Rosalie Tostevin is a PhD student and GfGD Ambassador at University College London (UCL). Her current research is looking at the link between ocean chemistry and the emergence of the first animal life. She has a strong interest in improving science communication and the ethical behaviour of the geoscience industry. Rosalie writes today about the terrible situation in central Africa regarding conflict minerals and the negative impact on communities - her post finishes with a strong call to action.
I recently went to a screening of Frank Poulson’s film, “Blood in the Mobile”, which investigates the use of conflict minerals in electronic products. Here I review the main message of the film and discuss the role for geoscientists may play in resolving the conflict.
|RC (Source: CIA)|
Profit from the mining industry is fuelling the various militia groups in the area, a hangover from the end of the civil war in 2003. War is good for business - not only in the DRC, but in the West too. The US, China and Western Europe are making large amounts of profit from equipping them with arms.
Militia groups are outside of UN control, despite peacekeeping troops in the region constituting the UN’s second largest source of expenditure in 2011. Many of us were recently reminded of the situation in central Africa by the Kony 2012 campaign. The Lords Resistance Army (LRA) is now predominantly operating in eastern Congo alongside many other groups. There are countless stories of on-going war crimes and human rights abuses. Rape is being used as a weapon to tear apart communities and clear them off the land in order to ensure access to natural resources.
|Joseph Kabila (Source: US Defense)|
|Blood in the Mobile|
The geoscience community needs to develop a method of tracing mineral ores using geochemical fingerprints and radiometric dating techniques. Current efforts are focused on laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, which generates a chemical profile that can then be compared to a master sample from a known location. Once the ore is processed it can no longer be fingerprinted, so it is necessary to test ores at an early stage, perhaps even in the field. However, no laboratory in the DRC is currently equipped to run these experiments. Companies such as Nokia claim they cannot trace or confirm the source of the minerals used in our phones. The film’s conclusion: we all have blood in our mobiles.