Uganda, the Congo, and Refugees. The good, the bad, and THE UGLY.
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM WITH THE CONGO? I AM. AND SO ARE YOU.
During the month of August, Suzanne and I volunteered in Uganda, trying our best to help with the influx of Congolese refugees that are spilling over the border. Why are they fleeing their homeland? Ebola? Some. But the vast vast majority are fleeing because of extreme unrest, violence, and torture, caused by competing militias (governmental and rogue) who will stop at nothing for control over something you and I take for granted and are using right this very second. Our phones. Yep, you read that correctly.
Your phone killed people. Yep, you read that correctly too. We saw starving infants and kids dying of malaria because of what I’m using right now to write this, my iPod. What’s the problem with the Congo? I am, and so are you.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has had many difficulties throughout it’s history. Decades of internal corruption and epidemics, and foreign countries taking advantage of it. But nothing worse than what the worlds technological and electronic industries have done and are doing to get what’s under its soil. The Congo has the worlds richest reserves of minerals, and big tech companies need it. All of it.
The competing tech giants like Samsung, Amazon, Google, Huawei, Sony, Microsoft, HP, Apple, Dell,… will almost stop at nothing to get the Congo’s metals such as tin, which is used in the circuit boards, tantalum to store electricity, tungsten for the stupid vibrating function, gold for coating of wires, (even the uranium the USA used to build the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan came from the Congo)…but nothing is needed more than Cobalt, a boring blue grey colored metal that is essential to power our phones, laptops, and electric vehicles. In an effort to try and make this as short as possible, I’ll only rant about phones, after all, there’s ONLY over 5 BILLION of them in the world.
In plain English, because we need the newest and coolest gadget, some Congolese kids as young as 7 spend 24 hours a day in deep dark abandoned holes to dig up some Cobalt for almost no pay, so that we can use our phones, because we don’t give a shit about what’s inside our devices or how it got there, as long as it works and it’s cheap. Even if the phone we have worked perfectly fine (or if its broken, it’s made purposely impossible to fix), the tech companies, every couple of months, make us feel we need the newest phone. Which means more Cobalt and higher and higher prices for the metal, and more child labor, and vicious fighting over the control of the mines by some of our biggest companies like Google and Amazon, which leads to beheadings and rape, which leads to hundreds of thousands of people needing safety in a peaceful but poor country like Uganda, which leads to not having enough food or water for everybody, or no proper housing so they use mosquito nets as string to build simple mud huts, which in turn leads to acquiring malaria, dehydration, cholera, and malnutrition, and then they die. In that order.
Huge powerful companies like Microsoft and Google know about this, they all know about this, even if they deny it or any wrong doing. They are a business, and their goal is to make lots and lots of money. They don’t care about African children digging in the dirt for chump change and then becoming refugees because warlords funded by these companies kill whomever doesn’t work for them in these horrific mines. These tech companies just need minerals for these batteries at the cheapest price so that you and I will buy their newest device, again and again. It’s as simple as that.
Does anybody care? If so, what can we do about this? No matter how much we say we care about these Congolese, we as the human race aren’t just going to stop using phones. We’re voluntarily enslaved to them, they’re a part of our everyday lives. We almost can’t function without them.
Yea, it’s a complicated problem. It’s easy to not care about these details, these fellow human “details”, when they’re in central Africa and we’ll never see them. It’s more important that our phone’s battery last till we get home from the mall.
It’s harder to ignore if you were just there, knowing their names, making friends, laughing together, getting frustrated together, being a part of their struggle together, seeing some die.
I don’t have any answers, but I think I have some ideas on how we can live our lives with these phones without unknowingly being a part of or a major contributor of the problem. Some of you have kindly donated to our Congolese friends, thank you very much. Some have also asked about what you can do further to assist. This is it. Stop buying stuff. Phones, cars, shoes,… The USA is 5% of the worlds population, and the USA uses 25% of the worlds goods. This is the problem. For the love of humanity, literally, stop it!
Once, there was this little Indian man that said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” An over-said quote and an under-used quote.
But that’s all I got.
These tech giants like Amazon or Apple only think in terms of dollars. They will only listen to us if we stop buying what they have to offer. If we want to change these inequalities, then we must be the change, and do something about it.
So, STOP BUYING NEW PHONES!
From what I’ve learned, this seems to be the truth. The most environmentally friendly, child labor friendly, refugee friendly phone on the market today is THE PHONE YOU ALREADY OWN. Extending the lifespan of the phone we’re holding right now is the best way to reduce the long lasting impact on our fellow humans and our planet. The longer we keep it, the more sustainable it becomes. There is plenty of advice on how to keep your phone running longer and better. If you care about stopping child labor, then look them up. These are things we can do, together, today.
If you have to buy a phone, buy the most eco-friendly phone out there, ANYTHING USED. There’re millions of refurbished phones on the market, and at a drastically cheaper price than a brand new one. If you care about helping refugees like those in some of the pictures we’ve shared, then do this.
If you absolutely need to buy a brand new phone, think about a Fairphone, (fairphone.com)
But DO NOT BUY A CHINESE PHONE. Chinese organisations own the Congo and most of these Cobalt mines are run by dirty Chinese corporations who have no problem with forced child labor or refugees. The stories and documentaries of these organisations are horrific, look them up. And more times than not, our favourite USA tech companies buy from these Chinese corporations. There’s a reason why some phones are cheap, and it’s not because they want to give you a discount. It’s because they use slave labor to decrease their cost on manufacturing and then “pass the savings on to you.” It’s strange to say but the more expensive a phone is, the likelihood of it having some sort of fair transparency down the chain all the way to Congolese kids is higher. If you absolutely need a brand new phone and hate poor black African kids, buy a cheap Chinese phone, or an Amazon phone. If you want to own an amazing device that fits into your pocket and know where it came from and have confidence that nobody was killed, displaced, or even remotely harmed in the process of making you this magical instrument, then do some simple research and work one or two days more per year so that you can afford it, and therefore be able to sleep at night and live with yourself without the guilt that now you will never unknow.
It’s encouraging to see some of the worlds leaders in technology take this seriously. Finally!
CEO’s like Apple’s Tim Cook are at the forefront on combating child labor, cobalt, equal rights, and getting rid of the dirty “middleman.” But then again, yesterday, Apple launched their newest version of the iPhone, something nobody actually needs.
We can’t sit around waiting for these companies to change. They only want our money and don’t really care about the refugees that they create whom Suzanne and I just had the pleasure of meeting. Most of you reading this live in a materialistic constantly consuming capitalist garbage producing refugee creating but refugee excluding privileged world.
We don’t have to buy in to this type of life.
Let’s consume less.
Like that tiny man from India said, we must “be the change we wish to see in the world.”
Daily, we can do it.