By François Mayesi
In last month’s column, “DRC: A Forgotten Genocide,” I noted that Pope Francis spoke of “blood diamonds” while on a recent trip to DR Congo. “Blood diamonds” refers to the close link that exists between the illicit exploitation of countless minerals (such as cobalt, coltan, diamonds, gold, lithium), the mistreatment of human beings (such as the exploitation of minors), failures of leadership, and the luxuries we enjoy.
Cobalt and coltan – just two of DR Congo’s many extraordinarily valuable natural resources – are among the most valuable resources in the world. They are essential ingredients in the manufacture of the batteries of our smartphones, our laptops and other electronic devices, our cars, and our aircraft and international communication devices. Cobalt is the safety element in batteries that ensures they do not catch fire.
The world’s hunger for electronic devices – and the lack of governmental controls on mineral extraction – has serious implications for the well-being of the Congolese people. Siddhartha Kara, a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, spoke to Terry Gross on National Public Radio in February.
Kara said, “There’s complete cross-contamination between industrial excavator-derived cobalt and cobalt dug by women and children with their bare hands. … Industrial mines, almost all of them, have artisanal miners working, digging in and around them, feeding cobalt into the formal supply chain.”
A 2021 blog post by Michele Lawson from the Wilson Center adds detail: “Of the 255,000 Congolese mining for cobalt, 40,000 are children, some as young as six years. Much of the work is informal small-scale mining in which laborers earn less than $2 per day while using their own tools, primarily their hands.”
I believe that the international community is complicit in the violence that has impacted DR Congo for decades, and that the fighting that has killed between 6 million and 10 million people since 1996 (estimates vary greatly) is linked to mineral resources. I’d like to know why the whole world is indignant and rebelling against the despicable actions of Russia in Ukraine, while children continue to die in the mineral fields in DR Congo.
The International Criminal Court seeks Russian President Vladimir Putin’s arrest for alleged war crimes involving illegally deporting children from Ukraine to Russia. This is correct – but how many Congolese children have already died or been orphaned because their parents were harmed or massacred in the mineral fields? And yet – no arrest warrant. Why? Is a Congolese life worth less than a Ukrainian life?
I know the stress and trauma of living outside my native land for political reasons. How many other Congolese immigrants share my plight? And who pulls the strings of silence on what is going on in DR Congo? For me, the worst thing of all is not the wickedness of humanity, but the silence of those who act as if they do not know what is going on – and this includes world and business leaders, as well as Congolese pastors who use the good word of God as opium to lull the youth who are trying to wake up in DR Congo.
Please help break the silence about the terror going on in DR Congo. Put pressure on Maine’s congressional delegation and the United Nations. We want a real rule of law in DR Congo, with responsible leaders who will collaborate with international bodies and make difficult decisions. We need fair and honest elections in 2023. And we need regulations to protect our people from exploitation carried out in service of producing electronic devices.