Sunday, December 9, 2007
The War The World Forgot
A journey into the most savage war in the world
My travels in the Democratic Vacuum of Congo
This is the story of the deadliest war since Adolf Hitler’s armies marched across Europe. It is a war that has not ended. But is also the story of a trail of blood that leads directly to you: to your remote control, to your mobile phone, to your laptop and to your diamond necklace. In the TV series ‘Lost’, a group of plane crash survivors believe they are stranded alone on a desert island, until one day they discover a dense metal cable leading out into the ocean and the world beyond. The Democratic Republic of Congo is full of those cables, mysterious connections that show how a seemingly isolated tribal war is in reality something very different.
This war has been waved aside as an internal African implosion. In reality it a battle for coltan and diamonds and cassiterite and gold, destined for sale in London and New York and Paris. It is a battle for the metals that make our technological society vibrate and ring and bling, and it has already claimed four million lives in five years and broken a population the size of Britain’s. No, this is not only a story about them. This – the tale of a short journey into the long Congolese war we in the West have fostered, fuelled and funded – is a story about you.
Cellphones fuel Congo conflict
Cellphones may have revolutionized the way we communicate, but in Central Africa their biggest legacy is war.
Nearly 3 million people have died in Congo in a four-year war over coltan, a heat-resistant mineral ore widely used in cellphones, laptops and playstations. Eighty percent of the world's coltan reserves are in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The mountainous jungle area where the coltan is mined is the battleground of what has been grimly dubbed "Africa's first World War," pitting Congolese forces against those of six neighbouring countries and numerous armed factions.
The victims are mostly civilians. Starvation and disease have killed hundreds of thousands and the fighting has displaced 2 million people from their homes.
Often dismissed as an ethnic war, the conflict is really over natural resources sought by foreign corporations -- diamonds, tin, copper, gold, but mostly coltan.
At stake for the multitude of heavily armed militias and governments is a cut of the high-tech boom of the 1990s, which sent the price of coltan skyrocketing to peak at US$400 per kilo. Coltan -- short for colombo-tantalite -- is refined into tantalum, a "magic powder" essential to many electronic devices.
The war started in 1998 when Congolese rebel forces, backed by Rwanda and Uganda, seized eastern Congo and moved into strategic mining areas, attacking villages along the way.
It is a war for coltan. It is a massacre for technology. It is impossible for me to get anyone's attention on this. I have tried on discussion board's, leafletting, tabling and people just look away.
Noone wants to face the reality of how their daily habits fuel the slaughterhouse.
Who is calling you all the time, all day all night?
It is me calling you oh techno-man of the West wondering why you come to kill me. Why do you seem to think the thunder in my ground is for you to steal? Why do you think my life of fourteen-year-old prostitution-death-by-twenty is here to serve your need to know where you are all the time when you never know where you are any of the time? Is this okay for you to force me into servitude for your colonial consumerism? I know its long distance and collect but really who is paying the price here?