10/15/2010versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend

In Nairobi, mining ministers from eleven African states have signed an agreement on ending “the raw materials war”. A conduct code for companies that trading in “high risk” minerals.

Cut off fund-raising channels for rebel groups, in order to put an end to a whole series of conflicts and wars in Africa. This is the idea behind the agreement signed in Nairobi by the Ministers for Mining from eleven African States and by various representatives of multinational companies and international organisations. The objective is to end the indiscriminate exploitation of the mineral resources buried underground throughout the Continent. In many areas of Africa, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi and Angola, guerrilla groups use mining activities to enrich themselves and fund their private armies. “Illegal mineral trading is the cause of continuous conflicts,” – declared Kalonzo Musyoka, the Kenyan vice president – “but the signing of this protocol offers hope that such a situation can be changed.”

The document signed by governments and companies represents the first step on the road to creating a mechanism for the certification and traceability of raw materials. One of the fundamental aspects here is the agreement on due diligence. “The protocol offers tools for the responsible management of the supply chain for minerals originating from war zones”, explained Lahra Liberti, in a telephone conversation with Peace Reporter. Liberti is project chief with the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), the Paris based organisation that drew up the document, and added “The rules of due diligence will be followed by the governments involved and integrated with the conduct codes agreed to by companies that need to purchase rare raw materials.” Gold, tungsten, tin and coltan are the four metals responsible for most conflicts: extracted in remote areas in the heart of Africa, they pass from hand to hand, often illegally, until they finally end being used by major Western companies.

The companies are the key to this agreement. The minerals are extracted in zones like Kivu, an area in northern RDC under guerrilla control. Via various intermediaries they leave the country and are sent to be refined in countries like Malaysia, China or Indonesia. Here they are processed and then sold to Western companies like Nokia, Motorola, Ford or Intel. Currently these companies pay little attention to the origin of their mineral supplies, but “they have now declared their willingness to adopt the conduct codes, even in their dealings with suppliers.” The objective is to involve the end-sources of demand in making it impossible for guerrilla movements to trade in minerals. “Governments cannot do a lot, it needs industries worldwide to act responsibly by not buying raw materials from war zones”, explains Liberti. 

The biggest problem lies in combating falsification and corruption. In countries like the RDC, Uganda or Burundi, it’s extremely easy to bribe government officials to provide a rubber stamp on a piece of paper or wave an illegal truck through customs. The governments of the Great Lakes region, however, appear to have the political will to change things. “For the first time, all the states in the region have adopted a document instituting an international certification mechanism, and this is a fundamental step”, concludes Liberti.

The next step will be the Kinshasa Conference on the 19th of November, when the Heads of State and Prime Ministers from the eleven countries will sign the certification system agreement. “Guerrillas sell minerals in order to buy arms,” declared Martin Kabewlulu, Minister for Mining in the RDC, “They can’t have one without the other.”

Tommaso Cinquemani