Under the Conflict Free Tin Initiative (CFTI), over 200 tones of tin ore worth around $1.7 million have already been sold
to the Malaysia Smelting Corporation from the Kalimbi Mine in South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The CFTI ensures that each mined ore receives a plastic tag with a bar core that corresponds to a certification document, so that the minerals extracted from it can be exported legally.
The initiative aims to permit legal mineral exports from Congo after the adoption of the United States Dodd Frank law, which almost entirely halted the African country’s mineral trade.
The Dodd Frank Act aimed to ensure that the purchase by international firms of "conflict
minerals" coming from the DRC, such as columbo-tantalite, wolframite, cassiterite and gold, did not financially support the conflict. Section 1502 of the law requires "that companies
publicly traded in the US disclose the use of conflict minerals from the DRC and adjoining countries in their products and describe the process used to ensure that the purchase of these minerals does not fund illegal armed groups operating in the DRC to the greatest extent possible." It is assumed that illegally extracted minerals are currently helping to finance the leaders of the M23 rebels in the North Kivu province, which has displaced
early 250,000 people since April 2012 and determined 57,000 people to seek refuge in neighboring Rwanda and Uganda since the beginning of 2012.
The Enough project, a key supporter of the law, claimed that its implementation resulted in a 65 percent profit reduction for armed groups from tin, tungsten and tantalum in 2011. In turn, a U.N. report, published in December 2011, stressed that the export suspension had a devastating impact on the lives of ordinary people
who depended directly or indirectly on mining and was ultimately directing mineral trade into the hands of smugglers, such as Bosco Ntaganda, one of the M23 rebel leaders.
Out of the around 900 mines located in South Kivu, Kalimbi remains
currently the only one which has internationally recognized traceability. A multi-stakeholder team, which included representatives of the DRC Government, the United Nations, the German Geological Service (BGR), the local project manager of the ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative (iTSCi), representatives of local business and civil society, validated
Kalimbi as a conflict-free mine. The Congolese government is seeking to similarly tag other mines in the upcoming months.
As a result of the crackdown brought by the Dodd Frank Act, local prices collapsed by a factor of 6 to less than $1 a kilogram, while the only remaining buyers were Chinese exporters and smugglers. A week after the introduction of the conflict-free certification system at the Kalimbi mine, the price has returned
to $3.5 per kilogram and more than 3,300 kg have been tagged. Currently, around 1,294 miners work at Kalimbi and have more than doubled
their earnings to $4-$6 per kg from $2/kg. It is expected that the conflict-free tin will easily find buyers, given that global supply is currently limited, as a result of low stocks and a lack of investment.
Eastern Congo has been affected by violence since the 1990s. One of the key reasons for the ungoing conflict is the fact that region is extremely valuable from an economic standpoint, due to its oil reserves, gold, tin, tungsten and coltan-a metal used to make mobile phones, for which both Rwanda
and Uganda have fought in the past. Rwanda has twice invaded the DRC in the last two decades, even igniting in 1998 a conflict known as "Africa's Great War," in which several countries were involved. The Rwandan government justified this latter intervention by emphasizing
that it had to react to hostile Rwandan Hutu fighters who had fled to Congo after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Similarly, in the recent past, Uganda and Congo have fought over regulating
border oil exploitation and resulted in the signing of the 2007 Ngurdoto Accords.
If legal production and sale of minerals would replace
the current illegal and violent extraction process, Congo could enjoy a peaceful transition from its current state of conflict. Still, one potential problem for the conflict-free trade minerals is that there are currently thousands of tons of minerals extracted during the export suspension, which are stockpiled throughout eastern Congo, which could enter clandestinely
on the trade market, thus threatening the credibility of the traceabililty project.