The Taylor Report, March 28, 2005
Title: “The World’s Most Neglected Emergency: Phil Taylor talks to Keith Harmon Snow”
Earth First! Journal, August 2005
Title: “High-Tech Genocide”
Z Magazine, March 1, 2006
Title: “Behind the Numbers: Untold Suffering in the Congo”
Authors: Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski
Faculty Evaluator: Thom Lough
Student Researchers: Deyango Harris and Daniel Turner
The world’s most neglected emergency, according to the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, is the ongoing tragedy of the Congo, where six to seven million have died since 1996 as a consequence of invasions and wars sponsored by western powers trying to gain control of the region’s mineral wealth. At stake is control of natural resources that are sought by U.S. corporations—diamonds, tin, copper, gold, and more significantly, coltan and niobium, two minerals necessary for production of cell phones and other high-tech electronics; and cobalt, an element essential to nuclear, chemical, aerospace, and defense industries.
Columbo-tantalite, i.e. coltan, is found in three-billion-year-old soils like those in the Rift Valley region of Africa. The tantalum extracted from the coltan ore is used to make tantalum capacitors, tiny components that are essential in managing the flow of current in electronic devices. Eighty percent of the world’s coltan reserves are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Niobium is another high-tech mineral with a similar story.
Sprocket reports that the high-tech boom of the 1990s caused the price of coltan to skyrocket to nearly $300 per pound. In 1996 U.S.-sponsored Rwandan and Ugandan forces entered eastern DRC. By 1998 they seized control and moved into strategic mining areas. The Rwandan Army was soon making $20 million or more a month from coltan mining. Though the price of coltan has fallen, Rwanda maintains its monopoly on coltan and the coltan trade in DRC. Reports of rampant human rights abuses pour out of this mining region.
Coltan makes its way out of the mines to trading posts where foreign traders buy the mineral and ship it abroad, mostly through Rwanda. Firms with the capability turn coltan into the coveted tantalum powder, and then sell the magic powder to Nokia, Motorola, Compaq, Sony, and other manufacturers for use in cell phones and other products.
Keith Harmon Snow emphasizes that any analysis of the geopolitics in the Congo, and the reasons for why the Congolese people have suffered a virtually unending war since 1996, requires an understanding of the organized crime perpetrated through multinational businesses. The tragedy of the Congo conflict has been instituted by invested corporations, their proxy armies, and the supra-governmental bodies that support them.
The process is tied to major multinational corporations at all levels. These include U.S.-based Cabot Corp. and OM Group; HC Starck of Germany; and Nigncxia of China—corporations that have been linked by a United Nations Panel of Experts to the atrocities in DRC. Extortion, rape, massacres, and bribery are all part of the criminal networks set up and maintained by huge multinational companies. Yet as mining in the Congo by western companies proceeds at an unprecedented rate—some $6 million in raw cobalt alone exiting DRC daily—multinational mining companies rarely get mentioned in human rights reports.
Sprocket notes that Sam Bodman, CEO of Cabot during the coltan boom, was appointed in December 2004 to serve as President Bush’s Secretary of Energy. Under Bodman’s leadership from 1987 to 2000, Cabot was one of the U.S.’s largest polluters, accounting for 60,000 tons of airborne toxic emissions annually. Snow adds that Sony’s current Executive Vice President and General Counsel Nicole Seligman was a former legal adviser for Bill Clinton. Many who held positions of power in the Clinton administration moved into high positions with Sony.
The article “Behind the Numbers,” coauthored by Snow and David Barouski, details a web of U.S. corruption and conflicts of interest between mining corporations such as Barrick Gold (see Story #21) and the U.S. government under George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, as well as U.S. arms dealers such as Simax; U.S. defense companies such as Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, Northrop Grumman, GE, Boeing, Raytheon, and Bechtel; “humanitarian” organizations such as CARE, funded by Lockheed Martin, and International Rescue Committee, whose Board of Overseers includes Henry Kissinger; “Conservation” interests that provide the vanguard for western penetration into Central Africa; and of course, PR firms and news outlets such as the New York Times.
Sprocket closes his article by noting that it’s not surprising this information isn’t included in the literature and manuals that come with your cell phones, pagers, computers, or diamond jewelry. Perhaps, he suggests, mobile phones should be outfitted with stickers that read: “Warning! This device was created with raw materials from central Africa. These materials are rare, nonrenewable, were sold to fund a bloody war of occupation, and have caused the virtual elimination of endangered species. Have a nice day.” People need to realize, he says, that there is a direct link between the gadgets that make our lives more convenient and sophisticated—and the reality of the violence, turmoil, and destruction that plague our world.
UPDATE BY SPROCKET
There are large fortunes to be made in the manufacturing of high-tech electronics and in selling convenience and entertainment to American consumers, but at what cost?
Conflicts in Africa are often shrouded with misinformation, while U.S. and other western interests are routinely downplayed or omitted by the corporate media. The June 5, 2006, cover story of Time, entitled “Congo: The Hidden Toll of the World’s Deadliest War,” was no exception. Although the article briefly mentioned coltan and its use in cell phones and other electronic devices, no mention was made of the pivotal role this and other raw materials found in the region play in the conflict. The story painted the ongoing war as a pitiable and horrible tragedy, avoiding the corporations and foreign governments that have created the framework for the violence and those which have strong financial and political interests in the conflict’s outcome.
