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The minerals in our electronic devices have bankrolled unspeakable violence in the Congo.


When we get to Bavi, we sit down with the village elders and talk gold. The world gold price has quadrupled over the past ten years, but there’s no sign of development or newfound prosperity out here. Bavi has the same broken-down feel of any other village in eastern Congo: a clump of round huts hunched by the road, a market where the shops are made of sticks, shopkeepers torpidly selling heaps of secondhand clothes, and glassy-eyed men reeking of home brew stumbling down the dirt footpaths. There’s no electricity or running water, and the elders say they need medicine and books for the school. The kids are barefoot, their bellies pushed out like balloons from malnutrition or worms or both.

“We’re broke,” says Juma Mafu, one of the elders. “We’ve got a lot of gold but no machines to get it out. Our diggers use their hands. No big companies are ever going to come here unless we have peace.” Which they clearly don’t.

In conversation about Heart of Darknesss* with some friends recently:  "...only mention it because I was watching this at the time:   I highly recommend it!"  The CNN "Unknown Parts" episode referenced above had Bourdain trace Joseph Conrad's paddle strokes up the Congo.


So it's been this way for at least a century?

Sometime around 2008 a critical mass of human rights groups and American lawmakers started asking a crucial question: What about the minerals? What if Congo’s mineral trade could be cleaned up and the rebel ATM shut down? A “blood diamonds” campaign in the late 1990s had exposed how the West African diamond trade was funding rebellions on that side of Africa. What about a similar conflict-minerals campaign for Congo?

The problem is that there are still too few clean mines:

Only about 10 percent of mines in the east—55 in total—have been deemed conflict free. Although most tin, tantalum, and tungsten mines have been demilitarized, gold mines remain largely in army or rebel hands. Government officials collude secretly with rebel chiefs like Cobra Matata to make money, as we learned when we tried to get to the Bavi gold mine.

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