Are Your Tech Gadgets Fuelling Mass Rape in the Congo?

How You Could be Linked to Violence Against Women and Girls in Africa

Written by Roxanne De Souza, Staff Writer

By hdptcar (Flickr)


With approximately 48 cases of sexual violence each hour, it’s easy to understand why the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is considered the “rape capital of the world.” The ongoing conflict in Eastern DRC has been recognized as the deadliest war since WWII, and has led to widespread casualties, mass displacement, and endemic sexual violence against women. Why has such a devastating conflict persisted so relentlessly for over a decade with no signs of abating? And perhaps more importantly, have we implicitly played a role in these atrocities committed half a world away?

Coltan: The New “Blood Diamond”

As one of the most resource-rich countries in the world, the DRC is a crucial source of precious minerals including copper, gold, and diamonds. The theory of the “resource curse” was coined by Richard Auty in 1993, and suggests that mineral wealth can lead to poverty and conflict. This idea of the “Blood Diamond” has gained attention in popular culture, and was sensationalized through a 2006 Leonardo DiCaprio film of the same name. By linking demand for diamonds to civil war in countries like Sierra Leone in the public psyche, consumers became more cognisant of purchasing “conflict-free” diamonds in recent years.

[pullquote]Raising awareness among the general public concerning the current situation in the Congo therefore remains critical in creating consumer accountability. [/pullquote]The ongoing war in the DRC has similarly been attributed to the abundance of another precious mineral: coltan. Despite the fact that many North Americans are unfamiliar with coltan, chances are that they routinely use devices containing the valuable mineral. Used as a fundamental component in creating microchips used in cell phone, laptops, and tablets, coltan has become an integral aspect of our increasingly interconnected world. The conflict in the DRC has largely been fuelled by intrastate conflict among groups competing for access to lucrative mines, with the Congo holding 80% of global coltan deposits.

Silent Victims

The conflict in the Eastern DRC has gained significant attention from the media and international community. The pervasive sexual violence against women and girls in particular has resulted in a public outcry against mass rape. For many women in conflict-afflicted regions, sexual violence is a glaring reality, with approximately 12% of the country’s women experiencing rape at least once in their lives. Unfortunately, these victims of sexual violence are often ostracized among their own communities suggesting that the actual incidence of rape is much higher.

Violence against women in the Congo has become a growing phenomenon in the media. One of the most succinct depictions of this devastation is “The Greatest Silence,” a documentary which illustrates the physical, social, and psychological impacts of the pervasive sexual violence. Unfortunately, due to pervasive patriarchy, victims of rape are rarely given a voice among their peers. Instead, they are often expected to accept the potential for violence, and simply “avoid” rape or risk rejection from their families and communities. However, the mass rape in the DRC shows no signs of abating, especially considering the value of coltan among the armed groups perpetrating violence against women.

 Moving Forward

Given the alarming linkages between the DRC’s mineral wealth, widespread rape, and Western technology, several movements have emerged to reduce consumer demand for coltan. Realistically, few consumers will boycott cell phone usage entirely in protest of rape in the Congo. They are far more likely to purchase “conflict-free” devices if and when they are made available.

Raising awareness among the general public concerning the current situation in the Congo therefore remains critical in creating consumer accountability. The political situation in the DRC undoubtedly remains more complex than reducing the demand for coltan. However, refusing to implicitly condone rape in the Congo by making informed consumer decisions is the first step toward raising awareness about this devastating conflict in the heart of Africa.

ARB Team
Arbitrage Magazine
Business News with BITE.

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