I don’t like blogs that moan. Who wants to read a bunch of whinging? Particularly when it involves the author explaining how clever they are while the rest of the world is wrong*. So I was feeling a little guilty about my last post, regarding Angelina Jolie and her inaccurate portrayal of Darfur. Needn’t have worried, as plenty of other people were busy at work flagging up poor representations of Africa’s problems – most notably over the Democratic Republic of Congo.
First up, Texas in Africa goes looking for evidence to back up the claim, pushed by plenty of people who have never been to the DRC, that mining for minerals in our phones or for gold is responsible for the huge amount of rape in those parts. And what does she find?
Long story short: there isn’t any. As far as I can tell, there has as yet been no published report that systematically demonstrates a rigorous causal relationship between the mineral trade and the epidemic of sexual violence in the eastern Congo.
But, wait, you might say. There are lots of reports claiming that the mineral trade causes sexual and other forms of violence.
Indeed. And the rest of the authoritative post is well worth a read.
Hot on the heels, came a post at the African Arguments blog by Dan Fahey who served as an adviser to a recent 60 Minutes segment on Congo Gold. Among other criticisms, he homes in on comments made by John Prendergast of the Enough Project
Prendergast goes on to say that conflict will continue “until we break that cycle and address the root issue here, which is the gold and the other conflict minerals.” Academics and policymakers who have taken more than a passing glance at the Congo wars will scoff at Prendergast’s deeply flawed and simplistic “conflict analysis”, but Prendergast is not talking to people who know something—he’s talking to those who know very little or nothing, who are the target audience of Enough’s self-appointed campaign to “save Congo”. Enough is guilty of vastly understating the role of history, ethnicity, local and regional politics, and other factors in causing and sustaining war in Congo, or more accurately, war in the Kivus, since most of Congo is now in a state of quasi-peace. Prendergast should know better, and likely he does know better, but he has created a campaign that vastly oversimplifies the conflict in the Congo…
In the case of the DRC it seems the quest for coverage has produced a simplified argument and a danger that the wrong solutions will be supplied. This, of course, is a dilemma that advocacy organisations face all the time: how do you sex up a war in a faraway place so that people take notice, without undermining what it is you are hoping to achieve? In the case of Darfur, my own hobby horse, I genuinely wonder whether peace is the objective of some campaigners – such is their denial of the evidence on the ground.
And wherever these controversies arise, you can bet the fingerprints of Prendergast can be found. He is clearly a genius at getting attention for forgotten wars. But does he go too far? (And if you want to know how his fingerprints came to be all over Angelina Jolie, well you’ll have to email me on that one.)
* Not that it ever stops me