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Blood gadgetry: Why I am going to the Congo

August 11, 2010

by Iara Lee

The wars over minerals that make our cell phones and jet bombers work make life miserable for children in the Congo, where 3 million of them have been killed in the past dozen years. When will we acknowledge that, as Iara Lee says, we are “beneficiaries of this violence”? When will we break the silence that hides this holocaust and “stand in solidarity with the Congolese people”? Let’s start today. Do it for these two brave babies searching for their parents near Goma in eastern Congo! – Photo: Jerome Delay, AP
The Israeli government’s increasingly militaristic foreign policy must remain a fundamental concern to anyone who strives for peace and justice on our planet. I am under no illusions, however, that what is happening to the Palestinians should somehow eclipse all other conflicts taking place in the world. Given recent events, and my extremely vocal response to them, I can see why some people new to me and my work might think this is the case. Those who know me even slightly better, however, understand that what is happening in the Middle East is only one facet of my work.

The war in the Congo is another. This is why, for some time now, I have been trying to enter the Congo to document the hideous crimes that are taking place there, crimes that have been largely ignored by much of the world. Since the outbreak of war 14 years ago, over 5 million people, including millions of children, have died as a result of what is now the deadliest conflict since World War II. This is a conflict where rape is used as a weapon of mass destruction, where vital rain forest ecosystems have been destroyed and water systems poisoned.

Given the enormity and brutality of the situation in the Congo, it is baffling how little we have heard about it in the last decade.

Whether it is racism, cowardice or some combination of the two – they are not mutually exclusive – it has come to pass that what is happening in central Africa is somehow OK to accept or, even worse, to ignore here in the West as something distant and abstract. But the fact is that this is not an abstraction but a blunt reality for so many fellow human beings – and we, and in this I include myself, are complicit and in many ways responsible for what is happening in the Congo.

The conflict began when Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Congo ostensibly to pursue rebels who took refuge in the Congo in the mid-1990s. Since then, both the government forces and the rebels have grown richer by plundering the land of its vast mineral resources, while instability in the Congo has allowed for rapid deforestation of what is often referred to as “the lung of the world.” The Congo, along with the Amazon, is the world’s most important “carbon sink,” trapping carbon that might otherwise become carbon dioxide.

Foreign corporations have also joined in the free-for-all plunder of the Congo’s riches, which led the chief of the UNCHR, Antonio Guterres, to declare in an interview with the Financial Times in 2008, “The international community has systematically looted DRC and we should not forget that.”

Among these riches is coltan – columbite tantalite – a mineral highly prized for its use in a number of consumer electronic products, among other things.

After extraction, this mineral is sold to global corporations that use it to satisfy our insatiable appetite for iPods, mobile phones, DVD players and various other gadgets.

When peace returns to the Congo, it will be the treasure trove and bread basket to the world and, as owners of its riches, the Congolese people will thrive. Now, however, foreign forces plunder Congo’s riches and plunge it into war that has stolen some 6 million lives. Iara Lee admonishes us not to stand “idly aside while millions of human beings perish for the comfort of our cell phones and modern gadgets.” - Photo: Jerome Delay, AP
In other words, we are directly fueling the most heinous violence the world has seen in 65 years and subsidizing what one activist, Kambale Musavuli, has referred to as the wholesale rape of land and people.

Just recently President Obama signed into law, as an amendment to the financial reform bill, an extremely limited measure that will require U.S. companies to disclose what steps they are taking to ensure that their products don’t contain “conflict minerals” from the Congo. According to the new provision, publicly traded corporations using any “conflict minerals” to make their products must file a report documenting their origins. And if they find they are supporting militant groups, they must report on how they plan to stop. But that’s all. In fact, corporations are free to report that they will continue to buy from murderous militias, as long as they make that public.

Some might say this is a step in the right direction. I think it is proof of how little we have accomplished so far. We need to turn the heat up on our elected officials who for too long have skirted their responsibility in pushing our African allies – Rwanda and Uganda are both top buyers of Congolese tin and gold – to end this war and boycott those companies who continue to profit from such atrocities.

