This is how advocacy goes these days. Pick a cause. Boil it down to a few ABCs. Sign up a celebrity. Or a load of them. Change US policy. And then claim victory with some spurious research in your chosen country.
This piece on the Foreign Policy website shows how the focus on conflict minerals has had dubious results in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While the campaign might have produced the Dodd-Frank “conflict minerals” legislation, has it actually stemmed conflict and promoted peace?
At the beginning of September, 70 academics, researchers, journalists, and advocates published a blistering open letter criticizing Dodd-Frank and its backers, asserting that the groups and activists pushing to stop the trade of conflict minerals risk “contributing to, rather than alleviating, the very conflicts they set out to address.” Their campaign “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between minerals and conflict” in Congo, the signatories said. (Some critics have gone further still, charging that the advocates who sculpted and pushed Dodd-Frank have even misrepresented, in the name of what they see as a greater good, the situation on the ground in Congo.) Two months later, on Nov. 30, the Washington Post published a long investigative feature describing how Dodd-Frank “set off a chain of events that has propelled millions of miners and their families deeper into poverty.”
None of this should be a surprise. People I trust on DRC (such as those who have actually been there) always said the issue of conflict minerals was far more complicated than the campaigners at The Enough Project, for example, would have you believe.
The problem – also seen with Save Darfur, Kony 2012 and other celebrity-heavy campaigns – is that tactics that help attract attention and support at home, analyses that boil a complex problem in a simple solution, are rarely the ones that can make a difference on the ground.
In language the advocates would understand: It’s time for a new theory of change.