If you wanted to see Avatar in 3D, you went
to the cinema. If you want to see mining companies causing the
destruction of the lives of indigenous people in real life, you
go to the eastern part of the Congo.
The mineral in Avatar was
called Unobtanium. The mineral in eastern Congo is called coltan.
Coltan is an ore containing tantalum and tantalum is used in
components for mobile phones, laptop computers and video
consoles. 80% of the world's coltan is in the eastern Congo, in
the region of Kivu to be exact.
The war between Congolese
forces and invading Rwandan forces, which I call the Coltan War,
is the deadliest conflict since the Second World War. According
to the International Rescue Committee, six million people have
died to date. This war still continues and yet few people have
ever heard of it. The Coltan War is a secret war.
These invading Rwandan forces
are fighting for control of the coltan mines because coltan is
very valuable. Sometimes prices are over $400 a kilogram.
Currently around 30% of Kivu's schoolchildren are working in the
coltan mines and without any safety precautions. Landslides are
The Rwandan military forces
sell the mined coltan to Western companies. A United Nations
report in 2002 found that 85 companies, including 18 from
Britain, were involved either 'directly or indirectly,
deliberately or through negligence' in prolonging the war in the
Congo. A former British Prime Minister has been on the board of
directors of a company involved in the coltan trade. Oona King,
British Member of Parliament, said to the Independent newspaper
in 2006,"Kids in Congo are being sent down mines to die so that
kids in Europe and America can kill imaginary aliens in their
living rooms". No kid would be happy about that. Now I see why
the Coltan War is kept a secret.
The Rwandan military forces
involved have become very rich from the sale of coltan and they
use this money to buy more guns. They continue torturing and
murdering the local people of Kivu and the UN says that at least
5,400 women were attacked in South Kivu in the first nine months
of 2009 alone.
If you are interested in
finding out more about what is happening, there are two web
sites you can visit:-
http://www.friendsofthecongo.org/ … all lower case – that
means no capitals.
http://www.raisehopeforcongo.org/ … again all lower case
What can we do to help? Well,
firstly, it is essential that for mineral processing companies
corporate responsibility becomes more than just a beautiful
section of the annual general report and web site. Secondly,
makers of mobile phones, laptops and video consoles must stop
contributing to this terrible situation. The Japanese company
Sony has said that they do not use coltan from the Congo in
their products, so that’s a start. Thirdly, invading Rwandan
forces must go back to Rwanda and never return.
At the end of Avatar there is
a terrible battle and a lot of people are killed. Finally
however, the mining company is forced to leave the area. The
question is, when will there be a happy ending for the children
and women of Kivu?