Friday, March 30, 2007

Congo's Tin Soldiers: How you and I may be supporting modern-day slavery in central Africa

This is a ‘heads up’ post about a special CNN report on modern-day slavery and the misery that it causes for men and boys in the eastern DRC. Congo’s Tin Soldiers will be airing tonight, March 30th, on the new CNN weekly documentary series the World’s Untold Stories. In a preview about tonight’s show CNN writes,

It doesn't glitter like a diamond or burn like oil but cassiterite is another natural resource that is causing more pain than profit for the majority of Africans that try to extract it from their soil. Demand for cassiterite - a tin ore used in computer circuitry -- is on the rise. So too is illegal mining of the ore in the Democratic Republic of Congo where militias are forcing laborers to work in atrocious conditions with little or no pay. Reporter Jonathan Miller treks deep into the jungle to see how it works.

The CNN report is based upon an award-winning TV investigative news report by the same name, Congo’s Tin Soldiers, produced by Channel 4 News (U.K.) and Global Witness and reported by Channel 4 News foreign correspondents Jonathan Miller and Elizabeth Jones on June 30, 2005. Below I have included links to detailed reports and articles at the Global Witness website about illegal mining and child & slave labor in Congo’s mining industry so that you may learn more about how natural resources and armed conflicts in Africa have brought nothing but death and misery to people there.

Cassiterite (a tin oxide mineral) is the primary source of Tin, a metal which among other things is used to produce electrical and electronic products. As of lately tin has been in huge demand for the production of integrated circuit boards as a replacement for lead oxides, a substance that has been banned by national and international environmental laws in the manufacture of electronic products and parts. Tin is at present the highest traded metal on the London Metal Exchange and prices have more than tripled since the year 2000.

Some of my readers may remember my post about illegal resource exploitation in the Democratic Republic of Congo titled Diamonds are NOT a Girl’s Best Friend (Sep 2005), and the work that several journalists and online authors and bloggers have done to draw attention to this serious crisis in central Africa and other regions of the world i.e. Asia and South America. More than18 months have passed since I wrote and published that brief “heads up” post, and even more time has passed since the publication of several detailed reports and news articles from a variety of international organizations and news networks that have been attempting to bring this horrendous problem to the attention of the world audience for years. Over the past few months I have noticed the buzz around the December 2006 release of the Hollywood blockbuster film Blood Diamond, about the disaster that befell the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia during West Africa’s bloody civil wars period of the 1980’s, 1990’s, and right up to the present day (Cote d’Ivoire).

The documentary filmmaker icon Sorious Samura, a native of Sierra Leone who had witnessed the violence and killing in his home country firsthand, released his shocking documentary film Cry Freetown and a second documentary Return to Freetown years before producer/director Ed Zwick addressed the subject in Blood Diamond. CNN International aired a series of specials last month about conflict diamonds and the misery and suffering they have caused in West Africa. One program hosted by CNN Insight’s Jonathan Mann included interviews with Sorious Samura together with the lead actors Leonardo DiCapprio and Djimon Honsou. Insight News TV’s Sorious Samura and CNN aired on March 3rd, 2007 Samura’s latest work “Blood on the Stone”, a film that shows how illegally mined diamonds and the exploitation of children and young people continues in Sierra Leone and other West African countries to this very day.

I’ve also noticed that the film Blood Diamond has captured the attention of the “Bling-bling” crowd and other groups of young people worldwide. Hopefully the film and Sorious Samura’s documentaries and the follow-up efforts in the blogosphere and in the media (i.e. VH1’s bling’d: blood, diamonds, and hip-hop) will help to raise awareness, anger and downright revulsion toward supporting the trade in conflict diamonds and illegally obtained resources and slave labor in Africa and elsewhere around the globe.

The CNN/Channel 4 News special “Tin Soldiers” should do the same for the “Click-click” global crowd, those millions upon millions of people worldwide who purchase and use computers and cell phones (mobile phones) and a host of other electronic gadgets that may contain components made from the near slave labor used to mine cassiterite or coltan or gold or other minerals and metals in Central and West Africa. Just as governments, organizations, and activists worldwide are demanding that the mining and jewelry industries come clean in their sourcing of diamonds and gold, the same should apply to the electronics and engineering industries and their related businesses in the sourcing of metals and minerals used to manufacture their products. Let’s spread the pain here, let everybody feel what it is like to be a “Tin Soldier” in Katanga or in North and South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo.

The fine independent journalist and author Mvemba Phezo Dizolele of the Eye on Africa blog has written articles and produced video reports (“Congo’s Bloody Coltan”) about the miserable conditions that men and boys work under in mining cassiterite and other minerals in his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mvemba is a research fellow at the renowned Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting and he has written articles and appeared in interviews on several press and media networks including the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, National Public Radio (NPR), Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria, BBC World, Voice of America, and other noted media outfits. In other words, Mvemba is one of the hardest working guys in online news and he knows what he is talking about when it comes to the Congo and its neighboring countries in Central Africa.

So, since I am working on the subject of SLAVERY this month and next, let’s not forget about the people around the world who are still entrapped and suffering from 21st Century Slavery, like Congo’s Tin Soldiers. Enjoy the program and don’t miss it!

Update March 31st:

I watched the CNN program last night at 2000 CET and realized after the first 5 minutes that it was a verbatim re-broadcast of the original 2005 Channel 4 News report "Congo's Tin Soldiers". The CNN host for the World's Untold Stories program, Colleen McEdwards, should have pointed out this important information to CNN's international viewers but she didn't.

