Mobile phones, once a luxury, are nowadays a basic need. Since the very first ‘prototype’ of Graham Bell, this superb communication tool has known multiple evolutions and we do not know still how many jaw-dropping versions are about to come. Yet, none shows interest to understand what it takes to be manufactured.

What lies in the belly of a mobile phone?

Many materials are used in the structure of this gadget including plastic, metal, gold, aluminium. Coltan and lithium cobalt oxide are also important elements used; these being responsible for the death of many. So with every mobile phone bought, it is a life gone! How come?

Congo: the heart of illegal trade

Congo is rich in copper and mines with more than 60 percent of the world’s cobalt. The rising demand for cobalt and coltan, which are key elements in the production of mobiles, is thus good news for the economic situation of Africa. Anyone would think – how rich a population? But until that no life is lost and the manufacturers operate in a transparent and legal manner paying attention to the working condition of the employees. However, in Congo, the situation is far from human rights and ethics.

People irrespective of age are forced to work in mines by rebel militias who control the vast Eastern Congo. Locals suffer from illness living in a deteriorated environment and those who resist to the situation end up being raped, tortured or killed. Rather than going to school children are forced into these illegal activities. In fact, there are no proper school or other work than coltan mining.

“How can we build schools when invading militias turn them into their headquarters, (and) use the desks and chairs as firewood?” said former education minister Prosper Kabila. “The international companies must stop buying coltan, and then the war will stop. And our children can go back to school.” Source

Cobalt Mining Congo
Left: A miner holds chunks of cobalt he has dug out at the Kasulo mine near Kolwezi in the DRC. Right: An 11-year-old mine worker named Daniel carries a bag of cobalt from a dig site to a depot to be sold. Left: A miner holds chunks of cobalt he has dug out at the Kasulo mine near Kolwezi in the DRC. Right: An 11-year-old mine worker named Daniel carries a bag of cobalt from a dig site to a depot to be sold. Sebastian Meyer for Fortune Magazine
The situation today

Even though the secret illegal transactions at the cost of human life are now an open debate, locals’ life has not improved. And if you and I do not want to contribute to this thriving illegal industry, how would we know if the gadgets we used were not soaked in the blood of Congolese? To what extent should we become luddite?  As for the environment, No say! If you want to become rich overtime, then get into the business of oxygen because that is soon going to be extinct!

Extract from EveryCRSReport.com on the debates of mining sector:

The Mining Sector: Policy Concerns

DRC’s “conflict mineral” exports are associated with the informal artisanal mining sector, particularly in the east.75 In 2016, U.N. sanctions monitors reported that industry-led due-diligence measures focusing on tin, tantalum, and tungsten had deprived armed groups of some opportunities to benefit from illicit mineral extraction, but that “supply chains face numerous challenges, such as the involvement of FARDC elements, corruption of government officials and smuggling and leakage of minerals from non-validated mining sites into the legitimate supply chain.”76 Gold smuggling via Uganda and Rwanda reportedly continues to provide financing for armed groups.77 Mineral smuggling also arguably continues to deprive the state of revenues.

DRC’s industrial mining operations have drawn a different set of concerns. The organization Global Witness has described DRC’s mining parastatal Gécamines as central to corrupt networks that it labels a “regime cash machine.”78 In 2012, the IMF ended its concessional loan program due to concerns about a lack of transparency in state mining contracts. Dan Gertler, an Israeli businessman closely tied to President Kabila, has drawn particular international attention due to deals in which he has flipped state-held mining concessions for large profits. In recent years, firms linked to Gertler have been targeted in corruption probes in the United States, Canada, and the UK. In 2017, the Trump Administration imposed sanctions on Gertler and various firms linked to him, asserting that he “used his close friendship with … Kabila to act as a middleman for mining asset sales in the DRC.”79 The Department of the Treasury cited an independent investigation that found DRC had lost over $1.36 billion in potential revenues from underpricing mining assets sold to firms linked to Gertler.80 It sanctioned additional Gertler-linked firms in June 2018.81 Gertler has said he is being unfairly targeted, and that his business success reflects his relative appetite for political risk and a single-minded focus on DRC.

In early 2018, the DRC government promulgated a new mining code that steeply elevates taxes and royalty payments that foreign mining firms will owe the state. President Kabila signed the law in the face of intense opposition from international firms, who strenuously objected to the government’s decision to ignore “stability clauses” that would otherwise have protected existing contracts for 10 years. The new mining code appears to be popular among Congolese, while adding to Western investor perceptions of risk.


2 Comments

BerinaBerrry · 4th December 2018 at 4:14 pm

I have never given a thought to how everything I possess came to be. It makes me sad to think of how many people have suffered to make us comfortable. Let us hope better ways of production will be invented in future. By the Grace of God.

Mukhamani · 12th December 2018 at 8:00 am

Thank you for sharing. There is so much suffering and what is sadder is in spite of knowing this very few will be able to give up using the mobile phone. It has become a very essential part of life. Regards

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