Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Two meanings of "sanctions" in DRC resource extraction.

Googling online reminded me of two different meanings for the word "sanction" related to minerals and petroleum mining in the DRC. The same word is its own antonym.

The United Nations continues to sanction or prevent certain activities in the Congo. This isn't economic sanctions like the ban on export of "luxury goods" to North Korea. In this case, DRC is under a general arms embargo to prevent the entry (i.e. decrease the prevalence) of weapons into the DRC. The arms embargo originally included the official national Congolese army (FARDC) but the FARDC was allowed to import weapons starting from 2008. There is also a range of sanctions placed on individuals and companies in the DRC, freezing financial assets and preventing international travel. This is an interesting list including names of the ne'er-do-well individuals and companies, including mining companies, and the crimes for which they are targeted.

Meanwhile, the Kinshasa DRC goverment seems to have sanctioned, or allowed the appropriation and resale of privately held mining rights over mineral-rich sites. Like condemnation of real estate for public works construction, but this Mineweb article describes it as mere "asset-flipping" to generate revenue. More names to learn, research to do.

I am a reluctant grammarian, so I don't appreciate it when the same word can mean both "prevent" and "allow" in different contexts. "Sanction" is derived from the Latin verb sancire "to decree, confirm, ratify, make sacred."

I suppose that any coercive authority, whether preventing or demanding action, must be sacred to some degree. To sanction means that the actor claims righteous moral high ground. Otherwise, it is simply bullying, with no kind of authority.

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