Following the end of the Cold War a shift was found to take place where economic interests are now factors in the reasoning behind recent wars. There is evidence that points towards profit-based interests in continuing any wars around the world where there is a co-operating use of political, military, and private companies to achieve economic agendas. During these recent conflicts the use of ethnic and cultural identities have been used to legitimize a war where the real issues were really between powerful actors. These powerful actors have a driving force behind them which is economic agendas which they accomplish by using the citizens of countries to do their dirty work. DRC or the Democratic Republic of Congo is a prime example of how these economic agendas have taken hold of a country and now use it as a war mine to feed the ever-growing technology demand. Technology today is a huge industry with even larger demands that can be seen as a huge positive in people’s eyes, but there is a dark side to that. There are devastating consequences to creating parts for electronics and the DRC is most negatively impacted by this because of the bloody civil war to fulfill the demand for more minerals to build parts for consumers.
Everyone experiences the Digital Age and global digital capitalism differently, but no one suffered more from it than the DRC. Near the border of Rwanda there is a conflict-ridden province named Kivu, this eastern part of the Congo has the Congolese people fighting over a valuable material named Coltan. Columbite-Tantalite or Coltan is used to create a heat resistant tantalum powder which in turn is used in any capacitor found in all digital devices manufactured. Global capitalism has caused a huge demand for these “digital minerals” which has caused fighting over the need to illegally mine the Coltan in order to make a profit. The Eastern Congolese hoped to help their country by “Using it to build sustainable social relationships, epistemological transparency, and the attendant capacity for incremental time and “movement,” (Smith, 2011). The promise of a digitally interconnected world has been built on coltan because of the accessibility and the huge supply of it found in the Congo. These reasons have made it come out to a very low cost to the world making it so sought after, but the Congolese end up suffering the most because of the fighting incurred over it creating an expense of over 5 million dead in the fight for it.
This issue has happened time and again in other countries as well in different forms but always with the same outcome. A prime example of this would be the “Obi” reading that we looked at where the Nigerians oil rich delta was taken advantage of by multinational alliances causing multi ethnic militias to protest the extraction. Fossil fuel capitalism is the problem there where as digital minerals is the problem in the Congo where outside alliances and companies need hard to find resources from these countries and refuse to look for better methods of finding the resource. This conflict has now turned into a full pan-Delta insurgency where the same can be said about the Congo where rebels and neighboring countries all invade for control over this one resource. Stolen oil, conflict minerals, mass genocide, and huge amounts of displacements all occurred in these countries due to the capitalist economic agenda to get these resources by any means necessary.
It is very difficult to not overstate the scope of the violence, displacements, and dispossession that have resulted from the illegal coltan mining. This mining has involved up to 14 foreign armies and claims 1,000 lives a day from war related causes. Over 81 percent of the population have had to leave their homes, and more than half of the Congolese have experienced a violent death of family, friends, and loved ones due to this war for digital materials. On top of the many other atrocities committed during these conflicts there have been abductions and many reports of repeated sexual violence. Many people in the Kivus do not even know what coltan is used for all the do know is that its worth a great deal to digital capitalism. Therefore, this volatile market feeds the people with a source of lucrative income but in the process causes violent displacements and dispossession and even in some cases direct enslavement.
There is an idea that in regards to the current conflicts that maybe the Congo was always destined for war and has never known peace. The history surrounding the DRC is that of periodization where there has been a series of continuous conflicts and wars ever since it became King Leopold II’s personal colony in 1885. Between 1880 and 1920 the Congo lost nearly ten million people to barbaric genocide over ivory and rubber. This issue has not changed today where now digital minerals are the source of predatory economic interests revolving around the exploitation of the country by a whole range of economic agents. This time though the conflicts come not only from within the country itself but from neighboring countries as well. The UN found both Uganda and Rwanda as key plunderers of the DRC. Now instead of Europe causing these issues it’s the people of Africa themselves. This region of Africa today is known to have Structural Militarism as a dominant feature defining the region. Now with globalization and an economic decline in the region any source of income can be seen as beneficial to any group in the region spawning these conflicts to secure coltan by any means necessary.
How has this war affected those living in the DRC? One main effect that has come from this illegal coltan mining is a huge amount of the population being displaced. A vast majority of the capitalist agenda has used violent expropriation and displacements as an ongoing process through which the Congolese people and their livelihoods are transformed to resources for capitalism. Not only has vast displacements occurred but the citizens who stay behind end up to worse fates such as the attacks on women in the region which is described as an act of “femicide”. An estimated 400,000 women have been raped in the past ten years in what can only be seen as a planned and systemic destruction of women in the Congo. “Women have been forced to eat dead babies as a source of survival and soldiers who are HIV- positive are sent to surrounding villages to rape wives in front of their husbands, and even girls in front of their fathers” (Gomes). The reason for such extreme atrocities and human right violations occurring is to systematically breakdown the families left in order to loosen the community’s grip on its natural resource claims in order to mine the coltan that they are living on top of.
