The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a source of many of the minerals necessary to produce consumer electronics, such as tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. These valuable raw materials have contributed to the tragic ongoing conflict in the country’s eastern region. Shining light on the illicit trade of these conflict minerals is one of the aims of the financial reform legislation recently signed into law by President Barack Obama. Publicly traded firms in the United States are now required to openly account for the sourcing practices employed when producing their products. This new requirement will be implemented by regulations to be written by agencies of the U.S. government.
In the past decade, an estimated 5 million Congolese have lost their lives, hundreds of thousands of women have endured sexual violence, and millions more have been internally displaced. This was done first by interstate fighting, then later by armed groups that continue to control and plunder parts of Eastern Congo. The DRC's mineral resources too often are extracted by forced labor and support the activities of violent armed groups. While many Congolese people depend on mining for their livelihoods, they do so in poor conditions. Meanwhile, the nation as a whole sees little benefit.
The U.S. is taking several steps to address these problems, and it is supporting the ongoing efforts of others to do so as well. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a written statement, "We have provided support for initiatives on certification and due diligence that have been initiated by the Government of the DRC, local and foreign industry groups, and regional and international institutions. And we have met with a wide range of industry representatives and discussed the responsibility of end-users to ensure their supply chains are free of conflict minerals."
While the adoption of this legislation should promote transparency, accountability and regional stabilization, it isn't a panacea for conflict in the DRC. Governments in neighboring countries also need to do their part to better regulate the traffic in minerals. And the DRC government itself, with support from its partners, needs to take effective measures to reform and develop its security forces and establish the rule of law.