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Africa’s technology war

Column

The Parthenon

Published: Monday, January 28, 2013

Updated: Monday, January 28, 2013 11:01

Most people use either a computer or smart phone every single day. A lot of people, including myself, go a step further and are addicted to, or dependent on technology.

As much as the current population of westernized countries knows about technology, there is still a great deal of information that is commonly overlooked.

There is a difference between knowing what a device is capable of doing, and knowing the process of creating that device.

Step one of creating anything is simply the acquisition of materials needed for the finished product. This applies to anything, a bottle of water, a mouse pad, your favorite pair of shoes, even the engine in your car.

One of the things that makes our high-tech devices so powerful and amazing is the precious minerals that are required to make circuit boards and processers. Gold is used in high-end processors and wiring because of its highly conductive nature.

Electricity can travel though gold at a faster speed than copper, but of course that improvement comes at a price.

Another rare mineral that is mined for these electronics is called Tantalum.

Tantalum is used to store electricity, which powers everything in the device. It is commonly extracted from an ore called Coltan.

At least 60 percent of the world’s supply of Coltan comes from a large country in Africa called the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The process of mining Coltan in DRC is done by sifting through the mud in steams and sinkholes with shovels. The goal is to find small black rocks that resemble graphite or coal.

Without this process, we would not have much of the technology that we use today.

As of 2010, DRC was statistically the poorest country in the world.  To put this in perspective, the second poorest country in the world is Liberia, which has an unemployment rate of 80%. DRC is a large country in terms of geography and population.

Because of this, the fragile government has a hard time patrolling and policing all of its borders.

DRC is bordered by countries like Uganda and Rwanda to the east.

The majority of Coltan mines and deposits sit in the eastern mountainous areas of DRC. Since DRC has a near geographical monopoly on Coltan, many conflicts have sprang up as a result of Ugandan and Rwandan mercenary groups trying to get their piece of the pie.

This “mineral war,” which, in total, involves seven foreign armies, has become the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II, and still rages on to this day.

What happens, in many cases, is a foreign band of men with guns will come in to DRC, enslave the native Congolese, and start an empire on the foundation of smuggling these precious minerals out of the country and shipping them to countries in Asia to be smelted.

So, what started as a valuable natural resource for this struggling country has quickly became a burden and a source of conflict.

Sadly, the money we spend on our electronics makes it profitable enough for these criminal gangs to enslave and steal from an already poverty stricken country.

As with most big problems in the world, there is no simple answer. We can however demand that conflict-free minerals be acquired by our electronic companies.

This simple action, at no cost to us, can go a long way towards cleaning up the DRC and improving its almost non-existent economy.

Tristan Smith can be contacted at smith1631@marshall.edu.

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