Thursday, May 10, 2012

Has your cell phone killed anyone?

English 151 Multi model essay
Jeffrey Tyler Lucas

If I were to ask you to tell me where the deadliest conflict since WWII was taking place, would you be able to tell me? Most people would not be able to tell me. Most people are not well informed about the issues of the conflict in southern Africa. It's not an issue that receives much media attention.

 A couple of months ago, a viral video hit the interwebs: Stop Kony 2012.
This video was put out by the organization Invisible Children, which aims to raise awareness for child soldiers in Africa. It's an inspiring, uplifting video. It brought a lot of attention to the issues of the conflicts in Africa. (Even if a lot of the attention is misguided.) Because there's a lot more to it than the video explains. The creators of the Stop Kony movement have been criticized for oversimplifying the issues.

My blog post is really about the deeper issues of the conflict in the Congo, not about StopKony2012. I just use that as a reference. It's a good place to jump off because more people might be able to relate.

Independent armies took control of eastern Congo during 2 wars: The First Congo War ((November 1996 to May 1997) and the Second Congo War (1998-2003). These wars were initiated due to many factors, one of the main ones being conflict minerals. The political instability allowed small armies to seize power. And they continue to hold power to this day.

  Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) 
 Congolese National Police (PNC)
 Democratic Forces of the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR)
 National Congress for the Defense of People (CNDP)
 Allied Democratic Forces (ADF)
 Coalition of Congolese Patriotic Forces
 The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)

These groups use heavy ordinance along with raids meant to scare, threaten and harm anyone they come in contact with. They kill indiscriminately—children account for almost half the casualties. One of their main methods of terror is rape. There have been over 300,000 rapes.

Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR): The FDLR was actually formed by the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide. (Which was portrayed in the movie Hotel Rwanda)  It is on the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations. Originally the soldiers were Rwandan exiles, however most of the current FDLR soldiers have been recruited from refugee camps in eastern Congo. They have reportedly increased their recruitment campaigns.  Between 6,000 and 8,000 FDLR fighters are currently estimated to operate in eastern Congo. The FDLR receives assistance and guidance from Rwandans in Europe, Africa, and the United States. Until recently, the FDLR reportedly received assistance from some Congolese government forces and coordinated military operations with the Congolese army (FARDC). Over the past year, the FDLR has reportedly intensified its recruitment campaigns and continues to terrorize civilians in eastern Congo. It is one of the active armies, and a major threat to peace and stability in Congo.There can be no peace in the Congo until the FDLR is dismantled. The U.S. is beginning to pay greater attention to alternative strategies to lure the FDLR out of the bush, but it should make this a high-level priority.

National Congress for the Defense of People (CNDP): The CNDP is a DRC-based rebel group that was once one of the most destructive groups in eastern Congo. Its main objective was to protect the Tutsi population in eastern Congo and to fight the FDLR. The CNDP perpetrated well-documented mass atrocities: It massacred  several hundred deserters in Kisangani in 2002. In 2004 it pillaged the Bukayu for days. In 2008, it massacreed  hundreds of unarmed civilians in Kiwanja, a tiny village northeast of Goma, during fighting to seize control of North Kivu. Over 800,000 people have been displaced due to the fighting between the CNDP and the forces of the Congolese Army.
However, it has since disintegrated and transitioned to become a political party. The leader, Laurant Nkunda, is currently under house arrest in Rwanda. Since its disintegration in 2009, many CNDP fighters integrated into the FARDC while others joined militia groups.
CNDP commander Bosco Ntaganda became a Congolese Army General after his troops were integrated into the FARDC, despite the fact that he was under  indictment by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and the use of child soldiers. Now, Ntaganda continues to operate with impunity in eastern Congo.

Allied Democratic Forces (ADF): An Ugandan Muslim rebel group. It has limited activity in Uganda and DRC. ADF forces were active in Beni district near the Ugandan border until 2010, when a FARDC operation dislodged ADF forces but also displaced an estimated 100,000 Congolese civilians, according to U.N. officials
The Mai Mai Militias: A loosely grouped collection of Congolese militia. They operate in eastern Congo. There are currently six main groups operating in the Kivus: the Mai-Mai Yakutumba, Raia Mutomboki, Mai-Mai Nyakiliba, Mai-Mai Fujo, Mai-Mai Kirikicho, and Resistance Nationale Congolese. Mai Mai groups are often formed by combatants who refused to participate in FARDC reintegration processes. They tend to believe the land should belong to its original inhabitants. Mai Mai groups feel threatened by Rwandan communities (Hutu and Tutsi), which they see as foreigners trying to take over their land and power .They are not unified under any political or racial affiliation, but all actively target civilians and U.N. peacekeeping forces in eastern Congo. The Coalition of Congolese Patriotic Resistance (PARECO) is the largest Mai Mai militia group. The group worked closely with the FARDC through 2008. By 2010, most of PARECO integrated into the FARDC, except one faction, the Patriotic Alliance for a Free and Sovereign Congo, or APCLS, led by General Janvier Buingo Karairi. The APCLS is currently allied with FDLR and refuses to integrate into the FARDC.

