Africa: The paradox of the “forgotten continent”

I met a man in a tech festival that inspired me to change directions in life. It was Bandi Mbubi, the leader of the Congo Calling organization. As soon as I had an opportunity to write about “Africa: the forgotten continent”, I knew I had to talk to him, I was sure he had a lot to say about this subject. So I decided to interview him to get an insider perspective and spread his message.

Bandi is an activist that was forced to leave his country —the Democratic Republic of Congo— at the age of twenty one; his conviction of changing the system for good represented a threat for some, so he had to seek for refuge abroad. Installed in London, he continues to work to make justice in his homeland by bringing the attention to a subject most people aren’t aware of: the conflict minerals, the way minerals are being obtained to develop technology is causing terror, rape and death in the Congo.

Not only companies who produce the gadgets that we enjoy today have to be more risponsible; we as users, need to be informed about the reality in this country, that belongs to a continent to which we barely pay attention.

When I asked Bandi about his feelings when he heard the concept of Africa being forgotten, he answered the following: “Well, I think that its a paradox, because Africa is forgotten but its also not forgotten.”

It is forgotten, he said, meaning that in general mainstream media doesn’t cover what actually happens in Africa, and when they  do, they only talk about the negative side of Africa, like war, or hunger. Nevertheeless, they don’t show neither the real Africa nor the vibrancy of its people, people who has dreams and goals, and who longs of a better life and social change. So in this way Africa is forgotten, but not from its citizens, just from the rest of the world —except of course— the governments and companies that do business with the african continent.

In Congo’s case, the wealth of the country has been valued in more than 24 trillion dollars by the UN Natural Ressources Programme. Bandi affirmed that “No technology company can say that they don’t know about the Congo; this corporations know about the Congo because their raw materials are coming from the Congo”, so how can they say that they don’t know about Africa?

This led me to think this through. It seems inconceivable that in this time, when information is more accesible to us than ever, most people ignore where things come from, and more importantly, the consequences that the elaboration of things we enjoy everyday bring with them in the lives of other people.

In Congo the whole problematic turns around a mineral called tantalum, better known as coltan, an anticorrosive that is found abundantly in the country and it is extracted to produce smartphones, laptops and videogames consoles, medical equipment and spacial technology.

When Bandi talked at that technology festival, he began by asking the audience to raise their smartphones and hold them up for a moment. Then he said “Today I will show you what do you have to do with the Congo, and what does the Congo has to do with you”. He explained how this technology that sometimes seems to be the core of our lives and simplifies them, its provoking a war in the Congo, where sexual rape its been comitted as a weapon to terrorize the population and clear the mining zones, where they extract the minerals needed to produce hardware, like the touch screen.

More than five million people have died and a couple of millions more have been tortured and have been enslaved by armed groups. Around 30 thousand kids are working in the mines to obtain this mineral. Another paradox: the technology used today, which is causing all this suffering in the Congo, is the same technology that is also helping to make this situation public.

Another paradox: the technology that is causing all these abuse and suffering, is the same technology that is helping to spread the word about the situation in the Congo.

Bandi’s campaign aims to create awareness in technology companies about the Social Corporate Responsibility in technology adoption, because it is possible to buy these minerals that do not contribute to the conflict, out of the conflict zone.

And, why should Mexico care about the Congo?

I asked Bandi about his perspective on the relationship between Congo and Mexico. I wanted to hear his point of view, because we mexicans take also part on a global context, and we are even in a better position than a lot of countries thanks to all the natural ressources that Mexico has. The activist responded that our country has its own conflicts, but if we compare them with the situation in the Congo, there are two completely different worlds and realities between them.

The real issue is, that despite the great advancements and efforts of the civil society to provide us of a better future, this is not connected yet to the global reality. In this case, its not aware of the situation in Africa. To be aware of the problem is the first and most important step to really transform this reality.

Bandi perceives us as a society that can efficiently communicate to the rest of the world and that receives a lot of feeback from other nations, a process to which much congoleese people seek to achieve. They want to connect to the mexican people through the Congo Calling iniciative, with Bandi Mbubi as his CEO and founder, to deliver a very important message to Latin America: we need to be more responsable when why adopt technology; demand from the technology companies that their products or their manufacturing do not contribute to the conflict in the Congo;

And so, they want to connect to the people in Mexico through the Congo Calling iniciative, with Bandi Mbubi as its CEO and founder, to communicate an important message to all latin american countries: we must be more responsable when we buy and adopt technology; demand from technology companies that produce and develop products that don’t contribute to the conflict; communicate what the big companies like Apple and Sony are doing in to become more socially responsable in hardware development. On Twitter a lot of this rankings and iniciatives can be found under the hashtags #conflictfree #minerals.

“We want mexicans to be more responsable in their technological adoption and to be solidary to the people in the Congo. If Mexico starts doing it, other Latin American countries will follow.”

 

To conclude I asked Bandi to tell me, what would his message to the mexicans be, and he responded:

“There was a time in which everybody joined to abolish apartheid, even Mexico. Thanks to that bondage, other injustices in South Africa were prevented.”

“Today Mexico has to be the one who guides. Mexico has to show the way to unite and stop the killing in the Congo. It is necessary to stop transnational companies that go to the Congo and make deals to extract the tantalum, with people that are willing to kill the congolese people just to make illegal wealth. If mexicans do it, I am sure that other nations in Latin America will also raise awareness of this issue.”

Bandi’s sons —David y Daniel— could also meet their grandparents in the Congo through Skype, and that only because of the development of ciber technology. Should we allow that something so wonderful and necessary generate so much innecessary suffering?

As users, let us demand to the technolgy companies that change their processes to obtain resources and minerals. Today we demand fair trade for food, coffee and even clothes. It is time to demand fair trade smartphones.

 

More information about Bandi and Congo Calling:

http://www.congocalling.org

About sashantiaa

"Un guerrero de la luz sabe que en el silencio de su corazón existe un orden que lo orienta" (Paulo Coelho)
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