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Congo Gold – 60 Minutes

December 3rd, 2009 · 4 Comments

Congo gold 60 Minutes documents the bloody civil war in Congo – the deadliest since World War II fueled by the trade in precious metals, like gold & coltan


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CBS correspondent Scott Pelley gives us a glimpse of the horrifying reality in the heart of Africa – the gold we use for our jewelry and for the circuit boards in our cell phones and computers is fueling the deadliest conflict on the planet,today. In the 60 Minutes episode “Congo’s Gold,” Pelley journeyed into the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to look into the unending cycle of violence that has gripped this mineral-rich country since the 90′s.

The World’s Deadliest War

The conflict started in 1996 when Hutu war criminals responsible for the genocide in neighboring Rwanda, used Congo territory to launch attacks against Rwandan villages. Rwanda and Uganda invaded the country using the Hutu incursions as an excuse and installed a friendly regime in Kinshasha (Congo’s capital) led by Laurent-Desire Kabila, and proceeded to exploit the country’s mineral resources for themselves.

When President Kabila called for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Congo, Uganda and Rwanda created two separate rebel forces which, with the help of their patrons, attacked the newly-reformed Congolese army. This led to the intervention of other countries – Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe – who also sent troops to fight alongside the DRC forces. A peace deal was brokered by the UN in 2001 paving the way for the withdrawal of all foreign troops and the arrival of a UN peacekeeping force known as MONUC.

In the meantime, the rebel forces were never disbanded and soon these splintered into several groups and factions controlling their own areas of influence – terrorizing and the civilian population and forcing them to mine for gold and coltan. The millions of dollars earned from these operations, as Scott Pelley pointed out in his report, are used to buy uniforms, medicine, arms, and ammunition for these rebel groups and bandits – essentially bankrolling a conflict that has already claimed 5.4 million lives.

Conflict Metals

Gold and coltan from the Congo are exported to western countries for use in the jewelry industry and in electronics manufacturing. Gold and Tantalum (a derivative of coltan) are excellent metals for conduction and are widely used in the circuit boards and capacitors of electronic items like cell phones, computers, and games consoles.

There is currently no system in place for jewelers in the West to pinpoint the exact source of the gold that they use and while it is thought that most of the coltan produced in the Congo are shipped to China, electronics manufacturers also don’t have the means to determine if the raw materials they’re using are in fact “conflict metals.”

How we can help

This holiday season, when you purchase that new cell phone or laptop, there’s a good chance that it contains parts manufactured from these “blood metals” from the Congo. While industry trade groups and some western governments are working to create and enforce a system that would effectively exclude Congo metals from the manufacturing stream, this system is still months or years away from reality.

The best thing that we can do to help at this time, as individuals, is to recycle cell phones and other electronic items. When you think about the 100 million cell phones we discard every year in the US, recycling just a fraction of that, along with recycling all our electronic items, would effectively limit the demand for gold, coltan, and other metals from the conflict areas. Done consistently and on a large international scale, this should constrict the flow of financial resources to these armed groups, which will hopefully help end the conflict and the untold misery of the Congolese people.

There is a connection between your cell phone (or for that matter, that piece of jewelry you just bought from Walmart) and the guns in the Congo. What are going to do about it?

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Edd // Dec 3, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    I did watch the report.
    Truly heartbreaking.
    In this day and age with all the technological advances, you’d think there would be a better way.

  • 2 Rachel // Dec 9, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    It is extremely scary and sick to think of the connections that our consumer products have to slavery. People don’t know where the diamond on their ring came from, or how the metal in their cellphone was gathered. We need to think about who makes every single thing that we purchase – and how we know that it was made by a free person with a decent wage. Enslaved children and adults make much of the cocoa that is contained in Nestle and Cadbury chocolate bars. Nike and the GAP clothing store do not ensure that their workers overseas are paid a living wage.

  • 3 No Dirty Gold Wins New Pledges From Major Jewelry Retailers | Pacebutler Blog // Dec 22, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    [...] few weeks ago, we’ve written about Congo Gold and the horrible war in the Democratic Republic of Congo fueled by the world’s insatiable [...]

  • 4 How Cell Phones Help Fuel The War in Congo | The African Art Store // Jan 15, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    [...] Arms contributes articles about Congo gold and cell phone recycling at the Pacebutler Recycling and Environmental blog. You can sell, donate, [...]