Cell Phones and War in the DRC

Tue, Dec 12, 2006

Pure Water

More than 4.7 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have died so that I can enjoy the privilege of using a cell phone. That fact chastens me. But what chastens me more is that civil war has raged for years in the DRC and I have remained utterly ignorant of my complicity in it.

More than 6 months ago, I made a post about my cell phone service. In retrospect, my post seems trivial. I was writing about a product whose performance failed to meet the expectations its advertising raised. My phone was supposed to be a model of convergence — with camera, mp3 player, text messaging, games. I also wrote about the social dimension of cell phone use — its power to confer status, to grant anonymity, to relieve anxiety. But I never suspected its power to kill.

Cell phones, along with many other consumer electronic devices, use a substance called coltan. Eighty percent of the world’s supply of coltan comes from the DRC. However, demand for coltan has produced fighting for control of the country’s mines and the revenue they generate.

I used this discovery as the opportunity to write a paper for a course in Ethics which I’m taking at Emmanuel College. The main question is: how do I deal with my behaviour as an economic actor in the West, when almost every choice I make has consequences for people living in the two–thirds world? The paper begins by considering several required readings in economic justice, then it breaks from the mold and looks to Jon Sobrino as a mentor. Click here to download a Word copy of the paper.

For an introduction to the issue of coltan in the DRC, see the following links:

Global Policy Forum
Seeing Is Believing
National Post

economics, justice

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