On Sunday, August 21st, you heard me speak about a cruel crisis situation that has been ongoing, and virtually ignored, since the mid 1990’s . . . the blood mining of Columbite-tantalite, also called Coltan, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Moore’s Law, described in a 1965 paper from Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel, predicted that transistors on a circuit board would double every two years. Now, 50 years since the invention of the circuit, Moore’s Law still holds true. That is one of the reasons we have been blessed (or cursed, depending on the perspective) with the incredible miniaturization of everything from televisions, to computers, iPads to, yes, iPhones/Cell phones. A key ingredient in this technological progress has been Coltan, which, when refined, becomes a heat-resistant powder that can hold an incredibly high electrical charge. Coltan has thus become a key fuel for the engine of technological growth and progress.
Some History: Mass death in the Congo from exploitation began as early as 1885 when King Leopold II of Belgium began ravaging the country of its ivory and rubber, and slaughtered its people, as he is blamed for the deaths of as many as 15 million. The curse of plentiful resources continues to this day, with over 5.4 million Congolese deaths since 1996 linked to armed conflict over mineral wealth.
Our government’s prime interest in the DRC (formerly Zaire) has been to keep the minerals flowing, typically by arming whosoever is in power. According to a report by the World Policy Institute, “The ongoing civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) is a prime example of the devastating legacy of U.S. arms sales policy on Africa. The U.S. prolonged the rule of Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Soko by providing more than $300 million in weapons and $100 million in military training. Mobutu used his U.S.-supplied arsenal to repress his own people and plunder his nation’s for three decades, until Laurent Kabila’s forces overthrew his brutal regime in 1997. When Kabila took power, the Clinton administration quickly offered military support by developing a plan for new training operations with the armed forces.
Recent regional conflicts, often construed as ‘ethnic’ or ‘tribal’ in reality, revolve around the mineral wealth of DRC. Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda have all at times been in conflicts in the region. Tom Makau, a telecommunications engineer and member of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya, observed that, “In an 18-month period, Rwanda made $250 million as a result of the exploitation of Coltan in the Congo. Although Rwanda and Uganda possess little or no Coltan, during the period of the war in the Congo, their exports escalated exponentially.”
Our Cause: Perhaps the worst result of this mad rush for material wealth is the fact that children have become a critical human resource in the process. Children as young as 8 years old are forced to work in the mines under worse than slave conditions, and just as inhumanely, conscripted into rebel armies and used as fodder in wars.
Literally thousands of children are working from sun up to sun down in mines with nothing but a dollar store flashlight, a chisel and a mallet. They work in mines with absolutely no safety standards, putting their lives at risk every day. Broken bones, sickness and disease are rampant, and one estimate says that up to 2 million lost their lives between 1998 and 2008. In spite of all this, they work for as little as $1.50 a week, when the ore they mine sells for up to $400 a kilogram; and we are the ones who benefit.
They Need Our Help: There is some good news. A “Conflict-Free Smelter” program was started in April of this year, in hopes of bringing a more ethical and moral standard to bear on those companies that rely on Coltan in their manufacturing. Also, Congress has initiated legislation to begin to address the issue of “blood coltan.” Our charge is to grow awareness of the issue, and drive support for those initiatives that show hope for making a difference:
In the coming weeks, as the world celebrates the wonderful memorial to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Mall in Washington DC, our call for the reinstitution of the Coltan “Cellout” Protest each Wednesday is particularly poignant. We are new to this fight which some have been engaged in for over a decade, however, it is our charge, as a church with a long and sincere commitment to social justice, to bring this issue to light and force meaningful changes in policy for the benefit of the children, the people and God’s land.
- Write to your U.S. Senators, and sake them to support the re-introduction of the Congo Conflict Minerals Act, which died in committee in 2009
- Trinity will be running an ongoing awareness campaign to encourage support for companies that take part in the “Conflict-Free Smelter” program, and to potentially boycott companies that, given the opportunity, do not support the ethical use of Coltan
- Educate yourself; an excellent documentary can be found at http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/blood-coltan/
- Make Wednesday “Cellout” a weekly practice (turn off your phones from noon to 1pm and 7pm to 8pm, and leave a message as to why ("My phone is off to encourage the use of conflict free Coltan in the electronics industry. Please leave a message.")
Asking you to Imagine . . . a more just world,
Pastor Otis Moss III