Bandi is talking about a difficult topic that is close to him, and closer to many of us than we realise: the Congo.
Our mobile phones connect us to our loved ones and colleagues, at home and overseas. They are symbols of our interconnected world. But they leave a bloody trail. Tantalum is mined in the Congo as Coltan, for use in phones, and all sorts of medical and other equipment. The Congo consistently scores dreadfully in global poverty and health rankings, but the worth of the country has been estimated as over $24 trillion. The extraction of tantalum has financed and fuelled ongoing war. It has contributed to terrible suffering – killings, rape, depopulation. 30,000 children are enlisted and made to fight in armed groups. The state-regulated mining industry has collapsed, so control has splintered and is easily taken by armed groups, who disguise the minerals and use illegal trade routes into Rwanda.
But don’t throw away your phones yet.
The irony is that this technology that has brought such suffering, has also brought the situation to our attention. The mobile phone has given people around the world an important tool in gaining their political freedom.
We are faced with a paradox.
Bandi spoke at TEDxExeter 2012, and is back to update us about his work with the Congo Calling campaign. The campaign was a direct result of the support following his talk.
He is reminding us of the impacts of the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Congo has gold, diamonds, tin, tungsten and tantalum, which are vital components of mobile technology. Congo should be wealthy, but this wealth has become a curse. The profit from the trade in conflict minerals has financed much of the war.
At the moment, there is an international peace process in the Congo. There are signs of hope, but the suffering of ordinary people continues. What can we do?
Congo Calling encourages individuals to lobby for and buy fairtrade technology, and lobby their governments; it encourages governments to develop and enforce legislation; and it encourages technology companies to purchase their minerals from conflict-free sources.
Our actions are beginning to make a difference. TED.com released Bandi’s talk on the same day that Apple released the iPhone 5. Bandi has asked us all to take our mobile phones out of our pockets. He wants each of us to ask our phone company what they are doing to source conflict-free minerals; and ask our MP re what they are doing to support legislation.