Blood cell phones

December 30, 2008

You’re chatting on your cell phone and you don’t even realize that five million people had to die so you could make that call.

Of course, you’ll say, “How can that be so?”
It very well can be so and it is so.
Over 5.4 million people have died as a result of the ten-year war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, making it the bloodiest war since World War II, and one of the driving factors behind the war is the pursuit of the rare metallic ore columbite-tantalite, also known as coltan.
Niobium and tantalum are extracted from the coltan ore, and tantalum is an essential component in cell phones, computers, DVD players, computer games, and many other electronic devices.
Of course, coltan is not the only cause of the war in the eastern Congo.
Government officials of Rwanda have said that they felt compelled to militarily intervene because militias operating along the border with Congo have been threatening their national security.
But it has been reported that the Rwandan Army has earned about $500 million over the past two years from its control of Congolese coltan mines, so it is clear that Rwanda’s military activities in the eastern Congo are not just security measures.
Meanwhile, the neocolonial powers seeking to control Africa have a vested interest in maintaining instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Congo is one of the continent’s key countries. As long as the Congo is down, Africa cannot rise up.
In addition, corporations that profit from the exploitation of the mineral resources of the country have always been comfortable with instability and underdevelopment in Congo, as evidenced by their activities during the decades of the Mobuto Sese Seko kleptocracy.
However, despite all these other factors, reducing or eliminating the illegal trade in coltan would definitely help efforts to end the war in the eastern Congo.
And this can be done by taking a cue from recent history.
The trade in blood diamonds financed wars in Africa for years, most notably the civil war in Sierra Leone with its horrific atrocities, but finally the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was devised in 2000 and entered into force in 2003.
In the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, certificates are issued that identify the origins of diamonds to certify that diamonds being sold in markets in member states are not blood diamonds.
Clearly, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme can be used as a model to solve the blood coltan problem.
If a process to issue certificates verifying that consignments of coltan and tantalum have not financed a conflict can be devised, people can be assured that they are not buying cell phones or other electronic devices manufactured with blood coltan.
And this certification process could help end the conflict in the Congo, which would be a great victory for the Congo, Africa, and all of humanity.