Did you get that new iPhone? How’s your Sony stock doing? Did you realize you might have just killed a few kids in The Congo?
The rapid deterioration in the peace of the eastern Congo is because western powers – especially the United States – are withdrawing their involvement and letting giant digital multinationals once again fund The Congo War.
It’s a hard sell to convince citizens in the west that they have responsibilities in some place most have never heard of halfway round the world. It seems even harder when there’s so much political turmoil in their own society, but that’s my point: Fix the U.S. and we’ll likely help The Congo on its long path to peace.
The Congo is falling apart, again, because the U.S. and many of its allies are in such political turmoil themselves, that their own laws and regulations that have so helped Congo peace are being ignored.
Whether this is intentional or incidental to Trumpism doesn’t matter. Lots of people are dying, again.
The breathtakingly beautiful highland jungles of the eastern Congo ended three decades of internal slaughter just about a decade ago. The wars began in the 1970s mainly with the discovery of unusual rare elements that all of sudden became absolutely critical to The West. These rare earths are necessary in the manufacturing of cell phones.
And then also for Xboxes and Apple TVs and all sorts of intricate digital machinery which was evolving as powerfully and quickly as the warlords in the jungle where they were found.
Australia had some of the minerals and so did the U.S., but the bulk of them were found in this remote part of Africa that had suffered nearly a century of brutal Belgian colonization. The toll that WWII had on Belgium left that European power unable to tend to its giant colony, The Congo. So in historically swift terms The Congo was abandoned.
The Congo found itself in the early 1960s an independent country about half the size of the United States with no political legacy, few people relative to its enormous size and no harmony whatever between the groups of peoples who were distantly separated and had no idea about one another.
The people living in its east were a mix of quarreling ethnic populations whose feuds went back nearly a thousand years, not unlike the Jewish/Palestine conflict.
No one outside took any real interest. Ethnic hatred grew. The Rwanda genocide of 1994 is an example. But the area was so poor that in between these horrible ethnic killing events, little else happened. The West and indeed Congo intellectuals spent all their goodwill on simply trying to minimize these infrequent but gruesome ethnic outbreaks.
Then those rare earths were discovered, and this poor part of the world suddenly had the potential to become very rich.
There are no political diplomats on the boards of Sony or Motorola or Apple. These giants’ appetite for rare earths is unprecedented. Yes, they could get some from Australia and the U.S., but not enough, and besides there was open competition for the price in The Congo.
So using disreputable middle men in neighboring Rwanda, these corporations started buying huge amounts of these rare earths from the eastern Congo. There was no trail to any specific mine. The money went to companies in Kigali, Rwanda. The rare earths went to Apple.
And lots of western cash was suddenly available to fire up these peasant ethnic conflicts with grenade launchers, AK47s and all sorts of awful stuff. The horror of child soldiers, mass rapes, decapitations and such exceeded anything we’d ever know from ISIS or al-Qaeda.
Finally, painstakingly Europe and the U.S. got it together and in the case of the U.S., the Dodd-Frank legislation included prohibitions on these huge multinational digital companies from buying these rare earths from the war lords who had been their suppliers.
It worked almost like magic. Of course it didn’t end the ethnic conflict: that’s a thousand years old. But it did end the scale of the tragedy.
With no funds for rare earths, the war lords slaughtered every elephant left in the area to sell the ivory. Then that was gone pretty quickly. Then, thank god, the warlords seemed gone.
Guess who’s buying rare earths again from the eastern Congo? Guess what countries are no longer enforcing their legislation like Dodd-Frank? Guess how many kids are being mutilated and slaughtered, again? No you wouldn’t have any idea. You’d never guess high enough.
These laws haven’t … yet … been rescinded like DACA. But there aren’t any diplomats abroad to enforce them, anymore, and regulators at home are now looking the other way.
So there’s trouble once again in The Congo.
Did you get your new iPhone 9? How’s that Sony stock doing?