In addition, we should call on our elected officials to enforce The Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act, which Obama sponsored as a senator in 2006. This law grants the secretary of state – Hillary Clinton, who co-sponsored the bill as a senator – the authority to withhold funding to any government contributing to the destabilization of the Congo. Fully implementing this law, Public Law 109-456, would help to accelerate an end to the conflict, as V-Day’s Eve Ensler has exhorted.

We also need to recognize that, as the beneficiaries of this violence, each of us can and must stand in solidarity with the Congolese people.

I am a filmmaker, and so I am trying to make a film about the Congo. Take a little bit of what you do best, and do it to raise consciousness about the suffering that is occurring in the heart of Africa.

After all, it is not only the fate of the Congo or the African continent that is at stake, but also the conscience of humanity. It is unacceptable that we look back at ourselves and admit that we stood idly aside while millions of human beings perished for the comfort of our cell phones and modern gadgets.

Cultures of Resistance: Congo Week from Cultures of Resistance on Vimeo.

Visit FriendsOfTheCongo.org to find out ways you can take meaningful action at home and stand in solidarity with the people of the Congo.

Iara Lee, a Brazilian of Korean descent, is an activist and filmmaker who is currently working with CulturesOfResistance.org on a feature-length documentary film about how creative action contributes to conflict prevention and resolution. In May 2010, she was a passenger on the MV Mavi Marmara in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla which was attacked in international waters by the Israeli navy, who murdered nine humanitarian aid workers. She was able to successfully hide and retain most of the raid footage, which she later released to the world after a screening at the UN. This story first appeared on Huffington Post.

14 thoughts on “Blood gadgetry: Why I am going to the Congo

  1. Selina

    Then We all should boycott T-Mobile, Verison ect and all computer stores to assist the Congolese.

    Does anyone believe that can done with American & European Corporations being the beneficeries
    of the War in The Congo ??????????

    Reply
  2. Selina

    Another Question:

    Who's Supplying the Congolese Rebels With the Weapons that are Used to Kill the Congolese???

    Reply
    1. JKC

      THERE IS NOT CONGOLESE REBELS. THE LEADERS OF THE GROUPS MAYBE CONGOLESES BUT THE ARMIES ARE COMPOSED OF RWANDAN AND UGANDAN SOLDIERS. LIKE AFDL OR RCD OR CNDP THEY ARE ALL RWANDAN. US,UK and EU SUPPLY WEAPONS TO RWANDA AND UGANDA, AND RWANDA AND UGANDA TO THEIRS PEOPLES IN CONGO CALL CONGOLESES REBELS. THEY ARE INDEED RWANDAN OR UGANDAN

      Reply
  3. Ndeko

    I commend your intentions but like every westerner your are woefully deficient in you scope. I grew up in the Congo and consider myself half Congolaise. Here is the problem, it is what Tim Butcher referred to in his book Blood River, "Congo is a nation without the basis of Law." I have just returned from there this last month and I can tell you that the culprits to the atrocities occurring in Congo are in Kinshasa and Washington. You have identified the issue of Coltan which is real and horrible however as you fly to Congo remember that the airplane and the company that supports the aircraft are consumers of that mineral. Banning the trade of it will hurt the very lowest of the Congolaise populace. Very similar to the ban on Ivory and Rhino Horns. Both of those issues hurt the poorest people in Congo. When you live at the subsistence level and an Elephant or a Rhino walks by with more then ten years worth of earning hanging on it you can only guess what will happens. My suggestion to you is when you go to Congo try to learn to think like a Congolaise and not like a westerner. Remember there are no 401k's, no social services to fall back on. Also one thing to take a look at is that the deforestation that so many in the west like to bring up is occurring to cook the food of 70 million Congolaise. I pray that your trip will be a huge success but remember that we need to help the Congolaise by giving them a lawful nation to live in, in which their voices are heard. They don"t need your sympathy and money they need their rights defended at all levels like you have and enjoy here.

