The conflict in eastern Congo, the deadliest in the world since World War II, is being fueled by a multi-million dollar trade in minerals that go into our electronic products from cell phones to digital cameras. Over five million people have died as a result of the war, and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in eastern Congo over the past decade. The armed groups that are perpetrating the violence generate an estimated $144 million each year by trading in four main minerals, the 3 Ts and gold:
Used inside your cell phone and all electronic products as a solder on circuit boards. 53% of tin worldwide is used as a solder, the vast majority of which goes into electronics. Armed groups earn approximately $85 million per year from trading in tin.
Used to store electricity in capacitors in iPods, digital cameras, and cell phones. 65-80% of the world’s tantalum is used in electronic products. Armed groups earn an estimated $8 million per year from trading in tantalum.
Used to make your cell phone or Blackberry vibrate. Tungsten is a growing source of income for armed groups in Congo, with armed groups currently earning approximately $2 million annually.
Used mainly in jewelry, gold is also a component in electronics. Extremely valuable and easy to smuggle, armed groups are earning between $44-88 million per year from gold.
All of these minerals are used in our every-day electronics – from cell phones, to laptops, to ipods, we may well be unwittingly helping to continue the genocide.
We’re not asking companies to pull up stakes in Congo and take their business elsewhere – that would just hurt the Congolese. What we’re asking is for companies to make sure any minerals they do buy aren’t passing through tainted hands, much as the diamond industry learned to avoid blood diamonds from West Africa. This will not only disempower the armed groups profiting from the trade in illegal minerals, it will also strengthen legitimate mining in Congo.
The trade in illegally extracted minerals finances the armed groups that commit mass atrocities in Congo. Until we address this root cause of the conflict, sexual violence, murder and displacement will continue to destroy Congolese communities.
Resources on Conflict Minerals