Raise awareness of activists’ impact on Congo conflict minerals
Adam Hochschild’s “King Leopold’s Ghost” expresses the somber quote by 14th-century philosopher Ibn Khaldun: “Those who are conquered always want to imitate the conqueror in his main characteristics―in his clothing, his crafts, and in all his distinctive traits and customs.” This statement is reflective in the present day in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where, to some extent, militias profit from the suffering of the Congolese people.
Between 1884 and 1885, European states carved up the African continent in the Berlin Conference, and King Leopold II of Belgium gained his own personal state. It didn’t take long before the exploitation of the Congo began. From 1885 to 1908, he ruled over the Congo, taking an estimated 10 million lives and benefiting economically from the exploitation of ivory and rubber. Belgium ceded to international pressure and took the Congo away from Leopold II.
The country’s history of exploitation didn’t end there, though; later, Belgium and the CIA funded the assassination of Congo’s first democratically elected leader, Patrice Lumumba, according to a Jan. 17, 2011 Guardian article, and put in his place violent kleptocrat Mobutu Sese Seko. Today, the country is characterized by the limited and corrupt rule of a leader who may very well extend his presidency beyond the two-term limit, and it is controlled by a myriad of armed groups who exploit local populations for tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold — minerals that can be found in all of our electronics.
It’s no surprise that the Congolese people and some of their neighbors are taking a lesson in history from their conquerors — their oppressors. In fact, much of the country’s history is characterized by exploitation. Today, militias in Congo are known to commit grievous crimes.
In fact, a former militia in Congo known as the March 23rd Movement, M23, were known for severe massacres in eastern Congo and widespread, forced conscription of child soldiers, according to a Sept. 11, 2012 Human Rights Watch report. According to the International Rescue Committee, between August 1998 and April 2007, an estimated 5.4 million people in Congo perished in conflict. In his book “Dancing in Glory of Monsters,” Jason Stearns, a writer with experience in Congo for a decade, cited that only two percent of the reported deaths during the Second Congo War were directly linked the war’s violence.
There are four conflict minerals that come from the Congo: tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. Militias take control over mines in order to intimidate local populations, and they use rape as a weapon of war. In fact, eastern Congo has been called “the rape capital of the world” by former U.N. Representative Margot Wallstrom. According to a Nov. 25, 2011 CNN article, “reports record that 48 women are raped every hour” in eastern Congo.
Despite what many reports seem to indicate about the Congo and conflict minerals, things are getting better for the country due to the work of dedicated groups like the Enough Project and even Brandeis’ own STAND, the Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities. An August 2012 Enough Project report found that armed groups made $185 million off of conflict minerals in 2008. Between 2010 and 2012, that number decreased by 65 percent, according to the same August 2012 Enough Project report.
In May 2015, Brandeis became the 19th school in the world to pass a Conflict-Free Campus resolution that ensures that the University re-evaluate its procurement policies regarding electronics. The University was with student activists all the way. The move supports conflict-free minerals from the Congo and assists electronics companies in abiding with reporting regulations outlined in Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. The legislation requires electronics companies to report to the Securities and Exchange Commission on the sourcing of their minerals and on their due diligence practices. It matters that the student voice is heard. Universities procure large amounts of electronics to stock the library and administrative buildings. In fact, according to the Economic Research Institute, Brandeis spends $4 million a year on procurement of electronics.
Also, industry leaders like Intel, Apple and HP want to create lifetime consumers. Millennials buy many electronics, and “they also exert a great deal of influence on CE [Consumer Electronics] purchases of others in their circles. While some consumers within the millennial generation, specifically the youth millennials, do not have the disposable income of their older cohorts, we expect they will continue to invest in CE products and services as they age and their levels of income [increase],” said Rhonda Daniel, manager of market research for the Consumer Electronics Association in a Feb. 1, 2013 Business News Daily article. In other words, Tim Cook wants you to buy the iPhone and only ever buy the iPhone for the rest of your life.
When students work to pass these resolutions on their campuses, corporate decision makers take notice. In fact, companies such as Intel will affix conflict-free symbols on their products this year, according to a Jan. 12 Material, Handling & Logistics article. According to a survey by the corporation, the majority of millennials believe companies should utilize practices that help society. Eight out of 10 surveyed see the necessity in consumer accountability — consumers should only buy products that benefit society.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has a history marred with exploitation. However, the work of activists and legislators alike can bring notable change to the electronics industry. Indeed, it already has. According to the Enough Project, the International Peace Information Service found that “as of May 2014, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of 3T [tin, tantalum and tungsten] miners were working in mines where no armed group involvement has been reported.”
Exploitation is only one part of the puzzle for Congo. However, it is one of the elements that has appeared throughout the country’s troubled past. Cleaning up the supply chain in Congo will not end the conflict, but it is a start. Steps like a peaceful transition of power must occur in order to reach that goal. Today, Brandeis is part of the answer for achieving that.
— Editor’s Note: Jessica Goldstein ’17 is the President of Brandeis STAND, the Northeast Regional Organizer for STAND and a Campus Organizer for the Enough Project’s Campaign, Conflict-Free Campus Initiative (also a STAND campaign).