Monday, July 5, 2010

Emily Keane
Kampala, Uganda

In response to Dave Reidy’s post on Nicholas Kristof’s article on conflict minerals in the DRC, I strongly believe that Reidy’s attack is deeply flawed. As I see it, Reidy’s main point is to lambaste Kristof for his uninformed, simple description and solution of a conflict that United States consumers cannot solve.

But I believe Kristof's whole point IS to be sensationalist. Let's remember that he is a columnist in the New York Times, and not Foreign Affairs or any other academic publication. He is not an expert, nor does he pretend to be. What his column does best is bring these important, yet neglected issues to light. And while Reidy is right that Kristof paints a watered down account of the conflict, Kristof has the power and audience to push these grim realities into people's faces. Who else continually writes about the conflict in Congo, sex slavery in Southeast Asia, and the genocide in Sudan on such a regular basis to such a large audience?

Why must we claim that a commitment group of people cannot influence change?! Sure, American consumers are idealistic and have the attention span of a fly, but their power CAN be harnessed! Worldwide pressure against South Africa's policy of apartheid played a role in its banishment. There's are more than enough examples to use here, but just look at Kristof’s first sentence: ''“Blood diamonds” have faded away, but we may now be carrying “blood phones.” Perhaps a bit kitschy, but no one would argue that only years ago the idea of combating conflict diamonds was considered impossible. And look how far we've come on that issue! Do they still exist? Yes. But now a majority of people have the facts and have the ability to make a more ethical decision when buying diamonds. Why is it any different with the natural resources in Congo?

I completely agree with Reidy that the conflict in the Congo and its associated economy is complex. But to scoff at Kristof’s suggestion that a more well-informed public will not change anything is too pessimistic for me. Kristof’s solution will perhaps, at best, only put a small dent in the conflict, but is that not something?

Of course, this will not solve the conflict and only locally stakeholders committed to peace can achieve that. Kristof’s article offers food for thought on what we can do for those affected by this conflict: to be more aware and thoughtful in our choices as consumers.

Emily Keane is a joint-degree student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology focusing on humanitarian logistics



Catie Corbin said...

This is a topic that has been eating at me for a long time now. The solution is not formulaic. It’s not like the Congolese or the international community can choose choice A or choice B and poof – the conflict will mitigate. As an educator, I do believe that informing the public of current struggles of such magnitude is important for demystification. It’s important for a number of reasons. But I do completely agree with Reidy’s points that raising awareness and pressuring industry is not enough. And Kristof says this too. No one is saying that Kristof is wrong…he’s just hasn’t finished his sentence.
I want to push Reidy and Kristof to go beyond their discourse and really innovate what it is that might actually be an effective policy or an effective force or an effective step forward. The solution (and believe me, I don’t know what it is) lies in understanding the causes of the conflict. Even once you understand the causes, there must be a number of steps of innovation and problem solving before you can even take a step. Dave, you’ve presented why Kristof’s story is incomplete. Now complete your thought and do some problem solving.
In my opinion, does the answer lie in pressing the electronic industry? No. Does this hurt? Hopefully not…but the pressure to move away from the utilization of KNOWN conflict minerals is problematic. First of all, how can this be monitored effectively? Secondly, if no one buys Congo’s tantalum, what is going to happen to the people? Forget their national economy, what is actually going to happen to the ordinary citizen who is already so completely marginalized and barely surviving as is? The innocent poor will be affected the most. The media will go in showing proof of closed-down mines, showing proof of arrested savages. To the world, it will seem as though good has conquered evil. Then we’ll pat ourselves on the backs and say “good job, we stopped the big bad violent brutal Congolese men from mutilating woman and torturing miners. We did our job. Now we’re done. “
Congo is a failed state. Perhaps small scale development projects coupled with building the capacity of the local and national governments is a good step. Simply stated…I know. But step by step (as I am seeing here in Pakistan) good leadership and basic services to a protected population can have sustainable positive effects. The solution must come from within, but with some money and a heavy push from the outside. And the push, in my opinion, is not and should not be at the hands of Apple and Intel.

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