One of the issues currently in the news that is directly related to my previous post on China in Africa is the influence of the mineral trade on the conflict in the Congo (DRC). This is one of the most tragic wars in the past decade, with millions of deaths, rapes, and mutilations. Moreover, it is one of the most complex and horrific, involving land rights, invasions/subversions from Rwanda and Uganda, the leaders of the Rwandan genocide, mini-states, warlords, ethnic conflict, rape, and minerals. Yet this conflict does not define the Congo. As the blogger Texas In Africa regularly explains, there are (surprise!) real people living there who are rebuilding their country. And the mineral trade, which China helps to drive (along with myriad Western companies), is a actually piece of that process, providing thousands with a small but important revenue stream. While various armed groups derive revenue from minerals, there are other sources of revenue to which they can turn if the legislation actually works. The greatest problem in Eastern Congo is the lack of government...the central government simply does not have the capacity and/or will to impose order upon that part of the country. (The blog Texas In Africa is so interesting because it explores the consequences of this lack of governmental control.)
Just about every local leader in the east will tell you that the mineral trade is not the cause of violence and that ending the trade is very unlikely to end most violence, especially given the absence of functioning political and security institutions. Ending violence is of course a huge priority for the Congolese, but this is the wrong way to go about it. The legislation is unlikely to do harm (until it causes some of the 1 million people who depend on the trade for their livelihood to become unemployed), so it's mostly just been a waste of time and energy. But why the advocates won't listen to the people they purport to help is beyond me.