How you are fueling the war in Congo?

by Staff

Drugs are a cause of war at the Mexican border. Oil fuels war in the Middle East. And cell phones are a catalyst of civil war in Africa.

If you just did a double take, you’re not alone. Most people aren’t aware that their cellular phone has its origins in a bloody conflict in a foreign country.

For the last decade, the poorly named Democratic Republic of Congo has been in the midst of a bloody civil war that has claimed nearly five million lives, while the mineral coltan is mined in the hills, according to For those who don’t know, coltan is a necessary ingredient for cell phones and other hi-tech compact devices. Without it, many of the electronics we take for granted today would cease to work. With 80 percent of the earth’s supply of coltan found in Africa and 80 percent of the African supply found in the DRC, according to, the struggle to control the source of coltan is as volatile and crucial as the diamond conflict.

Previous United Nations reports show pro-government forces in the DRC smuggle the mineral into Uganda. Often times, government forces take over the mines, kill the miners and destroy jungles, before selling the coltan to companies in Asia, who manufacture the bulk of consumer electronics used here in the U.S.

You would think a mineral necessary to the modern age would be a boon. But the government is corrupt and unstable; coupled with its atrocious human rights record, it’s no secret why the U.N. is aiming to push more peacekeepers into the region. Miners often have their findings stripped by troops and sold by proxy to legitimate companies. Other times, buyers will retrieve their supply of the mineral directly from the nefarious companies.

Exploitation and war financing are not the only problems related to the coveted metal. There’s also a huge environmental impact. Currently, the Kahuzi Biega National Park, a U.N. World Heritage Site, is being stripped of its jungles and lowland gorillas. When miners encroach in an area to find the precious mineral, they chop down trees. When they need to hunt for food, gorillas are often their targets.

For the last several years, the San Diego Zoo has had a small but graphic kiosk near its gorilla exhibit, showing people how their cell phones can contribute to major humanitarian and environmental problems.

The laptop I am using to write this column and the phone I used to get in contact with my editor, have in a very indirect way, helped support the fighting in the DRC.

It’s easy to overlook that such a tiny mineral is crucial to our everyday convenience, yet completely shatters the lives of others on the other side of the world. Remember this is coltan, not oil.

Although it’s impossible to avoid using coltan altogether, there are ways of reducing our dependence. One of the most important things anyone can do is recycle their electronics. While many people don’t know that electronics can be recycled, the mineral in coltan can be easily reused. It will be hard to completely make up for the demand attributed to the massive amounts required to help our society function, but it can help. Every little bit helps.

Since the 1990s, Africa has been a dark continent of interest to the United States. Hopefully, President-elect Barack Obama will see the opportunity to help the large number of people in need around the world and won’t write it off as a waste of time like past presidents have.

8212;John P. Gamboa is a journalism senior.

8212;This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec. Send e-mail to Anonymous letters will not be printed 8212; include your full name, major and year in school.

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