Smart gadgets fueling DRC war?

Wars are fought many a times on the basis of differing ideologies; but not the war in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The war that is estimated to have had the worst devastation to human life since World War II has raged on unabated for over two decades. It is very interesting how the World has for the longest time turned a blind eye to the plight of the suffering Congolese. What could be some of the reasons a bloody war like this, with the most impact to the people be ignored by the World for so long? Is it possible that the World knows a thing or two that hence the inactivity and indecision?

DRC war and digital technology

And what about you and me? Could we have contributed to the rot and the ever sinking state of inhumane acts perpetuated by the rebels operating from the Eastern parts of Congo? Perhaps you are reading this from your smart phone or from your laptop. I want you to stop for a moment and consider this; could it be possible your most valuable companions; the smartphones and tablets, be products of the conflict minerals being mined from DRC? Are your smart gadgets fueling DRC war?

Let’s consider a few facts; since the invasion of DRC by the Rwandese forces in 1991 that saw the fall of Mobutu Sese Seko, the Eastern part of Congo has seen no peace. It also happens that it was during this time that there occurred exponential growth in the manufacture of laptops, computers and mobile phones. The vacuum that was created by the fall of Mobutu created a fertile ground for the mushrooming of rebel factions. These factions have been in constant conflict to control the mineral rich Eastern DRC Congo ever since. The aftermath of the conflicts is evident in the displacements, murder and child labor. Women and children have taken most of the brunt. DRC Congo has become the world’s center of rape and as one observer noted: “this is extremely sad. It seems the battle front has shifted to ‘womens bodies’.”

Precious but cheap minerals

Unfortunately these blood stained minerals find themselves in the most exclusive gadgets that people love to carry around today. The biggest phone companies like Nokia, Samsung, Apple, are all in one way or the other involved in obtaining their precious metals such as gold, diamond, tin cobalt and tin from these ores in Eastern DRC around Lake Kivu. So why then don’t these companies and everyone else shun these minerals? The answer is too hurting to be believed.

The minerals originating from Eastern DRC Congo is relatively cheap and competes favorably to minerals that are brought from other competing nations such as Australia, Canada and South America. The rebels simply use child and forced labor that they can afford to pay peanuts to mine the minerals. Secondly there is a rot in the core of the DRC Congo administration with the army going unpaid due to corruption. All laws are laid by the way side as the rebels continue to exploit minerals and pay their way through the system at will.  Sarcastically, no one wants to face this situation. War is left to rage on because the lawlessness is very necessary for the profits.

Green declaration 

The USA in the year 2010 introduced a bill that sailed through congress aiming to bring accountability and responsibility to the procurement of these minerals by making a declaration of ‘Green’ or that their products are made from ‘conflict free minerals’. It is disgusting that only a few companies, less than 11.5%, have signed this declaration whereas many have chosen to lobby the state to have these laws amended. If this is not tantamount to saying that the companies don’t care what their choices have to with the conflict in DRC Congo, then am not sure what does.

This is the most direct indication that these companies would rather continue with their fancy innovations (which most of us love by the way) and without as much as sparing a little thought to the current situation.  All this law has demanded is a declaration through a traceability system to track and report the conflict minerals which have precious use in cell phones, DVD players, hard drives, and gaming devices. DRC Congo produces about 20% of the world’s Tantalum that conducts electricity in your phones, a substantial amount of the world’s Tin that fortifies circuit boards, and Tungsten that helps your phones vibrate.

Giant companies ‘cannot affrod to track’ minerals they use

On the basis of this evidence, no company may refuse to implement the terms of this law and still claim that they have no responsibility in the perpetuation of these conflicts. Companies have argued that the supply chain of these minerals is far removed from them and will therefore be more expensive to track. Whereas this may be true, we must not be wood winked from realizing that as the final destination, if they will stand up and stamp there authority, they have the best chance of making a difference. Besides there have been precedent progress in some areas like the capture of Cassitente (tin) which are now mined and ‘tagged green’. So any argument to the contrary is simply being inconsiderate of the plight of the Congolese children and women who have seen untold and ghastly suffering due to these activities.

We have a responsibility in stopping the DRC war

If companies think they can escape this then it is time for you and me to rise up and say enough. These companies make money and thrive because we buy their products. A simple commitment from you and I to demand a declaration from these companies cannot escape their attention. This is the last weapon and the time has come to exploit it. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye anymore to the suffering of the people of this nation. They are no worse a population than the people of Israel or Rwanda where the world has intervened in different occasions. They demand respect; they demand to live in decency and to attend schools. We must help demand that companies declare their sources of minerals as ‘conflict free’. As I have asked you above, are your smart gadgets fueling DRC war?

This article has been written by Benard Oloo, a social and technical issues writer. When not writing he prepares lectures and teaches Food Science and Technology at Egerton Univeristy and Eldoret Polytechnic. He can be contacted at

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