What Drives the African World War?
The Democratic Republic of the Congo borders has been described as the heart of Africa. Geographically it is surrounded by nine other African nations. DR Congo should be a wealthy nation. It is the sixth most mineral rich country in the world. Its landscape possesses fifty percent of African forests and a river system that could provide hydro-electric power to the entire continent. Instead it is a place where for over a decade the worlds deadliest conflict has raged killing an estimated five and a half million people and the surviving citizens are currently among the poorest in the world.
What drives this war that has involved seven foreign armies and is known as the ‘African World War’?
The land is saturated with gold, diamonds and other natural resources. In fact the DR Congo has seventy percent of the worlds Coltan and more than thirty percent of the worlds Diamond reserves. It is the smuggling of Coltan and Cassiterite, the ores of Tantalum Tube and Tin respectively, that is the key to the the conflict between all the armed groups in Eastern Congo. These and other minerals found there are vital in the manufacture of electronic parts, computer chips and mobile phones.
These minerals are worth millions. In 2000, the ore Coltan typically sold on world markets for approximately $330.00 USD per kilogram. The recent technology boom and low availability of Coltan caused a substantial increase in the price to almost $400 USD per kilogram at one point as supply struggled to meet the demands of companies such as Nokia and Sony.
There are mines all over eastern Congo, some little more than holes in the ground as deep as fifty metres. Hundreds of people come here hoping to cash in on the rush grab for minerals. Few ever make more than a fist full of dollars.The women take the minerals to the river to be washed. The miners do not make much.
Bukavu in the South Kivu region is one of the main trading hubs for these minerals. Here they are mixed and sold on for export. The trade is informal and virtually unregulated. Abroad, multinationals process minerals from all over the world together into metals to use in the laptops and mobile phones. Absolute fortunes are made from this trade. Everyone works in Cassiterite and Coltan.
Where there are mines there is fighting and where there is fighting there is rape. In eastern Congo, the prevalence of rape and other sexual violence is described as the worst in the world. Unfortunately though this is a state that barely functions. There are few prosecutions. Even if men are convicted of rape there are few in prison. For example, Goma prison has been described as the worst prison in Africa by the United Nations. Here authorities attempt to squeeze eight hundred and fifty people into a place designed to house one hundred and fifty.
With violence all around, children have become ensnared in the conflict. Even though charities attempt to help former child soldiers and prostitutes, poverty is driving many young people into the army. They have no way to survive, no family, no where to live, nowhere to sleep and must prostitute themselves to survive. If they have children, they may have to go to the orphanage so the they can return to live as a soldier.
The majority of child soldiers are boys. There are still 33 000 children including girls involved in the armed forces within this region. The fine line between perpetrator and victim becomes blurred when the stories come to the forefront of what children are forced to do by militias and what they must do to survive.
The Congo exhibits a beautiful landscape but inside there is suffering and pain. There is a fight raging over the control of minerals from the earth used in the fabrication of electronic components in computers and mobile phones. We as a modern society buy into this technology but at the root of it is bloodshed and pain that other people on this planet have to experience so that we can have our laptop or computer. Does anyone of us choose to question where it is coming from. This is the true cost of technology.