The next time
we whip out our Blackberries, cell phones, gaming consoles, iPods, and
laptops, we would do well to remember their true cost, beyond what we paid
for them at the store. Each of these gadgets use an ore called
coltan. About 80% of the world
supplies of coltan lie in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which the
UN says is subject to "highly organized and systematic exploitation."
Coltan is "the
colloquial African name for columbite-tantalite, a metallic ore used to
produce the elements niobium and tantalum. In appearance, coltan is a dull
black mineral. The exportation of coltan helped fuel the war in the Congo,
a conflict that has resulted in approx. 3.8 million deaths." [Wikipedia]
In a country
the size of Western Europe, a war rages that has lasted eight years and
cost four million lives. Rival militias inflict appalling suffering on the
civilian population, and what passes for political leadership is powerless
to stop it. This is Congo, and the reason for the conflict - control of
minerals essential to the electronic gadgetry on which the developed world
depends - is what makes our blindness to the horror doubly shaming.
Johann Hari reports from the
killing fields of central Africa.