In an article written by Johann Hari and published by The Hamilton Spectator on May 13, 2006, the corporate media took a step toward addressing the true reason for the tremendous body count that continues to pile up in the Democratic Republic of Congo: “The only change over the decades has been the resources snatched for Western consumption — rubber under the Belgians, diamonds under Mobutu, coltan and casterite today.”
Most disturbing is that in the corporate media, the effect of this conflict on nonhuman life is totally overlooked. Even with a high-profile endangered species like the Eastern lowland gorilla hanging in the balance, almost driven to extinction through poaching and habitat loss by displaced villagers and warring factions, the environmental angle of the story is rarely considered.
The next step in understanding the exploitation and violence wrought upon the inhabitants of central Africa, fueled by the hunger for high-tech toys in the U.S., is to expose corporations like Sony and Motorola. These corporations don’t want protest movements tarnishing their reputations. Nor do they want to call attention to all of the gorillas coltan kills, and the guerrillas it feeds.
It is time for our culture to start seeing more value in living beings, whether gorillas or humans, than in our disposable high-tech gadgets such as cell phones. It is time to steal back a more compassionate existence from the corporate plutocracy that creates destructive markets and from the media system that has manufactured our consent.
It is not just a question of giving up cell phones (though that would be a great start). We must question the appropriation of our planet in the form of a resource to be consumed, rather than as a home and community to be lived in.
“High-Tech Genocide” and other articles about cell phone technology are available by contacting the author:email@example.com.
UPDATE BY KEITH HARMON SNOW
War for the control of the Democratic Republic of Congo—what should be the richest country in the world—began in Uganda in the 1980s, when now Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni shot his way to power with the backing of Buckingham Palace, the White House, and Tel Aviv behind him.
Paul Kagame, now president of Rwanda, served as Museveni’s Director of Military Intelligence. Kagame later trained at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, before the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)—backed by Roger Winter, the U.S. Committee on Refugees, and the others above—invaded Rwanda. The RPF destabilized and then secured Rwanda. This coup d’etat is today misunderstood as the “Rwanda Genocide.” What played out in Rwanda in 1994 is now playing out in Darfur, Sudan; regime change is the goal, “genocide” is the tool of propaganda used to manipulate and disinform.
In 1996, Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni, with the Pentagon behind them, launched their covert war against Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko and his western backers. A decade later, there are 6 or 7 million dead, at the very least, and the war in Congo (Zaire) continues.
If you are reading the mainstream newspapers or listening to National Public Radio, you are contributing to your own mental illness, no matter how astute you believe yourself to be at “balancing” or “deciphering” the code.
News reports in Time Magazine (“The Deadliest War In The World,” June 6, 2006) and on CNN (“Rape, Brutality Ignored to Aid Congo Peace,” May 26, 2006) that appeared at the time of this writing are being interpreted by conscious people to be truth-telling at last. However, these are perfect examples filled with hidden deceptions and manipulations.
For accuracy and truth on Central Africa, look to people like Robin Philpot (Imperialism Dies Hard), Wayne Madsen (Genocide and Covert Operations in Africa, 1993–1999), Amos Wilson (The Falsification of Consciousness), Charles Onana (The Secrets of the Rwanda Genocide—Investigation on the Mysteries of a President), Antoine Lokongo (http://www.congopanorama.info), Phil Taylor (http://www.taylor-report.com), Christopher Black (“Racism, Murder and Lies in Rwanda”). World War 4 Report has published my reports, but they are inconsistent in their attention to accuracy, and would as quickly adopt the propaganda, and have done so at times.
It is possible to collect little fragments of truth here and there—never counting on the mainstream system for this—but one must beware the deceptions and bias. In this vein, the elite business journal Africa Confidential is often very revealing. Some facts can be gleaned from http://www.DigitalCongo.net and Africa Research Bulletin.
Professor David Gibb’s book The Political Economy of Third World Intervention: Case of the Congo Crises is an excellent backgrounder that identifies players still active today (especially Maurice Tempelsman and his diamonds interests connected to the Democratic Party). Ditto King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hocshchild, but—exemplifying the expedience of “interests”—remember that Hocshchild never tells you, the reader, that his father ran a mining company in Congo. Almost ALL reportage is expedient; one needs take care their propensity to be deceived.
Professor Ruth Mayer’s book Artificial Africas: Colonial Images in the Times of Globalization is a particularly poignant articulation of the means by which the “media” system distorts and manipulates all things African. And, never forget http://www.AllThingsPass.com.
Also hoping to correct the record and reveal the truth, the International Forum for Truth and Justice in the Great Lakes of Africa (http://www.veritasrwandaforum.org), based in Spain, and co-founded by Nobel Prize nominee Juan Carrero Seraleegui, is involved in a groundbreaking lawsuit charging massive crimes against humanity and acts of genocide were committed by the now government of Rwanda.