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Happy 50th, Congo! Celebrate by turning 'conflict minerals' into a tool for progress.

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Katrina Manson/Reuters

(Read caption) HAPPY 50th: Congolese lined the streets of their nation's capital, Kinshasa, today during a celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of independence from Belgium.

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Minerals in [The Democratic Republic of Congo] are thus not a curse to development, but rather a safety net to support under the present adverse circumstances the approximately one million persons who depend on the trade regionally. Insecurity in Eastern Congo is primarily a result of the Congolese state’s inability to control the monopoly of violence and protect its citizens.

That's from Resource Consulting Services' excellent new report on the mining sector in Congo. Authors Nicholas Garrett, Harrison Mitchell, and Marie Lintzer argue convincingly that legalizing and legitimizing the mining sector is the best way to stabilize the region. They lay out clear methods for doing so, including engagement with civil society and strengthening government capacity to regulate the trade.

In other news, the US Congress added the Conflict Minerals Trade Act as a rider on the financial reform bill. If passed, this legislation would eventually ban imports of minerals from the DRC and other countries that cannot be audited and certified to be "conflict-free" into the United States.

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Whether it makes it into the final version of the bill out of conference or not, this strikes me as a mostly symbolic action that is likely to have almost no effect on the mineral trade or the conflict in the eastern Congo.

Recommended: Want to save Congo's endangered mountain gorillas?

It's ludicrous to pretend that the mineral trade in Congo can be affected in any significant way by American legislation, or that doing so will significantly affect the level of violence in the region. Without the basic tools of public order in place and functioning as instruments of the public good in the DRC, the provisions of this bill are likely to work about as well as the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme does in weak states that lack functioning governmental institutions – which is to say, not at all.

Update: After I wrote this post, @katrinskaya let me know that The Kristof wrote on the issue in his Sunday column. The piece appears to be little more than a set of Enough Project talking points, but at least Enough's David Sullivan now openly acknowledges that the mineral issue is not a "magic-bullet to peace" in the region.

--- Laura Seay blogs at Texas in Africa.

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