Responding to Activist Criticism

As an African history major writing my thesis on the conflict in Congo, I’m always happy when more people become aware of the conflict with the highest death toll of any since World War II. Unfortunately, the awareness raised by Mr. Ockelmann’s recent Review op-ed on the Congo conflict and the dangers of uninformed activism is tainted with uninformed and misleading accusations towards Stanford STAND.

I agree whole-heartedly with Ockelmann on the dangers of uninformed activism. Unfortunately, without doing any research on the club, Ockelmann has wrongly assumed that Stanford STAND’s activities qualify as such. Admittedly, I may be on the defensive as STAND’s Congo education officer. However, after spending two summers doing research on the Congo — first at Stanford as a full-time research assistant and then in Rwanda interviewing ex-militia in demobilization camps and Congolese refugees in camps — I feel strongly about the importance of Congo education on campus.

Stanford STAND takes its educational mission very seriously. It is one of the best campus resources for students interested in Congo and it also benefits from many students and professors who are willing to share their expertise. Ockelmann’s claim to the contrary simultaneously ignores and threatens this important relationship. Had Ockelmann taken the time to check STAND’s website (http://stand.stanford.edu/), he would have seen a large section devoted to the debate surrounding the conflict mineral legislation. Had he attended the “Congo 101” presentation STAND holds every year, he would have heard a 20-minute talk on the conflict and would have been able to provide Review readers with a much more accurate summary of our position than the two-sentence explanation he accuses us of holding. Had he talked to anyone in STAND, he also would have learned that this is a prominent ongoing discussion and that we are holding a round table discussion about the issue in November, with all sides presenting their opinions of Dodd-Frank. These activities hardly reflect the “lemming-like behavior” Ockelmann references.

I am also concerned that Dodd-Frank may have created unintended and undesirable consequences. But Ockelmann mistakenly equates the Dodd-Frank provision with Stanford’s proxy voting guideline. Section 1502 of Dodd-Frank had good intentions, but its implementation is the part that is receiving criticism — and justifiably so. But Stanford’s initiative, created before Dodd-Frank existed, addressed this intent, not the implementation. Unlike the Dodd-Frank Act, it didn’t impose any abrupt timeline or constraints whose burdens could cause companies to stop doing business in the DRC. Its goal was simply to start a dialogue about minerals in Congo and the need for a change from the status quo.

Personally, I have been frustrated by advocacy efforts that claim to have all the answers and refuse to practice a more self-critical approach. This summer, after returning from western Rwanda at the border of the DRC, and hearing about on-the-ground problems being attributed to Dodd-Frank, I expressed my concerns to STAND’s president, who was also working in the field in Rwanda at the time. We decided to send an email to the club, explaining the need to reevaluate how we think about conflict mineral policy. This sparked a serious discussion within STAND that has continued to this day.

I respect Ockelmann for his attempt to engage the wider Stanford community on the debate surrounding conflict in Congo as well as the pitfalls of uninformed activism. But his article lacks humility and necessary background research and also maligns and undermines one of Stanford students’ best resources for learning more about this complicated conflict. Talk about an ironic case of good intentions gone wrong.

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