Beyond Political and Military Solutions in DRC Crises: The Ethical Consumerism

Beyond Political and Military Solutions in DRC Crises: The Ethical Consumerism
by Frederick YAMUSANGIE

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank you all for giving your precious time to this meeting about the crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am even more pleased to see how many people are interested in what is happening in DRC. During this speech I will try my best to be as brief as possible so we can have enough time for discussion afterward.

It is not a secret anymore that my beloved country of origin the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire, is in middle of a crisis. The situation is so bad that many Congolese find it almost impossible to have a decent life at home; and at the same time they are becoming undesirable species all of over the world. I believe this time the crisis in the DRC has reached a breaking point. Many journalists are referring to it only as a political and military problem. Some even had courage to call it an ethnic conflict but that was just for a short time.

Many Congolese that I have spoken to recently are becoming more and more aware of the consequences of the crises in their country, which are poverty… insecurity… hopelessness… etc.

On the one hand journalists and many political leaders are focusing on the causes of the crises and the other hand the people suffers the consequences. It looks as an easy task for one to reconcile the two sides of the equation. But for someone like myself who does not pay much attention to current affairs or politics in general, it is an exercise that needs not just a lot of readings but also a lot of thinking.

Recently the DRC has featured prominently in the British media. My personal choice would the last article by Mr Hari of The Independent newspaper and Unreported World, a Channel 4 documentary.

Although all these analyses were and are still fine, for me, it seems that something has been missing. And I am having an impression that I am being offered only two sides of the crises in the DRC. These two sides are based one side characterised by the dialogues between those political rivals and the other side characterised by military confrontation or war between those political rivals in meantime the usual the innocent civilians are the ones who pay the heavy price. Even though in most cases, the so-call politicians or war lords, depending to who you are talking to, seem to take to initiative to pursue their adventure or plan without the civilians who are always the first victims of their fallout.

That gave me the impression of walking in a narrow path with not much room to manoeuvre.

So I was left with no other option than to go beyond the current established view on the DRC crises; hence the title of my speech Beyond Political and Military Solutions in DRC Crises.

I think the narrowness of this established view, needs to be challenged to bring about a healthy discussion on the Congo Question. This exercise is not to prove any inadequacy or error of the accepted views but just to recognized “the impossibility of describing a complete or coherent … system, since systems are always changing” as said Professor Jonathan Culler, Cornell University, in his book Literary Theory to explain the post-structuralism compare to structuralism.

Last month I was interviewed by a Congolese journalist when I was with my friend the journalist Norbert Mbu-Mputu who is here with us. The first and the only question I was asked was “Now that all the political dialogues and negotiations have failed, as a Congolese writer based in UK are you prepared to endorse any military action?” My reply was simple. I just smile; and left Norbert who told the other journalist that as Congolese need for more talks between Congolese to maintain or produce peace within our country than to butcher our fellow countrymen and women.

What made me smile was not the silliness of the question of that Congolese journalist because he was stating the obvious in the resolving the Congo Question, far from it, but the confirmation of what I was having in my mind, which was that many people were becoming limited in their quest for a lasting peace in the Congo.

Two or three years ago, I watched a programme on Channel 4 entitled Consumer Power. The programme was about the link between the extraction of Coltan, the war in DRC and mobile phone industry. In that documentary, the presenter said something like “1998 the boom of the Coltan price coincided with the first post-Mobutu war in DRC. And later on the crash of the Coltan price coincided with the signing of the peace treaty amongst the rebel groups in South Africa.”

For many of you that could be just a pure coincidence, but for someone such as myself who deals with fiction, I am finding it hard to believe this is a coincidence. In my view, this could be well the dictatorship of one of the less talked about players in this crisis in the DRC… The Financial Market or simply the Market.

As George Soros, an American author and financier, says in his book The Crises of Global Capitalism, “the Market is neither moral nor immoral, but amoral.” And he even made it clear that the role of fund managers is to maximize profit.

If the Market can easily influence the outcome of events in distant places, we need to look it more closely. To best of my knowledge, the Market is where people buy and sell either stocks or goods.

Every time the Market reacts according to a specific situation, the big players always notice. And those who still want to be in the game have to adjust to these new sets of rules.

If we considered the Market as a place where people buy and sell; that all sellers’ goal is to make more profit; and the Market has the power to change the course of event, then we need to influence the Market to respond to our standards.

In case of Congo, I would like us to focus more, on buyers, or as one might say the Consumers. Because we are all consumers.

During my research, I have realised that there are ranges of things we can do as consumers, once we accept to go beyond political and military solutions in the DRC crises to influence the outcome of events.

Today I would suggest Ethical Consumerism.

Once we start putting some sort of ethic in the way we buy, our mobile phones or other electronics gadgets such as laptops, we can easily influence the Market to react. Once it reacts, the traders will notice. It would be the case of them adjusting to our new set of rules or they will be forced out of the equation all together. And in that case, I believe good governance among politicians in DRC could easily become common currency, as their backers would think twice about being associated with corrupted public figures or politicians.

Talking about Coltan and the war in the DRC during her last speech in the Joseph Conrad Society (UK) thirtieth international conference here in London, which was organized by Professor Keith Carabine, University of Kent at Canterbury, Professor Yuko Kurahashi, Kent State University, said, “Coltan is used to manufacture cellular phones and laptop computers – so today it is a very important commodity. Are the Congolese being fairly treated by those who want Coltan? Under the colonization of Leopold II and the Belgian government, natural resources such as Ivory and Rubber were extracted. Today it is Coltan. … It is very important to realize that we have been exploiting others and their resources, and that with today's technology the process may be more subtle but no less dangerous.”

I strongly believe if today we start asking all the high-tech companies to prove to us, their customers, if the Coltan used in such and such the mobile phone, laptops or other gadgets are not fuelling the war, corruption, misery, poverty and the likes in DRC, we will achieve more in short time in resolving the crises in Congo that those guys in suits and ties debating in comfortable offices.

As consumers, we have power. If and when this power is exercised accordingly, courses of events can be changed.

For example, today is a virtual impossibility to see any businessperson coming on television and saying that the cosmetic products that he or she is selling to us was tested on animals, and expect to stay in business. He or she will go bust the next day. And all that, it is due to our ethical consumerism.

Many would ask how they could achieve the propagation of this type of information.

My friends, it is easy. Let us start writing to our local newspapers, blogs, websites, MPs, etc… about the link between our electronics gadgets and the misery of Congolese. Let us start to spread this information tonight. Or we can even form some sort of a coalition against the Coltan coming from a war zone. Let us promote corporate responsibility and accountability.

I think to concentrate only on two solutions namely political and military regarding the DRC crises would be a dangerous road to take. But often that it is what we are continuously doing just as Naomi Klein, a Canadian author and journalist, said in her book No Logo regarding social justice: “In this new globalised context, the victories of identity politics have amounted to a rearranging of the furniture while the house burned down.”

To Conclude, I would like to say that the crisis in DRC is real and as consumers we have enormous power to influence its outcome. We are the one who would change things. Not those Big Guys. Most of international institutions and politicians are continuously saying that things are going to get better in the DRC after the elections. I hope so. But where I come from, the old people say, “When a cat becomes a vegetarian, the mice would be the first to notice, not the cat’s owner.”

Thank you.

The speech was given at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), which is part of University of London in UK, the 25th of July 2006.