Natural resources, profit and peace : multinational corporations and conflict transformation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This study is anchored on the premise that contemporary international relations has been characterised by the expansion and growing importance of multinational corporations (MNCs) whose power and influence have had concomitant ramifications for national sovereignty and autochthonous socio-economic arrangements. Through their expansion and operations in host countries, MNCs are imbricated in activities or processes that may exacerbate socio-political traumas and development pathologies on one hand, and those that may facilitate transformative change on the other. In mineral-rich but conflict-prone environments, MNCs are directly or invariably drawn into conflicts in which access to natural resources is germane to attaining/sustaining the corporate objective of profit maximisation. To unpack these issues, the study uses a triangulation – natural resources, profit and peace – to interrogate the roles of MNCs in conflicts and the peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – a country whose ‘biography’ is steeped in conflict. The study relies on data gathered from three (3) focus group discussions (comprising 30 participants, mainly Congolese expatriates in South Africa), 71 in-depth interviews and 150 questionnaires administered in the DRC. Research findings suggest that MNCs in conflict zones such as the DRC are confronted with a choice: to engage in activities that exacerbate conflicts or contribute to peace processes. Corporate complicity in conflicts, which takes the form of illicit resource exploitation and the provision of financial assistance and logistical support to warring parties, lubricates war economies. By contrast, corporate actors make positive contributions in conflict settings through social responsibility projects and humanitarian programmes. Therefore, MNCs can be parties in conflict even as they can be agents of peace. MNCs – as powerful economic actors – are influential host environments, especially in weak states. State deflation gives corporations comparative advantage in the public sphere, thus making their activities – whether positive or negative – extremely significant. The DRC case shows that MNCs shape conflicts in terms of intensity, technological sophistication, longevity and the prospects for their attenuation. However, the study also reveals the potentialities of MNCs to contribute to peace, development and prosperity in host environments. Hence, the utility of mainstreaming corporate peacebuilding into business activities in conflict zones. Finally, the study – drawing from the findings – makes recommendations that address the deleterious consequences of the intricate connections of natural resources, business and conflicts. These recommendations relate to the reconstruction or restructuring of the state in Africa to make it developmental, with a view to mobilising its natural resources for national prosperity; and the consolidation of effective natural resource management and good political/economic governance, with an eye on issues such as anti-corruption, transparency in the extractive industry, and environmental sustainability. The study also recommends the emplacement of sub-regional mechanisms to bolster national capacities for combating illicit resource exploitation and trafficking; the creation of effective international certification schemes to regulate mineral exploitation and trade; and the development of a Pan-African regime for regulating corporate behaviour vis-à-vis conflict-sensitivity and the role of business in peacebuilding and development processes. Collectively, these recommendations not only offer roadmaps for resource-rich countries plagued by, or emerging from, conflicts, and those striving to circumvent the slide into the vortex of resource-related political instability but also prescribe policy choices that facilitate resource-driven development.