’t disagree more. If advocates pound a simple message at home, with millions in funding, and it turns out to be flawed, no skimpy pool of academics will change policy on the ground. These simple messages in Washington and Brussels have incredible echoes in Kinshasa and Kigali. If a wise and passionate implementer attempts a better policy, they may find few funders, or get slapped into the simple line by head office.

I see this all the time on children and youth issues in war. Advocates must be accountable for all impacts of their message.

(While we’re on the subject, who exactly are advocacy organizations accountable to? Please tell me it’s not bloggers.)

The other things are out of our control. We don’t buy conflict cattle or charcoal, so it’s outside our ability to act. Land policy is completely outside our control.

True. But it’s disingenuous to argue that, after 50 years of deep, deep US meddling in Congolese politics, that the rest of the conflict is out of our control. Out of immediate control certainly. But I return to point 1 (there are other, harder things the world could do–things that the debate has steered clear from) and 2 (conflict minerals legislation might help the world avoid responsibility for the harder things).

‘John Prendergast: Kony Hunter’. A cheap shot?

Possibly, but I would like to think that Prendergast would laugh too.

Final note. If you have read the posts and you think I am against the minerals legislation, I’ve done a bad job explaining, and you should take a second look. The aim is nuance.