    Reply
  4. Selina

    First of All I don’t think like a westerner because of how I was raised and historically my ancestors were not from the west.

    My response or question to you is What was Patrice Lumumba attempting to do, as prime minister was he trying to get control over all of the resources taking the power from the Oppenhiemers and the Gov't of Belgime???

    Pres. Robert Mugabe took back the land from the white colonializers and redistributed the land to the people of Zimb., he also made it a requirement of any foriegn investor to share 51% of the profits from Diamond mines or any investments made in his country.

    "Banning the trade of it will hurt the very lowest of the Congolaise populace. Very similar to the ban on Ivory and Rhino Horns. Both of those issues hurt the poorest people in Congo. When you live at the subsistence level and an Elephant or a Rhino walks by with more then ten years worth of earning hanging on it you can only guess what will happens"

    Reply
  5. Selina

    Cont :

    My response to the phrase above yes you depend on Boeing to purchase the Coltran, but just like the CIA agent Larry Dalvin said, " When Washington assumed that Prime Min., Lumumba ( I apologize if I mis-spelled his name ) was expressing his desires to form an alliance with Russia. Washington believed that if Russia force their way in taking over the Congolaise resources which became Washington's excuse for assisinating Prime Min., Lumumba ( Info taken from the Documentries Africa Apocolypse Made In America and Cuba, Africa Revolution )

    My Point is yes you depend on westerners purchasing your resources but do the Congolaise control the distribution and the profits of those resources????????

    If not how can they gain control??????

    Reply
  6. Ndeko

    Your answer shows that you are very well educated in western ideology taught in the halls of academia. You left one historical figure out that implemented much of what Mugabe has done. That is President Mobutu Sese Seko Nokuk wa za Banga he nationalized everything during the mid 1970’s through his MPR (Mouvement populaire de la revolution) I was there during this movement, growing up as a child. This movement plunged Congo/ Zaire into the futile state that it is today. In 1985 Mobutu ended up being in the top five most wealthy in the world estimated at $5 Bil. He died in exile never to return the wealth he stole. I agree that Lumumba’s dreams were never realized and that he probably could have been a great leader of the greatest nation in Africa. Africa has already tried Mugabe style of revolution and it leads to futility. Another example Idi Amin Dada who nationalized Uganda in the 70’s and plunged that country into chaos. Today that nation is turning it around through an effort to “Educate” its populace it is having huge success and is stabilizing the Government.

    Reply
  7. Ndeko

    The basis of the chaos in Congo is not necessarily brought on from the outside. In fact the war that has killed so many, is from within Africa. It is Black on Black violence of which so many of the “western world” are so hesitant to acknowledge because of their ignorance. The basis to the problem in Congo is tribal. When the colonialists conquered their countries they cared nothing for the tribes and split them up (problem 1). When a ruler in Africa rises to power his tribe conquers the others (problem 2). The only one to really break this cycle was Nelson Mandela. Question: How many tribes are there in the DRC?
    What are the solutions? Not another well intentioned documentary of which you will come back and take 95% of the revenues and send a pittance to the “poor black child”. (The part so often left out by these organizations.) You are no better then the companies that pillage Congo of its vast wealth.

    The solution to bringing Congo out of its tailspin into lawlessness is to educate its populace. This is not being done. Then the resources will become Congolaise because contracts will not be signed under a state of futilism.

    Reply
    1. Selina

      You keep saying "Western Education", I'm from the "HOOD" meaning poor intercity where in our community (BLACK Perdominately schools Govt CONTROLED SCHOOLS) They DON'T TEACH BLACKS students ANYTHING About Africa.

      I Read books written by people of African descent like Dr. John Henrik Clark, Sir that's how I now what I've sputed out about the situation in Africa.

      You pointed out there's conflict between tribul groups where the hell the tribal conflict began
      from the people who colonialized you. The same people who separated and divided us( Blacks Here in America)on the plantations of AmeriKKKa, turning us into Crips & Bloods (gangs)!!!

