You're using it to read this right now... But do you know what actually is in your cell phone or computer?

October 6, 2014

Hey there! Welcome back to the Nyantende Foundation’s blog for our second post. We want to talk about a short documentary called Blood Coltan. For those who haven’t seen it, the documentary outlines the ways in which Congolese people have suffered at the hands of predominantly Western materialism. Make sure to keep an eye out for events at Queen’s during Congo Week from October 20th-24th, including one blog post per day of that week from the two of us, Maggie and Heather!


"This mobile phone is a remarkable piece of engineering. But look inside…There’s blood in this device because your mobile contains tiny electronic circuits, and they couldn’t work without a mineral called Coltan. It’s mined in the Eastern Congo. There is blood here, the blood of Congolese who are dying in a terrible conflict."


These words begin the documentary Blood Coltan by explaining that the West’s demand for Coltan, a mineral used in all mobile phones and computers, is funding killings in the Congo. Under the close watch of rebel militias, adult men as well as children as young as ten work in the mines hunting for this “black gold.”


The village headmaster in the documentary explains that Rwandan rebels often come to steal this resource from those who mine from the area. Even when the miners manage to get it to a safe place, the airplanes that are used to transport the minerals are often shot at, and compromised. When the minerals are transported safely (rarely does that occur), there is little information given to the recipient about the origins of the material. The distressing issues that happen in the process of mining the raw material is almost entirely silenced on the receiving end of the product. These barriers ensure that the Coltan trade is almost always a dangerous one.


A follower of liberation theology in the DRC is one of the leading critics of the so-called "blood trade." In the documentary, he says the following:


"They organize the war so they can carry on pillaging us. But I say it’s not a good thing for the West. The West would earn much more here if they stopped draining the country dry and started to help the Congo to take off economically. The Congo’s riches would do more good for the world without this greed. The Western state should take another look at their system and crack down on the traffickers and the other modern pirates who are behind this war."


The measures taken in acquiring our goods is at the cost others. Sometimes we forget this, because those ‘othered’ people are not present in our lives. The media is not going to properly represent them, and the corporations are going to ignore them. So it is us who are present in their lives, we feed these industries and we accept (consciously or unconsciously) this veil thrown over warfare, murder, kidnapping and rape.


So, then, who sets the prices of this blood war? “The whites”, says the preacher. The West sets the prices of the phones that are made from the minerals and they are thereby financing the guerillas in the region.


The documentary briefly looks at the ways in which women are raped as a tactic of the war; it is an act of violence as well as a display of power. Some of these women are kidnapped and used as sex slaves by the rebels. Babies, elders, and boys… none of these are spared either, explains a woman who is working to help these people rebuild their lives.


The woman is working to build a safe space for those who are raped and are able to escape from the conditions. She explains that rape is almost always accompanied with violence. Sadly, it’s not always the rebels that are committing these acts of violence: it’s the Congolese men who have “needs” from the hard mining labour.


A preacher in the documentary explains that what keeps this group of people who are engaged in the war going is the knowledge that they can get money for the minerals that they dig up and sell. He asks: “do the people that buy these minerals have a conscience?"


As bloggers living in the white, consumer society that he refers to, I think we have to admit our ignorance of not understanding the weight (and consequences) of what goes into the purchases that we make in Canada. We are consumers of industries that conceal a horrific suffering. Despite having been told that our cell phones have been manufactured all over the world, there has never been an explicit description that explains just how harsh the conditions are in the areas in which these pieces are manufactured. At the same time, we will probably never see this occur. Big tech corporations such as Apple and Samsung won’t advertise this; they will hide these images and narratives from privileged societies where ignorance is widely accepted. The documentary gives a brief glimpse into that ‘other world’. Yet, hearing it directly from the people of the Congo is all the more powerful. Governments in the West are also reluctant to investigate the exploitation caused by these tech companies. The cycle continues to be preserved. We are not trying to shame people in this blog entry. However, we do not want to cover anything up. We are messengers that just try to uncover how our daily lives can influence someone else’s life. It is our responsibility to share this knowledge, and work towards a better system.

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