In all the furor over "conflict minerals" coming out of Congo there is a point that often gets missed. The point is why are "conflict minerals" practically the only thing coming out of Congo?
Okay, many raw materials, not just those listed as "conflict minerals" do come out of Congo. But the point is, they come out as raw materials. Where is Congo's industrial sector?
Obviously there are a variety of different answers to that question. But it is an important question to ask. Because as long as there are so very few viable industries in Congo, not just in terms of export but in terms of any production at all, people will be exploited. They will choose to mine in dangerous, unhealthy conditions because it is the only way to make a living. Young men will continue to become young men with guns, and young men with guns will continue to plunder the local population, because...well...everyone's gotta eat.
Congo Siasa has a great little post entitled "the agony of doing business in the Congo" citing Congo's current ranking as 175th in the Word Bank report of on how easy it is to start and operate a business around the world. In other words, it is easier to start a business in Iraq or Afghanistan than it is to start one in Congo.
I am not really the business type, and had I not lived in Congo, I might have skimmed over this whole report as something for MBAs. But, having seen the Congolese economy in action, I know that this report does reflect a huge problem for the average person in Congo. There just aren't enough legitimate businesses in Congo. Because it is soooooo dang hard to make it work.
Everyday that the SHONA women are able to sew, and ship their handiwork, I consider it a small miracle. Not because of the work they do, they are talented and committed and it doesn't take a miracle for them to produce beautiful work. Unfortunately it takes close to a miracle for them to be able to share that work with you. We have been fortunate only because we are very small, and we keep things very local.
Check it out for yourself. Google fair trade crafts from Congo and see what you come up with. When I tried it, links to SHONA were in the first nine spots. Now of course that is awesome and I would love to claim some talent at "Search Engine Optimization" which has placed us there. But the reality is there just aren't many other groups out there. Congo is a huge country, full of talented artisans...where is their work????