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Should conflict resources be banned?

By Silas Siakor and Dominic Johnson
Posted on Monday, 21 September 2009 00:00

Silas ?Siakor??
Founder, Sustainable Development Institute ?of Liberia?

“The benefits of trade are captured by corrupt officials”

Conflict resources should be banned. Two characteristics of conflict resources are particularly useful in light of the arguments that bans could hurt ordinary civilians: First, the benefits of trade in natural resources are captured by corrupt officials or multinationals preying on weak governments; conflicts reduce or completely eliminate any chance of ordinary people benefiting from the trade.

Secondly, where access to, and exploitation of, a resource is linked to conflict, access and exploitation becomes the primary driver, creating incentives for prolonging conflict.?If access to, and exploitation of, natural resources in situations of weak governance had been curbed or properly regulated, many of the conflicts that occurred in Africa could have been prevented. Failure to do so, on grounds of sovereignty, was a major contributing factor to those conflicts in the first instance.

In Liberia, the war was partly the outcome of more than a century of discrimination, misuse of state power and human rights abuses, but most importantly the disparity in the distribution of the wealth. Charles Taylor’s access to timber and diamonds provided him revenue to wage a war – as a rebel leader in the 1990s and as president.

Dominic Johnson
Senior researcher, Pole Institute, Goma, Democratic Republic ?of Congo

“No war has ever ended for lack of minerals”

Diamonds or coltan have no intrinsic property which makes their trade particularly prone to conflict financing. No war has ever ended for lack of minerals. Conflict is commodity-neutral.?In the DRC, the main source of conflict finance is the population itself and everything it possesses.

When conflict began in eastern DRC, the first conflict resource was the cattle of Congolese Tutsi, which were raided by Rwandan Interahamwe militia. Then came international aid, resold on the open market. Later, a main source of conflict finance was the smuggling of cigarettes. Minerals and their export came relatively late.

Today, gold is a main source of finance for Rwandan Hutu rebels, followed by charcoal. Ban any one commodity and trade then moves to something else. Ban all tradeable commodities and there is nothing left for the population; it will die. The solution lies in the opposite direction: more economic activity. If circuits that channel trade into the funding of armed groups are to be broken, economic alternatives must be created which break monopolies and dependency.

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