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  Spring 2009

Coltan and the Congo:
The Hidden Expense of Cell Phones

The Congo problem is a world problem. Victory will be continental in its reach and its consequences and so would defeat.”     Che Guevara

Most of us only think about our cell phone bill when the cost of cell phones is mentioned. Rarely do people in the Western world consider the cost in human lives.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is home to 80% of the world's coltan reserves. Coltan is in huge demand by the electronic industry. It is an ore that contains tatalum. Tantalum is an essential metal used in the production of cell phones and lap tops. It allows them to be more compact. And it can be used at very high temperatures. Miniaturization depends on Colton.

About two billion people now use cell phones or laptops. Those tiny cell phones laid end to end would reach half way to the moon.  Demand would decrease if people did not replace cell phones so often. But owners change them on average every 12 months.

Recyclying cell phones would also help reduce demand. But the four major electronics companies--Cingular, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon—all score an F in their efforts to recycle.  They work with ReCellulaare who is non-compliant with recycling standards.

Collective Good in Tucker, GA is a rare ethical and effective recycler.

Unfortunately tatalum can not be recycled. 

Control and export of Coltan is a driving force behind the violence in the DRC. Nearly 6,000,000 people have been killed in the Congo since 1996. About 51,400 Congolese have died from war-related causes each month since August 1998.  Nearly half a million women have been raped.

It is ironic that the people of the Congo have suffered massive colonization, misery, poverty, and death because their country was rich in gold, diamonds, rubber—and now Coltan. They face a battle for the metals that make our technological society vibrate and ring and bling. The Congo’s mineral wealth has raised billions of dollars for financial markets in London, New York, Paris and Toronto.

In the late 1800’s King Leopold of Belgium colonized the Congo. In 23 years under his reign ten million Congolese died.  (That was half the population.) Belgium brutally exploited the Congo for its rubber and Ivory.  Leopold’s mining bosses and armies would cut off a hand of workers if they didn’t work fast enough or if they made late deliveries. They would also bring a severed hand to bosses to prove that a worker didn’t meet their bounty.

Perhaps the multi-national mine owners are not as brutal as Leopold.  But the Congolese people are still crushed by poverty and wars. Wealthy conglomerates sign lucrative deals with  surrounding governments and armed rebels to extract the valuable minerals.

Both Rawanda and Uganda have waged armed invasions of the Congo for colton and gold and cassiterite. And they left armed groups behind who either profit by mining or by taxing trucks carrying minerals. The Congo’s own army also runs mines and pockets profits.

Foreign-owned corporations like Canada’s Anvil Mining which merged with Tente Mining, South Africa’s Anglogold Ashanti, and the US Phelps Dodge/Freeport McMoRun provide logistics and finances to support armed groups to enable the illegal exploitation of Colton.  Recently Anvil and Phelps bought a mine for $15 million which is worth $60 BILLION.  

The mining industry often controls workers at gun point. But whether working “voluntarily” or by force, a miner in the Congo earns only $1 for about two pounds of Colton.

Belgium still has a “hand” in the Congo’s wealth. George Forest, Belgium owner of Katanga Mining, funded the political party of the Congo’s current President. This set the course for the largest mining complex in the world.

Mass media will not report the reasons for the slaughter and enslavement in the Congo. Western values and wealth are too entrenched in this bloodbath to risk exposing the truth. The people of the Congo face enormous global forces, foreign governments, global mining conglomerates, multi-lateral institutes, and local elites. They are facing the greatest heist of the 21st century. And they need our help.

Let your cell phone company know you will not buy from them again until they take steps to stop the ravaging of the Congo. Also urge them to take recyclying seriously and to work with  Collective Good in Tucker, GA. And STOP replacing cell phones and laptops that still work.

For more info and to get involved, go to friendsofthecongo.org.


Help Stop Femicide in Congo

The peace agreement signed in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006 did not end the war.  An estimated 400,000 women have been raped in the past ten years in what can only be called an act of femicide--the planned and systemic destruction of women. 

Women have suffered fistulas from rapes with knives, guns and penises.  Women have been forced to eat dead babies. Soldiers with HIV are sent to villages to rape wives in front of husbands, girls in front of  fathers.  These attacks are part of a larger plan to loosen the community’s grip on its natural resources, especially Colton . The Congo is the only country with a large supply of this mineral. 

newsite.vday.org/drcongo/background.  Educate others by holding a teach-in (raisehopeforcongo.org/node/16) for your community.  Watch “Beneath Her Pange” (newsite.vday.org/spotlight-wideo) and “LUMO” (gomafilmproject.org)..

2        Help support a burgeoning grassroots women’s movement in the DRC and around the world.  Organizations include Heal Africa (healafrica.org/cms/), Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (hhi.harvard.edu), International Rescue Committee (theirc.org), Raise Hope for Congo (raisehopeforcongo.org) and Human Rights Watch (hrw.org/en/africa).  Support Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource; Power to Women and Girls of DRC (newsite.vday.org/drcongo), a global campaign. 

3.      Demand a tenfold increase in UN peacekeepers.  This should include women peacekeepers specifically trained in sexual violence.  Write to your elected officials.

4.      Demand that women be involved in any future peace talks.  Write to your elected officials.

5.      Demand the arrest and prosecution of war criminals involved in sexual violence, child soldiering and other atrocities at the International Criminal Court.  Write to your elected officials.

6.      Demand that President Obama’s administration put pressure on the Rwandan and Congolese leadership to come together at the negotiating table.  Stop supporting Laurent Nkunda and the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), respectively.

7.      Pressure the DRC government to make ending sexual violence a priority.  Write to President Josh Kabila.  For a downloadable letter, visit newsite.vday.org/drcongo/getinvolved.  Tell him to train and support many more women police officers to protect vulnerable women.

8.      Help provide resources to raped and violated women.  Donate to the City of Joy, a joint project of Panzi Hospital (panzilhospitalbukavu.org), V-Day and UNICEF.  Help women turn their pain into power.  Buy a handmade Congolese bad (store-vday.org) to support the economic empowerment of women survivors.  To donate, go to secure.ga4.org/01/drcongo.

9.      Write to your local editorial boards. Ask them to cover the Congo war.  Blog about the Congo war.

10.   Attend the Turning Pain into Power Tour (newsite.vday.org/pain-into-power-tour), a nationwide   tour coming to a city near you.

Eve’s List Is Reprinted from The Nation



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