My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There has increasingly been more attention paid to conflict minerals – the minerals that are extracted from mainly developing countries – that are used to power the technology we all cannot live without. These minerals cause problems for a great many of us. We cannot go a day or even a few hours without our cell phones, tablets, and laptops even though we realize that the minerals inside of them most likely caused suffering for some African miner working to earn very little wages. With every social media update and email we send it seems we don’t care, but conflict minerals put us into an unimaginable bind. Whereas the great many of us can go without buying conflict diamonds none of us can seriously go without our technology. Therein lies the rub.
Celebrities, activists, and humanitarians shout from the rooftops about conflict minerals and how multinationals are grabbing mines at breakneck speeds to claim the riches beneath the earth. But no one is taking the next step and doing away with their technology to take a stand against the minerals that today cause undue hardship for so many. We remain largely nonplussed. It’s not that most of us don’t care, it’s that we don’t understand the history of it all and the devastation surrounding conflict minerals. It’s a “them” problem, not ours.
That is why Consuming the Congo: War and Conflict Minerals in the World’s Deadliest Place is so important to this global dialogue. Instead of the problem being simplified into soundbites, the history and repercussions of conflict minerals in the DRC is laid out in great detail by veteran journalist and Africa editor of the Institute of War and Peace Reporting at the Hague, Peter Eichstaedt. In reading Consuming the Congo you get an overwhelming sense that it’s not Eichstaedt’s first time at the rodeo. He already has great knowledge of the history of the region, but also has excellent resources who are not afraid to talk to him and provide inside information about the goings-on of the area and provide insight about who is fighting whom. It is a difficult task to undergo, to be sure: putting the pieces together for an audience that largely couldn’t point the Congo out on a map.
Eichstaedt makes the narrative easy to follow and the history relatively easy to comprehend although the actors are so rife it’s hard to keep up with who is who. Perhaps some of the bit players could have been left out of the narrative, but I have a feeling the story would be left rather incomplete and the book would grow holes that would grow larger as history goes on. Every bit person counts. Every militia and rebel group counts. Every multinational country counts and every country that is vying for supremacy over the region counts, even though for the reader it can become tedious.
Eichstaedt does, however, a masterful job explaining why conflict minerals exist and why they are so extremely valuable. We know it is because they are essential to every electronic device on the planet, but he does a great job of explaining the why. He also does a masterful job at describing how the rush for conflict minerals is negatively affecting the people and the terrain of the Democratic Republic of Congo while nothing seems to be getting better.
Consuming the Congo is essential reading for those who want to get to the bottom of the conflict minerals debate and see why it really is important as consumers to fight for nonconflict minerals. However, the book is also quite disturbing because it seems no one is doing anything about the suffering. It just goes on while we fire up our devices and seemingly don’t care.
** Update: As noted today in Fast Company’s Fast Coexist starting now all Intel microprocessors will be conflict-free.