A bunch of y’all asked me what I thought of The Atlantic’s “Is Your Cell Phone Fueling Civil War in the Congo” article on Monday. To which I reply: About the same thing I’ve thought every other time an article with a virtually identical title has popped up in my “rape and lions” Google News Alert over the last couple of years.
Seriously guys, it’s like déjà vu all over again. The article begins:
“Pick up any household electronic — a phone, a remote, or a laptop — and it could contain minerals mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country where armed rebel groups connected with crimes of rape and murder profit from trade of these minerals.”
Sound at all familiar? No? Let’s take a little trip back in time…
The day: June 26, 2010. The man: The Kristof. The paper: The New York Times. The article: “Death by Gadget in the Congo”:
“An ugly paradox of the 21st century is that some of our elegant symbols of modernity — smartphones, laptops and digital cameras — are built from minerals that seem to be fueling mass slaughter and rape in Congo.”
Oh come off it, you might be thinking. Two pieces on the same topic beginning with similar words does not a federal case make.
And you may have a point, but then again, there’s:
The Hawaii Independent in December 2010: “Is your new mobile phone made with conflict minerals?“;
The Guardian in August 2010: “‘Conflict minerals’ finance gang rape in Africa“;
The Washington City Paper, in June 2010: “Does Your Ipod Support Rape in the Congo?“;
CNN, December 2009: “Rape and murder, funded by cell phones“;
The Star (Canada) in June 2009: “Rape, war and your cell phone“;
Huffington Post in April 2009: “Congo Violence Fueled By Common Material In Cell Phones, Laptops“; and
The Telegraph in November of 2008: “How the mobile phone in your pocket is helping to pay for the civil war in Congo.”
And that’s just the results of a quick 5 minutes of googling. So if the Atlantic article is the first intimation you’ve had that your cell phone might not have been completely honest with you about its past, congratulations on coming out of that coma / returning safely from that space mission / escaping that underground bunker.
I just don’t have much to add to what I, Amanda, and others have said on this subject previously, but I suppose I’ll say it again anyway:
Yes, armed groups operating in the eastern Congo fund their activities in part through the sale of minerals that are used in the manufacture of consumer electronics. And yes, those armed groups are implicated in horrific atrocities against the civilian population of the region. But so are armed groups that aren’t heavily involved in the mineral trade. There’s no evidence that attacks on civilians are either more intense or more concentrated in areas associated with mining or supply routes. And I remain unconvinced that competition over mineral wealth is a primary driver of the violence. The roots of this conflict lie in contested claims over land and citizenship rights, which have become further entrenched by the impact of regional geopolitics. So yes, we would all prefer that our shiny new gadgets arrived free of associations with bloodshed and sexual violence, but we shouldn’t expect that removing our link to it will have much effect on the conflict itself.
Man, even I’m sick of hearing me talk about this…