The Enough Project has recently announced its cleverly titled campaign “Can you hear me now?” against “conflict” minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Enough Project, founded by career activist John Prendergast and supported by the Washington based Center for American Progress is focused on ending genocide and crimes against humanity.
Its new campaign is focused on pressuring electronics manufacturers to ensure the materials in their products are not sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The DRC exports a wide array of metals and minerals – copper, cobalt, tin, tantalite, wolframite and gold. The Enough Project is focused on those minerals exported from the eastern portion of the DRC – tin, tantalite and wolframite. Tin is used in solders for electronic components, tantalite in the manufacture of electronic capacitors, and wolframite is used to make tungsten, also widely used in the electronics industry.
Enough claims that the cause of the instability in Eastern Congo is these minerals themselves, and that various rebel groups use the minerals to fund their violence. According to Enough, the violence results in mass rapes and large numbers of deaths.
The claims of the Enough Project are at odds with the latest UN report on the financing of rebel groups in the Eastern Congo. In the report, the UN states that the majority of funding for the various rebel groups comes from sources in Rwanda, gold smuggling and illegal taxation. To a much lesser extent the rebels are engaged in tin, tantalite and wolframite mining. The majority of tin, tantalite and wolframite exporters in the Congo do so legally – and the trade supports a vast amount of the population. The real victims of the recent collapse in commodity prices have been the artisanal miners who independently mine the ores – while the work is dirty and hard, the pay far surpasses the alternative – unemployment.
The Enough Project’s campaign also demonstrates a basic misunderstanding of the global tin market. A quick Google search illuminates the scale of the issue – the global tin market is in excess of 360,000 metric tons per annum. The Congo exports about 14,000 metric tons of ore per year, but this figure is in ore – the actually quantity of tin in the ore is around 8000 metric tons. Assuming that 90% of the tin exported from the Congo is legal and legitimate – which it most certainly is – then 800 metric tons of ‘conflict’ ore actually enters the marketplace – an astounding 0.2% of the global tin market. Thus, there is a 99.8% chance that your iPhone, or any other electronic device you own doesn’t contain tin from ‘conflict’ areas of the Congo.
To further poke holes in Enough’s reasoning – Prendergast states in his paper that the rebels earn $85 million from the trade – this would equate to $105,000 per metric ton of tin they export – currently ten times the world tin price. A highly unlikely scenario.
Besides the factual inaccuracies of the Enough Project’s campaign and John Prendergast’s paper, the real damage they are doing is to the economic development of the Congo. By stigmatizing the mineral trade in the Congo the Enough Project, as well as a multitude of other NGOs, are potentially threatening real harm to the local populace, hundreds of thousands of people, who rely on artisanal mining to feed their families.
Worse, the Enough Project’s campaign threatens the potential for foreign direct investment – one of the key drivers to economic growth and development. As long as investment in the DRC and other parts of Africa is targeted by well-meaning but ultimately misguided NGOs and self-promoting activists (see "The Economics of Chaos" below,) then self sustaining growth will never take place. Africa’s poor and impoverished will continue to be harmed by the unintended consequences of those who think they are helping and continue to be reliant on handouts from the West.