In a continent dogged by drought, isn’t it perverse that wetlands such as those found in the Democratic Republic of Congo should be drained for mineral extraction?
In the developed world, appalled as we are by the notion of rape as a weapon of war in DR Congo, isn’t it ironic that we could turn out to be accessories to the rape of that country’s raw materials?
Actually, there’s a closer connection between the two kinds of rape referred to here than might at first be apparent. When more than 300 people were raped in the village of Luvungi during a four-day assault last summer, the root cause, according to the United Nations, was a struggle between rival armed militia groups for control of a nearby mine.
It sells for $100 a pound. It has become a key component in the technology of modern life. Mobile phones have it. Playstations have it. As do iPods, digital cameras, computers, DVD players and a host of other electronic devices. It’s called tantalum, extracted from a dull black metallic mineral called coltan. It’s a multi-million-dollar trade and it’s fuelling the civil war in DR Congo.
Warring rebel groups have been effectively stealing coltan from the Congolese government and selling it on to refinery plants in East Asia. From there, it ends up in the products we buy from Apple, Nintendo, Hewlett Packard, Sony, Nokia, etc. In the words of former British MP Ooona King: “Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms.”
Pressure is building on high-tech companies and they’re gradually becoming more sensitive to accusations of profiting from “blood minerals”. As consumers we should compound this pressure by demanding some kind of certification system whereby manufacturers are obliged to account for the source of the minerals used in their products. Boycotting products that are sourced from DR Congo may make an impact.
The rest of the world must take some responsibility for DR Congo’s descent into a living hell. Maybe there’s an app for that.