WASHINGTON — We recently traveled together to eastern Congo, where the deadliest war in the world is occurring.
The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a conflict which most people know nothing about, despite the fact that we’re all directly connected to it. Armed groups are fighting over the lucrative minerals that power our cell phones and laptops, leaving a trail of human destruction that has no equal since World War II.
We spent most of our time in eastern Congo talking with survivors of this silent war. We wanted to know what they experienced, and what messages they might have for those of us who have come to rely on cell phones and laptops that inadvertently connect us to Congo.
During the trip, Ryan made this video, “Raise Hope for Congo.”
(Special thanks to musician James Blake for the use of his track, “Lindisfarne I.”)
Marie is a rape survivor twice over. She has overcome her suffering to found a women's organization that helps others who have survived sexual crimes. We asked her what message she would have for electronics companies.
“Please stop this bloody business,” she pleaded. “You are fueling conflict. Families are being torn apart. Women are being raped. Communities are being destroyed so armed groups can profit from mines. Companies should stop supporting this and do ethical business.”
The conflict in Congo has left millions homeless, fleeing from their villages after they have been burned to the ground or looted by armed groups.
In a camp for internally displaced people, we met Mapendo, a young woman who survived an attack on her village in which members of an armed militia went door to door raping women and killing men. In reply to our questions, she said, “There is no difference between the phone companies and the people doing the killing here in Congo.”
The president of one refugee camp told us, “The problem in Congo is greed. They should prosecute the greedy people, wherever they come from, who benefit from illegal minerals.”
A young man living in the camp named Innocent, who had been driven from his home by an armed group taking over a nearby mine, concluded: “The people that are doing this to me are the people who are making the phones that use these minerals.”
Esther, another displaced camp resident, challenged us in a unique way: “I want the users of these minerals to come live in these camps with us so they can understand what we are going through.”
Finally, a 14-year-old girl whom we befriended spoke with a level of clarity well beyond her years when she told us: “Anyone who buys a cell phone should question their conscience and insist on fair trade.”
The truth of what we heard from survivors is rooted in simple economics. Profits made from this illicit trade come from international demand for the minerals. If consumers demand conflict-free products, then companies will eventually meet that demand, and will stop buying minerals mined through violence.
Luckily, instead of just feeling guilty or even boycotting consumer electronics, there are things you can do, positive steps that will have an impact on this deadly trade in conflict minerals.
First, you can join the growing movement of people across the U.S. and beyond who are raising hope for Congo by directly contacting the 21 biggest electronics companies and demanding conflict-free products.
The Enough Project ranked the top companies on the actions they have taken on conflict minerals to date and found that two-thirds of them have done little to nothing. Many of them assert their conflict-free intentions, but with a few exceptions their actions haven’t equaled their rhetoric. The bottom line here is this: if you demand conflict-free products, they will supply them, just like with the blood diamonds campaign that ended that deadly trade and helped stop three wars in West Africa.
Second, if you are connected to a college or high school, you can join the national drive for conflict-free campuses, in which students are leading efforts to persaude school administrators to demand conflict-free products as well.
Congo is the deadliest war in the world for a reason. For the last 150 years the world has taken whatever it wanted from this country, from people who were enslaved on America’s plantations, to ivory for our jewelry, to rubber for our automobile industry, to uranium for our atomic bombs, to today’s conflict minerals for our cell phones, laptops and other products. Finally, a global people’s movement has begun to be formed to stop this history of destructive extraction.
Now that you know, what will you do?
Ryan Gosling is an actor. John Prendergast is a co-founder of the Enough Project and author of “Unlikely Brothers.”