Shawna Leader/The AS Review
Who do you know who has a cell phone? You probably know several people who do. But how many of those people know where the materials inside their cell phone came from?
Columbite-tantalite, or coltan, a substance mined in the Congo, is used in cell phones and laptops. It’s also part of a war over resources that is currently taking place in the Congo.
At 6 p.m. on May 10 in AW 204, Maurice Carney, executive director of Friends of the Congo, will speak about the conflict and provide students with ideas for ways they can make a difference in the Congo.
“This is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time,” Carney said.
Rebel groups, many of whom are from Rwanda and Uganda, control the mines and use forced labor to dig up the materials, such as coltan, Carney said. Coltan is transported by the rebels to Rwanda, then exported to Asia or Europe, smelted and used in cell phones and laptops, he said.
According to the Friends of the Congo website, an estimated six million people have died as a result of invasions by Rwanda and Uganda. Hundreds of thousands of women have been systematically raped.
Another mineral that is retrieved in a similar way is cobalt, which is used in cell phone batteries, Carney said.
“It’s not often talked about as a mineral that’s connected to … human rights violations, but it is,” Carney said.
Other materials, such as gold and diamonds, are retrieved in ways that violate human rights.
Companies that purchase raw materials are complicit in exacerbating the conflict, Carney said. Gold producer AngloGold Ashanti, for example, has provided equipment to Congolese soldiers who subsequently slaughtered Congolese villagers, Carney said. The same company has provided materials and financial support to rebel groups protecting the company’s concessions. Those same rebels have, in turn, used violence against civilians, Carney said.
The purpose of the event is to raise awareness about the conflict and where raw materials for commonly-used technology come from, as well as empower people to be involved in addressing the situation, Jacob Caggiano, event coordinator and Western alumni, said.
“The global community is smaller than it’s ever been,” Caggiano said. “We all use products in one way or another that come from that area of the world.”
The lecture and discussion will provide specific examples of how people can make a difference in the Congo, Carney said. One of those ways is to encourage local elected officials, as well as the Obama administration, to pursue legislation that aims to put pressure on leaders in the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda, Carney said. One of the fastest ways to bring an end to the conflict would be if global pressure on those leaders led to a meeting between them, the rebels, women’s groups and other organizations to discuss how the rebels can participate politically and act nonviolently, he said.
The United States supports Rwanda and Uganda by providing aid, Caggiano said. One method of pressuring these countries would be to threaten to remove aid, he said.
Currently, Washington Congressman Jim McDermott is attempting to pass HR 4128, or the Conflict Minerals Trade Act, which aims to stop the financing of rebel groups in the Congo. According to Caggiano, this bill shows that Washington residents have clout in the issue, although he does not think the bill’s language is strong enough.
Getting rid of cell phones may not be the appropriate solution, Caggiano said.
“The minerals trade is important to the region,” Caggiano said. “If we all stopped buying cell phones, that wouldn’t necessarily fix things.”
Instead, recycling phones and not buying the latest phone before your current one is unusable are more productive ways of addressing the issue, Caggiano said.
According to Carney, making a difference isn’t about deciding whether or not to keep your laptop or cell phone; it’s what you do with the technology that matters.
“The option is to use those tools to mobilize change in the Congo,” Carney said, suggesting that students use their laptops to blog about the Congo and their phones to receive text alerts from Friends of the Congo.
Carney encouraged students to donate their old laptops and cell phones to Congolese students so that they may be able to use them for activism in their country.
Spreading awareness about the issue is vital, Carney said.
“We can change the global consensus that what is happening in the Congo is okay,” Carney said.
One way to increase awareness would be to encourage professors to incorporate the Congo into their curriculum, Carney said.
Ever since Caggiano found out about the conflict in the Congo, it has changed how he sees the world, he said.
“I’m not out to have people feel bad our guilty,” Caggiano said. “I want to work toward empowering people and having peace in the region. I want a global economy that’s fair.”