Mobile phone companies make it too easy to get a new phone: sign up for a contract and receive a $400 phone for free. The idea of such a great deal is irresistible to many of us. The human face of the impacts of producing new technological devices provides motivation to think twice about getting new products when the old ones are just fine.
It’s no exaggeration that cellphones are indirectly funding killings, rapes and village lootings in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The war in Eastern DRC involves many factions, including Hutu and Tutsi rebel groups, local militias and the Congolese army. According to a UN report, all the armed groups in the area, including the army, fund themselves through trade in diamonds, gold and two minerals necessary for cellphones and other technological devices (coltan and tin ore). The DRC has 80 per cent of the world’s coltan. The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC is the largest in the world, but security is difficult to achieve because all of the warring factions are well supported by mineral exploitation and trade.
Up to 5 million people have died since the mid-90s as a result of conflict in Eastern DRC, either directly or due to the disease and unsanitary conditions. That’s twice the population of Metro Vancouver.
There are no easy answers, but restraining ourselves from the lure of new devices is a great start. A new phone might feel light in hand, but helping fund atrocities in the DRC is a heavy weight on one’s shoulders.
• Canada is a financial supporter of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which works with governments and companies to promote openness regarding payments made and received. Such initiatives are crucial to ensure that our purchases don’t finance violence.
– Kai Chan is an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair at the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability (IRES) at UBC; firstname.lastname@example.org.