Chris Blattman

Blood minerals

I’m back from Africa travels, and about to embark on Canadian ones. After the 100 degree heat and 100% humidity of Liberia, I’m loving the cold. (That should last about three days.)

With endlessly terrible web connections, I’ve only just had the chance to read Texas in Africa’s take on blood coltan.

Blood what? On the heels of the successful (and much needed) blood diamond advocacy, the activist industry has now set its sights on minerals coming out of eastern Congo, including the coltan that fuels your mobile phones. Its sale by unsavoury characters is feared to be fueling war, murder and mass rape.

The problem with the campaign? That pesky little thing called evidence.

There are anecdotal accounts and reports on the mineral supply chains and reports on the horrific conditions in the mines. There are somewhat bizarre journalistic accounts like last week’s 60 Minutespiece, which misled viewers into thinking that a gold pit in the largely peaceful Ituri district is at the epicenter of the current fighting. I sometimes hear that there might be data out there, or that an activist group is about to come out with a report showing a clear causal relationship, but as of yet, as far as I’ve been able to tell, there’s nothing…

An all-encompassing focus on the mineral trade won’t end violence in the eastern DRC. Assuming that it were even possible to track the Congo’s minerals from source to market and that it would be possible shut down the militarized mineral trade (and, given the limits of technology and oversight, those are two mighty big assumptions), would the loss of income really force these armed groups to the negotiating table? These forces are already well-accustomed to terrorizing local populations to obtain the necessities of life. Would their behavior really change if they lost this income stream? I’m not sure. And, we must remember, there’s the tiny problem of external financing of these armed groups (especially the FDLR) that the international community has until very recently completely ignored.

Then there’s the lingering detail of the 1 million+ people who depend on the mineral trade for their livelihoods. Any program to shut down the mines have to take their employment into account. As Harrison Mitchell and Nicholas Garrett continue to point out, legitimizing the mineral trade is a far better idea than shutting it down.

Read the full post here. Definitely one of the top blogs to be following if you have any interest in Africa.

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