Arming militias in a war-torn region of Africa? There’s an app for that.
By now, just about everyone has heard of blood diamonds, but you may not know their close cousins: “conflict minerals.” They include metals such as gold, tantalum, tungsten and tin, used to fuel your smartphone’s vibration mode or help maintain your camera’s battery life. In fact, they exist in just about every computer or electronic gadget you own.
They are heavily sourced from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where warlords control mines and smuggling routes, profiting to the tune of more than $185 million annually by terrorizing locals into extracting the metals for little or no pay.
Human rights groups report that more than 5 million Congolese have been killed by the militias, which, in addition to mining, force children to serve as soldiers and sexual slaves. Once the ill-gotten metals are mixed in smelters, it is impossible to trace to their source.
“The direct connection between our consumer appetites and violence in eastern Congo is a result of this: your cell phone,” said John Prendergast, holding up his own smart device. Prendergast is co-founder of the Enough Project, a humanitarian organization that has studied the sources and use of conflict minerals.