      Reply
    2. JKC

      How come the BASIS TO THE PROBLEM IN CONGO IS TRIBAL BUT THE SOLUTION IS TO EDUCATE ITS POPULACE SO THE RESOURCES WILL BECOME CONGOLAISE BECAUSE CONTRACTS WILL NOT SIGNED UNDER A STATE OF FUTILISM?
      THAT MEANS THE PROBLEM IS NOT TRIBAL BUT CONGO, CONGOLAISE EDUCATION AND RESOURCES.
      TELL THE TRUTH. YOU ARE A RWANDAN AS HYPPOLITE KANAMBE aka JOSEPH KABILA NO A HALF CONGOLAISE. STOP TALKING ABOUT CONGO

      Reply
  8. Ndeko

    When you enter Congo you will enter the most beautiful country in the world it will blow your mind. In fact if it could get its tourism industry back on track it would destroy all other tourist hotspots, I love the Congo for its sheer beauty and because it is my “Home”. You will also be entering one of the most dangerous countries in the world but “if you want to see a lion you need to get close.” Do not stay in a well fortified fortress of security like all the rest of the westerners do. Plan on living there for more then a few months I would suggest a couple of years. Do not pay off everyone that asks for money in fact leave your “greenbacks” home or you will be fleeced like every other westerner that enters. Leave your preconceived academic hyperbole at the border where you cross into the most beautiful country of the world. Learn the language and by this I do not mean French learn one of the local languages fluently. Get to the point where you can understand one of the tribal languages.

    Then you may be able to begin to think like a Congolaise.

    Reply
    1. Selina

      And About Mendela, The majority of the S.A. Live in proverty when all white minority, DEBeers, OppenHeimer stay remain in control majority of the wealth
      ********************
      If everybody western thinking it's because your not facing the root of all Africa's problems it invaders!!!

      Reply
  9. Selina

    Correct from the last statemnt: If everybody western thinking it's because your not facing the root of all Africa's problems it invaders!!!

    You have a western mind based on your not facing the root of all of Africa's problems IT'S INVADERS

    Reply
  10. congocoalition

    Who are you? who are this ndeko? you said you consider yourself as half congolaise, what is your other half?You are probably a rwandan.Since the invasion of congo by rwandan and ugandan any rwandan can cross the border and claim to be a congalese, kill, rape and root to protect his people.(AFDL,RCD,CNDP…). Yes the culprits of those atrocities are in washington and kinshasa, but aslo in london, kampala and mostly in kigali,
    The banning the trade will hurt no congolese people as you claimed, because 99% of those blood minerals rooted in east of congo go to rwanda and uganda.
    The basis to the problem in congo IS NOT TRIBAL. Can you tell what tribes are fighting each other in congo? what tribe killed more than 6 million congoleses, what tribes are raping , gang raping congoleses women, children and men using its as a weapon against congoleses. Those killers and rapists come from outside mostly from rwanda and uganda with washinton and london blessings..We have more 250 tribes in congo and We peacefully lived together for many many years. You sound like a rwandan. congoleses people don't think like that.
    THE BASIS OF THE CONFLICT IN CONGO ARE THE MINERALS( The westerns want them chip or free) AND LAND( rwandan and ugandan envy congoleses land). To accomplish theirs missions , they need a weaken congo. That is why they (westerns and kagame) put a rwandan impostor in congo. HYPPOLITE KANAMBE aka JOSEPH KABILA is RWANDAN from FPR of P. kagame It is knows to every congolais . H. KANAMBE aka J.kABILA is not the son of LD KABILA. he is an impostor rwandan. His job is to weaken congo from inside. All congoleses institutions are infiltrated by rwandan( army, intelligenceservices,costumers,public services).
    To solve our problem. We need to kick H. KANAMBE out of congo. reform our army and services to defend our people, our land and our resources. It is just a matter of time.
    SELINA thank you for caring about congo. Please contact congo coalition(congocoalition@hotmail.com) they will help about you film and about congo.

    Reply

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