Thursday, June 13, 2024

 ‘The Gray Room’: dark side of technology

By: Daniela Raymond

If you knew that the latest iPhones, MacBooks, cars and cameras were being manufactured by thousands of people suffering and dying, would you still be so eager to get the latest version?

Every single piece of technology that you can think of can only be manufactured with a particular mineral, coltan. The Democratic Republic of Congo is a natural hub for coltan. The extraction of coltan in the DRC has become associated with corruption, violence and exploitation. 

The globe is hungry for coltan. The demand for the resource has turned it into one of the most sought-after minerals in the world. Unfortunately, coltan extraction from the DRC has left destruction in its wake. Millions of people in Congo have been killed so that other countries, specifically Western countries like France, the United Kingdom and the U.S. can profit off of their natural resources. Western nations have funded and allowed militia groups from Rwanda and Uganda to invade Congo and the coltan reserves. Men, women and children are being exploited to mine coltan to be sold. 

The story is not known and the Congolese people have been subject to suffering for decades, but only recently has the story picked up global attention due to activists’ dedicated work. Since 1996 6 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo so that we can keep using our phones and every other technological device that makes life easier. 

In 2021 the DRC produced 700 metric tons of coltan placing them as the number-one producers and Brazil as runner-up. Besides being killed by militia groups, many people are facing disastrous conditions while mining, and without the proper equipment or knowledge, the work is a treacherous risk. More than 2.1 million people are working in slave-like conditions every day, a majority of whom are children. 

While there is a surge in the story, people are just starting to pay attention and it is just as important to understand why these atrocities are happening and why they have gone in the dark for so long.

The protracted war on the economy is currently in the heart of the DRC. The Congo is located in an area known for instability, often described as a transnational war economy. This is a situation where wealth-seeking government officials have the ability to collaborate with rebel leaders and international Western businesses to perpetrate the illicit trading, selling and accumulation of raw materials. It is important to understand that all three of these parties have an interest in the DRC and stand to gain something by preserving the war economy that abuses Congo and its people. 

Because these ungoverned spaces are naturally endowed with raw minerals, the warlords who have risen to power during the Congolese civil war and the remnants of the Rwanda genocide have unfettered access to rare materials. By mining the minerals, they can trade it in a legitimate commodity market, which is currently booming due to the Western Green economy. Because all of our businesses are trying to transition into being more climate-safe and “green,” they are looking for these resources now more than ever. 

The struggle for control in the coltan mines has been central in the conflict of eastern Congo which has claimed more than 4 million lives in the past decade.

The bottom line here is that the people of Congo are dying and being capitalized on due to the natural resources that their homeland possesses. This has been furthered by the ideas of the war economy, in which access and control of these minerals fund the Western economy, allow government officials to tax miners and companies for access, increase their wealth and allow militias to have control and trade minerals on a legitimate basis. 


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