This terrorism of the surrounding people is just a small part of a larger system in place to fully take control of the Congo’s mineral rights from any of its people still living on top of the mineral itself. In the “Mine – Story of a Sacred Mountain” the Dongria Kondh’s resistance against the Vedanta mining company are only met with terrorism and threats to leave their land because they wanted access to the minerals in the mountain. This video that we looked at shows the same principles that the military soldiers showed when trying to get rid of the Congolese people. They used any method they had to achieve full control over the area whether that be by raping women in the Congo villages or in Vedanta’s case by destroying the people’s livable resources in the surrounding area. This use of destroying the people’s homes and families and way of life is why these issues cause such a huge impact in the first place.
Environmental impacts coming from illegal coltan mining can be seen through the methods by which it is mined. Coltan is mined the same way gold was found during the 1800s where dozens of men work to dig large craters scraping away any dirt covering the coltan found underground. Once the miners find the coltan they wash off any mud and sedentary left on the mineral in order to find a useable amount of the material. Due to the need to create these large craters in the ground rebels and militants in the area often overrun forests and national parks and clear out huge chunks of land that harbors lush forests and set up mining areas for the coltan. Because of the destruction of these large forested areas many animals living there are forced out in the open such as endangered elephants and gorillas and once they’re out in the open these rebels end up hunting these animals for food. Such national forests like the Kahuzi Belga National Forest have seen the gorilla population cut in half from 258 to 130 left alive. Environmental issues such as the destruction of the endangered animals’ habitats as well as deforestation and the destruction of the main ecosystem in the country account for many of the issues seen with the mining taking place in the area. This is where coltan mining as a whole gets a bad reputation, among all the conflict and human rights issues there’s different methods of mining the material. There is the path of legitimately mining the coltan in the area where national forests aren’t destroyed or endangered animals aren’t killed in the process, but on the other hand outside rebels and militants invade and mine illegally which causes many of these issues because they don’t follow and rules or guidelines when it comes to mining this material like the rest of the world follows.
How can this illegal mining be stopped? How can these conflicts be ended and which direction is best to end the over use of destruction in the Congo? The world is changing around this conflict more and more people are being educated on the issue such as how this conflict and the illegal mining came to be which is the first step to changing this issue once it has been identified solutions can come about. To help end the human rights issues and conflicts over the mineral a larger demand of UN peacekeepers specifically trained in these issues can be sent to the Congo. Another idea is to put pressure to come to negotiating terms to end the conflict in the area and to arrest and prosecute the war criminals involved in the many atrocities seen in this conflict. Overall a lasting resolution to the crisis needs to ensure due benefits to the local population from their resources, as well to require stakeholders to advocate for peace in the area as the better option as opposed to prolonged conflict and war.
Now that ideas are in place to solve the human rights issues in the Congo how can the world strive for better alternatives to be implemented on the basis of finding safer and better replacements for Coltan. To end the current environmental destruction in the Congo plans for improving efficiency and decreasing the environmental impact of mining in the area need to be made. First off, all illegal and unregulated mines should be shut down in order to follow the correct guidelines for mining this material as well as ending the destruction of the national forests in order to secure the safety of the endangered animals in the surrounding area. The next method would be to choose more environmentally friendly general mining processes and implement more green mining technologies. To fix what’s already been done to the environment cleaning up the sites of shut down mines and reevaluating cut-off grades needs to be taken with the upmost care in order to preserve the environment of the Congo other wise nothing but craters and barren forests will remain.
As a replacement for Coltan as it seems at the moment there isn’t a hugely viable option to coltan for the components used in most technologies but that doesn’t mean it has to solely come from the DRC. Other sources could be from recycled technologies that have coltan in them and could be reused today in new technologies in order to reduce the reliance on newly mined materials. The other alternative is to just outright ban any conflict minerals from being sold or used in products ever again this would push the idea that a new system of development and reconstruction for the Congolese people could be put in place because there would no longer be a need for their coltan. They could also implement a controlled trading system that way the Congolese people no longer suffer from the illegal mining but actually profit from legitimate and safer methods of finding the material.
The Democratic Republic of Congo today is an ongoing issue based on the economic agendas of others that have taken hold of the country and now use it to feed the ever-growing technological demand. This new digital age brought about the need for new technologies and new markets to satisfy the demand for more. Because of this many believed the DRC was a gold mine of one of the most useful materials needed in all technologies. Coltan ended up causing more harm than good for the country as a whole in the end killing millions and displacing thousands among the many human injustices seen that came from the conflict of mining this material illegally. Not only did the Congolese people suffer as a whole, but the environment took on a toll of its own that may take many years to recover from. Although many issues keep coming from this illegal mining issue there are safer methods and ideas and pushes for peace that can be achieved if the entire country and the world strive for a change to this issue.
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