Egregious Human Consequences of Computer Technology

June 11, 2009

The Congo (those over 60 may remember it as “the Belgian Congo”) is a key geo-strategic area for the functioning of modern, high-tech society. It just so happens that the “precious” metals and minerals needed for the functioning of cell phones, computers, etc., are found in abundance in the Congo, a country of 60 million people bordered by nine other African nations, slightly less than one fourth the size of the US.

The Congo has a history of being savagely pillaged. The Belgian King Leopold II ruled the Congo from 1885 to 1908 as a colony of Belgium. Although he never stepped foot in the country, he treated it as his private fiefdom. His forces extracted ivory and rubber, butchering at least 10 million Congolese and cutting off hundreds of thousands of ears, arms and legs in the process.

Today, instead of ivory and rubber, the resources being extracted from the Congo are coltan, copper, gold, diamonds, tin, niobium, germanium, cobalt, uranium, and wolframite. Forcibly extracted by both national governments and private corporations, these resources in turn enrich electronics companies such as Microsoft, Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, Hitachi, Pioneer, Kenwood, Panasonic and Sony so that we, the consumers, can use computers (such as this one), cell phones and other electronic gadgets.

It is now estimated that 6 to 10 million Congolese have been killed since 1996 when the mad rush for the rare metals necessary for cell phones became so lucratively profitable.

What is my, and your, responsibility? Is it possible to use only tools that do not require the theft of others’ resources, rape of others’ lands, loss of others’ lives? What goes around, comes around. I am pondering my next steps to extricate my own complicity.


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