The Second Congo War, also called Africa's World War, killed 5 million people between 1998 and 2003. It was the largest war in Africa's history; it involved eight African nations and more than twenty armed militias. Although there was an agreement between the warring parties in 2003, the conflict continues in the eastrn region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It continues because of the metal mines that the armed groups fight to control.
There is an action item at the end of this diary that will certainly help save lives and impact suffering: The Senate Financial Overhaul Bill contains a provision that requires companies that use targeted metals to annually report where they buy them. The House Financial Services Committee is reviewing the Senate bill during the next two weeks.
We need to preserve that provision as a necessary first step in conflict relief. These metals are used in clean energy and green technology, as well as medicine and industry in the US across the board. Accountability is key to resolving this war.
The interview below is with Judy Anderson, Executive Director of HEAL Africa USA. HEAL Africa is an organization that helps victims of sexual violence in eastern DRC. Brutal militias use systematic rape and torture as weapons of war, and those who survive these attacks are usually left totally incontinent because they suffer from traumatic gynecologic fistula -- destruction of the tissue between the vagina, bladder, and bowels. These injuries are often the point of the attack. Militias commonly use weapons to rape, mutilate, and leave women for dead.
HEAL Africa has a state of the art hospital that specializes in treating these injuries, as well as other common wounds of this war. It also maintains a number of effective, grassroots programs that support the people who suffer from sexual violence that characterizes this war.
The UN reports tens of thousands of these rapes take place per year, and that is since the war officially ended in 2003.
Judy is talking about coltan, the ore that contains tantalum. "Congo is in your cellphone," is a meme. It's true, too. But tantalum is everywhere -- it isn't just in your computer and cellphone. From an engineering perspective, tantalum is a sweetheart metal. It has ideal mechanical, thermal, and chemical properties for applications throughout industry. It can be heated to very high temperatures, it is stable in corrosive environments, and it machines well. And it maintains these properties after heating; tungsten, for example, becomes extremely brittle and fragile once it's heated. This is not so with tantalum, which is easily re-machined after heating to high temperatures. Alloys of tantalum behave nicely, as well.
Camera lenses are made with tantalum oxide. Tantalum metal is ideal for making surgical implants and instruments -- it even bonds with hard tissue better than other metals. It is ductile and supple and it is the metal of choice for fine wires and long-lasting filaments. Its alloys are used in jet engines, missiles, and process equipment for engineering across the board. Our technology makes us dependent on coltan, and it comes from the mines that draw the militia groups to fight this war.
Ngalula was one of the first women treated at the HEAL Africa hospital. A militia destroyed her village, killed her family, kidnapped and kept her as a sex slave. She was only sixteen. After a year and a half in their grasp, she escaped and made her way for help. She was filled with fistulae but also pregnant, so she had to wait until after the baby's birth to have surgery.
In the DRC, abortion is illegal in every context. It is strenuously forbidden by law.
The Congolese people are of strong faith, so HEAL Africa works directly with the faith-based leaders. Catholic, Protestant, Kimbanguist, Muslum, and local tribal leaders help them to affect change. The Nehemiah Committees that are central to changing the face Congo are made up of these leaders.
Mama Muliri is at the heart of this work. She pioneered HEAL Africa's Heal My People program and is a founding member of their Women Stand Up Together program. She was one of the first to stand up to the men who hold power in the DRC and demand a better way for the women who suffer.
The first time Mama Muliri stood in front of the leaders, some met her fully painted, brandishing spears and guns. She stood her ground and demanded change for the women who suffer. After four days of meetings, the political and tribal leaders understood the law and what HEAL Africa was trying to do, and they agreed to stand up with Muliri. Today these leaders give support to the rape victims from their villages.
This war will not end unless we address the corrupt mining operations in east Africa. The action we take must be on two fronts -- we need to stop using buying material that supports this conflict, and we need to be sure that civilians can keep life going when the mines get pinched.
Industry groups including the US Chamber of Commerce are strongly opposed to passing laws that regulate conflict minerals. Not to be outdone, there was a provision attached to the Senate Financial Overhaul Bill, passed on May 20:
The House Financial Services Committee will be discussing the House resolution for this bill for two more weeks. So far, the provision stands. and tell them to keep this regulation in their version of the bill. You will find their phone numbers in the tip jar. If you have no choice but to email, you can link to the members' webpages through the HFSC webpage linked above.
The biggest obstacle is that senators and representatives do not know much about it, and they don't understand its urgency or how it matters. Please call your Representative and Senators and tell them why conflict mineral regulation is so important. Get their aids on the phone and talk. Email is good, but a phone call is better.
Another important step is to learn about microcredit programs, and support them if you can; Half the Sky Movement has a primer that includes information about how to know that your aid gets properly used.
HEAL Africa's microgrant program is fairly new, and it's booming -- and it distributes grants worth about $50 per. A person starts a business on one grant, and when it gets repaid, the principle gets passed on to another person who starts a business. These grants are absolutely necessary if we are going to regulate conflict minerals. This is building an economy that is separate from mining -- it keeps life going, and is essential to ending the war.