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA): The LRA is a Ugandan rebel group led by Joseph Kony that has been active since the mid-1980s. It has no clear political agenda. This ruthless militia directs its violence towards civilians and attacks local communities: massacring innocent people, razing villages, and abducting children and forcing them to serve as soldiers, porters, and sex slaves. It is currently active in parts of the Central African Republic and eastern Congo. Joseph Kony is the subject of the viral video movement of Invisible Children.

The Crisis
But what are these groups doing there?
They are there because they are controlling the mineral mines. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has these mines because the land is rich in many natural resources such as: coltan, wolframite, casserite, gold, diamonds, and lumber. The mineral exportation in these areas is the most important because they bring in the most money. The individual armies control the mines for their own gain, because when they control the mines, they get the money and they hold the power. That is why the minerals are so important to this region and why they are at the center of this conflict. Basically, these minerals fuel the conflict. That is why they are called….conflict minerals.

The most precious types of conflict minerals are: Coltan, wolframite, and cassiterite.
Coltan (short for columbiaum tantalite) yields tantalum and niobium when extracted properly from the raw ore. Tantalum  is one of the main element in capacitors which can be used in every electronic device. There are other types of capacitors, but they are not as efficient or compact as the ones that use tantalum.  Niobium is used in light bulbs and many times of jewelry, it is very valuable in jewelry because it’s one of the few minerals that you can successfully color by anodization.
Wolframite yields tungsten, which is used in a lot of daily electronics such as catalysts.
Cassiterite yields tin, which is a corrosion resistant metal that they use in certain alloys and to coat many metals that have to experience Mother Nature.

Mine Effects
These minerals are harvested in desolate, hell holes traveling straight towards the pit of the earth. Coltan is mined through a fairly primitive and desolate process similar to how gold was mined in California and the west coast during the 1800s and early 1900s. Dozens of men working together digging at large craters in streambeds, scraping away the loose dirt from the surface to process in order to get to the coltan underground. The workers then take the loose dirt and slosh water and mud around in large washtubs, allowing the coltan to settle to the bottom due to its heavy weight comparatively to the other minerals around it. A good worker can produce one kilogram of coltan a day. Coltan mining is very well paid in Congo terms. The average Congolese worker makes $10 a month, while a coltan miner can make anywhere from $10 to $50 a week.

Blood in the Mobile

An iPhone can do a Lot, But Can It Arm a Congolese Army?
These minerals that were just listed also are in each one of these daily objects:• Laptop computers
• Cellular phones
• Jet engines
• Rockets
• Cutting tools
• Camera lenses
• X-ray film
• Ink jet printers
• Hearing aids
• Pacemakers
• Airbag protection systems
• Ignition and motor control modules, GPS, ABS systems in automobiles
• Game consoles such as playstation, xbox and nintendo
• Video cameras
• Digital still cameras
• Sputtering targets
• Chemical process equipment
• Cathodic protection systems for steel structures such as bridges, water tanks
• Prosthetic devices for humans – hips, plates in the skull, also mesh to repair bone removed after damage by cancer
• Suture clips
• Corrosion resistant fasteners, screws, nuts, bolts
• High temperature furnace parts.
• High temperature alloys for air and land based turbines
Before and After

This is a large list and it doesn’t even count everything that these minerals are used in. So you can see what a big impact they have. Most Americans would regard these technological items as a necessity and couldn’t stand living without them. And that probably won’t change. There’s still a huge demand for these products, which means a huge demand for the minerals, which means the conflict minerals are going to remain a huge bargaining chip.

Just take a look at the companies that buy and use the minerals: Acer, Apple, Canon, Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, Lenovo, LG, Microsoft, Motorola, Nintendo, Nokia, Panasonic, Philips, RIM, Samsung, SanDisk, SHARP, Sony and Toshiba. Those are some of the biggest company names out there. So you can see how this is a weighted issue. There’s a lot of money at stake, for big Western companies, and for African armed groups.

There is an excellent video that details the attitude big companies have towards conflict minerals.  This video is called Conflict Minerals 101.

As you can see from above conflict minerals are very important and will not be going anywhere. But actions need to be taken to lessen the effects of terrorism of countries worldwide and specifically The Congo. If no actions are taken, more lives will be abused and taken.


Campbell, Bonnie K. "5Governance, Human Rights, and Mining in The Democratic of Congo." Mining in Africa: Regulation and Development. London: Pluto, 2009. 187-230. Print.

Benoit Nemery (b, et al. "High Human Exposure To Cobalt And Other Metals In Katanga, A Mining Area

Of The Democratic Republic Of Congo." Environmental Research 109.(2009): 745-752. ScienceDirect. Web. 15 May 2012.

Epstein, Marc J., and Kristi Yuthas. "Conflict Minerals: Managing An Emerging Supply-Chain Problem."

Environmental Quality Management21.2 (2011): 13-25. Environment Complete. Web. 15 May 2012.