Nonetheless, it was both interesting and disturbing for me to watch this excellent documentary report again, so if you missed it last night, check the CNN program schedule (see link below) for repeat broadcast times this weekend in your region of the world.

On a somewhat unrelated note, Robert Mugabe, arguably one of the most disgusting and corrupt heads of state on the African continent, has left many in the international community in shock after he emerged victorious from an emergency session of the Southern African Development Committee conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania this week.

In the wake of the Blood Diamonds and Conflict Diamonds buzz over the past few months Mugabe & Co. (formerly the Republic of Zimbabwe) has come up with a new and lucrative twist on human and natural resource exploitation in Africa: Starvation Diamonds!
Here is the latest about Zimbabwe's Starvation Diamonds from an AP report of March 09, 2007:

Police move to curb diamond rush in eastern Zimbabwe by Angus Shaw, AP

HARARE, Zimbabwe: Police said they had tightened a cordon sealing off diamond diggings in eastern Zimbabwe to "restore sanity" and stop profiteers, including politicians and powerful officials, buying the stones cheaply from peasants and smuggling them out of the country, state radio reported Friday.

Checkpoints sealed off the diggings at Marange, 220 kilometers (140 miles) southeast of Harare, and all visitors needed official police clearance documents to enter the area, it said. The measure was to "restore sanity" to the remote district where seams of industrial diamonds and gemstones were found close to the surface last year, provincial police chief Obert Benge told the radio.

Only genuine relatives of villagers living in the area qualify for clearance documents, he said.

"Senior officials who might intend to bulldoze their way into the fields will prosecuted," he said.

Last week, a top official in President Robert Mugabe's office, William Nhara, the principal director in Mugabe's Ministry without Portfolio, was arrested with a woman, identified as Lebanese national Carole El Martni, allegedly in possession of a bag of diamonds estimated at about 10,700 carats at the main Harare airport. Nhara was also accused of offering a US$700 (€ 530) bribe to airport security men who found the diamonds in baggage....

...The Marange diamond find led to a frantic Klondike-like rush to the district last year. In the past six months police arrested more than 30,000 illegal prospectors in a countrywide operation against unlicensed gold and diamond mining and smuggling. Most were fined and released.

Earlier this month, Gideon Gono, governor of the state central bank, estimated the nation lost up to US$50 million (€37 million) a week in mining revenues through illegal smuggling of precious metals and stones.

Nhara was the first government leader arrested, but witnesses repeatedly reported others and foreign nationals, traveling to the area in luxury cars and off-road vehicles, buying diamonds well below their real value from impoverished and illiterate villagers. The diamonds were smuggled to neighboring South Africa for massive profits....

Now you have to ask yourself, is this an example of good governance and looking out for the interests of the people of Zimbabwe or what? No wonder leaders like Robert Mugabe and Thabo Mbeki (South Africa) are such good friends and all smiles.

Also checkout the excellent March 27th Hot Seat Debate on Zimbabwe hosted by SW Radio Africa correspondent Violet Gonda. The debate and interview program includes prominent figures such as the renowned economist and African scholar Dr. George Ayittey , Dr. Sehlare Makgelaneng (head of the Southern Africa and SADC program at South Africa's Africa Institute - Pretoria), and Ralph Black, the U.S. deputy representative for Zimbabwe's MDC opposition party. You can read the transcript from the debate courtesy of the Association of Zimbabwean Journalists in the U.K. website Why is Africa turning its back on Zimbabwe?.

CNN, Channel 4 News (U.K.) and Global Witness resources:

CNN World’s Untold Stories official blog
CNN World’s Untold Stories schedule for March 30 thru April 1st

Anderson Cooper 360° blog
(the official blog of the popular CNN investigative news program)

Gang raped and mutilated but still praising God, 05/26/06

Congo’s Tin Soldiers: a report by Jonathan Miller and Elizabeth Jones
Channel 4 (U.K.), 06/30/05 News article and video report

Global Witness Media Library

Global Witness welcomes television award for Congo news report, 02/23/06

DRC elections delayed as demand for tin continues to fuel conflict in the east of the country, 06/30/05

Under-mining peace: Tin – the explosive trade in cassiterite in the eastern DRC
A Global Witness special report, 06/30/05

Complaint against Afrimex Ltd. (U.K.) plus other Global Witness reports on the illegal exploitation of resources (cassiterite) in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Widespread fraud and abuse in Katanga’s copper and cobalt mines, 07/05/06

Millions of dollars vanish in Congo’s cobalt rush, 09/29/04

Rush and Ruin: the devastating mineral trade in Southern Katanga, DRC
Global Witness report, September 2004

Other related articles and resources:

National Geographic magazine
21st Century Slaves – a special edition issue September 2003 (Fortune magazine)
Congo’s Tin Men, 04/27/06

Business and Human Rights (in partnership with Amnesty International)
Congo’s Tin Soldiers, 06/30/05

Global Policy Forum
War, Murder, and Rape… all for your cell phones, 09/15/06

Radio Open Source
Coltan in the Congo podcast, 10/24/06

NPR Expeditions (National Public Radio)
Coltan Mining and Eastern Congo’s Gorillas. 12/20/01

Insight News TV (U.K.)
Films by Sorious Samura and other INTV filmmakers


Blood Diamond (the film)

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1 comment:

Steve said...

Given that all roads lead to China, both in the manufacture of electronics and the consumption of Africa's raw materials, I do not know what the West can do about the situation. The WSJ ran an article recently about how the Chinese were taking a page from the colonial playbook - forging deals with corrupt leaders for resource rights and exploiting African labor