Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The DRC's Mineral Curse - You can help end it!

Three jars of peanut butter, 98 slices of white bread, 89 bananas, 54 boiled eggs, more goat than I will eat for the rest of my life, countless cups of Nescafe and my gut tells me it is time to leave the Congo. Exhausted from continually having multiple sets of eyes staring at me no matter what I do, it is time for a break. Everything I own and every crevice of my body is covered in a fine silt of red dust. I am sure I will continue to discover remnants of the dust along with my Congolese life lessons for years to come.

It has been 50 days since I few into the unknown of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not sure if I would like it here or if I would even be able to walk down the street alone, my experience here has been surprisingly calm and quite magical. The Congo will really go down in my book as one of the most amazing travel experiences ever. If nothing else, it has been very real. The most raw elements of life and humanity in every way. Some of the most kind people I have ever met and five minutes later quite possibly one of the most evil people I hope I will ever meet. The most light I have ever witnessed and moments of the deepest despair I have ever felt.

As you have read, the contradictions of the Congo has been difficult to sum up. Not wanting to sensationalize the situation here, there is so much going on it is hard to write all the details. All of the things I have discussed soldiers, police, looting, and rape they are going on around us, but the majority of my time here has been peaceful and fairly relaxed. The situation here is not chaotic. It is systematic, calculated, and predictable.

As my farewell to the people of S.Kivu, Alana and I decide to do the 30 km walk from the Crosiers to Butembo. It is the drive we take everyday, but during that time we pass hundreds of people on the road walking to the market with their goods and to the fields to cultivate their crops. The walk took several hours, but it allowed us to take in even more of the scenery and interact with people. One woman we pass every morning came out to greet us with her newborn twins, a grandmother going to cut firewood stroked my white arm, and as we passed the school we picked up a small mob of 200 children who walked with us for several kilometers. When we talk to people along the way –especially the elderly- and they learn that we are from America their eyes light up with the realization the world has not forgotten about the DR Congo.

One description I read about the Congo compared the entire country to a sick water buffalo being gnawed at by hyenas (all the countries surrounding the Congo and foreign players). The Congo is 2/3 the size of Western Europe and the estimated population is only 50 million. Many experts (including our UN friends agree) it may only be manageable if/when it is broken into four countries.

Unlike my prior perception, the entire Congo is not a chaotic mess, but a systematic arrangement of alliances and political power plays. At many junctions it is impossible to tell who is “right” and who is “wrong”. Most of the key players are shape shifters who change alliances when it works to their benefit. Without a government that truly wants peace, an international organization with a mandate that has some teeth, and enough pressure from the outside world, the situation in the DRC is an unsolvable Rubix’s cube.

Now the good news.

The DRC is a resource rich country with thriving land with a RESILIANT population that wants change. As demonstrated numerous times by the COPERMA staff and the really amazing group of prostitutes we worked with, common people of the DRC are organizing themselves and working for what they believe is right. Willing to risk personally safety for change, they want to live in peace and have justice in their country.

They are working tirelessly towards this end.

So what can you do personally to help change the situation in the DRC and why should you care?

To put it simply anyone in the world who has a laptop, cell phone, or digital camera has a direct connection and an ethical responsibility to help the people of Congo resolve the problems in their country. Why? At is core, the fighting in the Congo is for control of it’s mineral rich land that contains coltan, diamonds, tin, copper, gold, and almost every other precious mineral in the world. Over a million dollars worth of minerals leave the DRC each day on the black market and the common population living in mud huts sees none of the benefits. These minerals are transported to other countries and refined into usable products that are then shipped around the world for use by electronics manufactures. There is currently no standard to ensure that companies are not buying “blood minerals”.

While we may feel powerless to help, we must remember we vote consciously and unconsciously with our dollars. While I am typing on my Mac laptop and listening to tunes on my ipod, I need to remember at what cost they are produced. It is not that we should stop using these products, but it is time to join consumer movements (like the “Enough” project) that are demanding ethical mineral sourcing from companies such as Mac and Nintendo.

What I have walked away with personally is that I need to learn even more about foreign aid and specifically why it does not work in Africa. While it is comforting to think the UN is helping and the World Food Program is doing food drops, there is no one working for long-term sustainable solutions to end the conflict in Congo. By paying attention to our governments foreign policy and having an active voice in it we can create the atmosphere of consumer pressure that is needed to create lasting peace and stability in Congo. Really it starts with you.

Where can you start right now?

1. Repost this to your FB page
2. Join the Enough movement and get on their email list -www.raisehopeforcongo.org/content/take-action
3. Have a discussion tonight with at least one friend about conflict minerals

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