“The coalition for a Conflict-free St Andrews”
The Coalition for a Conflict-Free St Andrews began its journey as a hypothetical idea, thought up in a poorly heated flat on the ancient streets of a small town on the eastern coast of Scotland. By mid-February 2012 there was a general consensus between the several founding members concerning the ultimate goals of the initiative: we would educate our campus on the presence of conflict minerals in modern day technology to raise awareness about the intricate and complex situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Our initial expectations were very low since we boasted only three volunteers and a poster in our university library café. Further down the road, we would find these expectations to be far from accurate. Within a few months, the Coalition for a Conflict-Free St Andrews developed into a partnership of more than fifteen student groups and volunteers from various academic backgrounds, all dedicated to bringing the issue of conflict minerals and a wider discussion on the crisis in the DRC into the forefront of campus life. Our petition for the university to adopt a procurement policy that would address conflict minerals acquired 2,000 signatures, we successfully presented a unanimously passed Student Council resolution recognising and supporting our goals as a campaign, articles about the initiative were written in every student-run publication, and regular emails were received stating support and interest from students, lecturers, and local politicians. We hosted workshops, and even created a couple of videos to petition electronics companies and the European Union regarding the implementation of due diligence legislation.
After several months of campaigning, our university agreed to include questions pertaining to conflict minerals in their procurement policy and to allow a student-representative to ensure this policy would be implemented (though this has yet to see fruition). Within a year of starting the campaign, students at universities in Glasgow, Exeter, and London also began their own campaigns. Students at the University of Exeter managed to get questions on conflict minerals included within the procurement policy of their university and even convinced the National Union of Students to pass a motion supporting the conflict-free campaign. The University of Glasgow managed to work with a local Member of Scottish Parliament to produce an educational video on the role of conflict minerals in the DRC.
The Coalition for a Conflict-Free St Andrews was initially conceived with the notion that we would be one of only a handful of activists in the UK looking at the conflict mineral trade. It wasn’t until we were contacted by Bandi Mbubi that we realised that we would not be without help and support in our mission to raise awareness and call for action. When he launched ‘Congo Calling’ at his TEDxExeter talk, we knew that this would change the focal point of the conflict-free movement; this can no longer be called a US-based campaign. For the past two years, Congo Calling and Conflict-Free St Andrews have worked in partnership on the issue of conflict minerals in the UK and have raised the profile of the issue, for instance through participating in the Conflict Minerals Roundtable at SOAS in London, hosting the Conference “Moving Forward in the Eastern Congo” in St Andrews, and making joint calls of action on a national level. Simply put, the UK movement pushing for legally sourced minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo would not be where it is without Congo Calling.
After becoming a conflict-free campus the Coalition for a Conflict-Free St Andrews hosted a conference in April 2013 called ‘Moving Forward in the Eastern Congo’. Some of the leading minds on Central African affairs and the current situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo spoke. In addition to founder of Congo Calling Bandi Mbubi our speakers included world renowned Africanist Gerard Prunier, Congo specialist Koen Vlassenroot, ‘Global Witness’ Sophia Pickles, author of ‘Imagining the Congo’ Dr Kevin Dunn and founder of AfricaLives! Productions Shona Mongwanga. We engaged around 200 academics, activists, diaspora members, and students on issues surrounding the DRC, ranging from the role of women in peace-building to the proliferation of violence and the exploitation of natural resources.
This conference signified a symbolic coup for our student movement in the UK. We realised that as students we are more than just organisers. By composing a conversation that engaged all levels of specialists and experts, it became self-evident that we as students had the wherewithal to stand at the side of the international community and Congolese people.
Although I have now left St Andrews I am confident that the Coalition will grow in strength and influence. For my own part I am looking forward to further collaborations with Congo Calling and to helping the conflict-free campaign develop.