So here's one more reason that there was more media hubub over US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's reaction to that sexist question -- which wasn't that dumb -- last week in Congo:
The conflict in the Congo is often described as “tribal,” but sober assessments by the United Nations, research organizations and the American government reveal something far more complex. The multimillion dollar trade of the Congo’s natural resources by foreign armies, rebels and militias has played an integral role in fueling the conflict – both by motivating armed groups to wage war, and by providing them with the cash to do so.
There are four main minerals that link our gadgets to the war. Tin is used as a solder on circuit boards of all electronic products; tantalum, or coltan, is used in capacitors that control the flow of electric current; tungsten makes our cell phones vibrate; and gold, a veteran conflict mineral, is used in many products for its resistance to corrosion.
By controlling these essential minerals within the global economy, rebels and militias – not to mention the governments that have directly supported them (including both the governments of Congo and Rwanda) – generate millions in profit, providing ample funds for armed groups to wage wars and terrorize civilians. Women and girls have disproportionately borne the horrific brunt of this conflict: the level and brutality of the sexual violence pandemic in Congo is unparalleled, affecting hundreds of thousands of women.
A grassroots campaign is developing to help end this war by focusing on its root causes. The targets of this growing movement are the powerful electronics companies that may unwittingly be using conflict minerals in their products. Letter campaigns and the threat of boycotting companies that refuse to investigate their supply chains are raising the level of pressure on markets already in decline as a result of the global recession.
Canada’s UN commitment to one of the most deadly wars in history was two aircraft and fifty troops in 2003. In September 2006, Liberal Senator Peter Stollery slammed Canada's "disgraceful" military presence in Africa. When it comes to the major recipients of Canadian aid through CIDA, the DRC doesn't even make the top ten.
Ten Canadian companies were implicated in the UN report entitled "Report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and other Forms of Wealth in the Congo,” published in 2002. One of the most comprehensive and damning reports on Western activities in the Congo, the UN report implicated 157 companies and recommended travel bans, legal action and investigation by states where these companies were located.
Though all 10 companies were accused of violating the guidelines of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and some were accused of bribing officials in order to have access to land, the Canadian government has failed to investigate the companies’ role in the Congo war, said Mining Watch Canada.
The recommendations from a 2005 report by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which call for stricter monitoring of mining companies in hotspots like Congo, Guatemala, Romania, El Salvador, India, the Philippines, Peru and Mexico, have not been adopted.
Isn't it easier to smack Clinton for getting a little snippy than to address the uncomfortable fact that the endemic war in the Congo is primarily being fought over the precious metals that power our cell phones and laptops?
Isn't it more interesting to focus on one diplomat's momentary lapse in politeness rather than the bizarre Ugandan rebel group known as the Lord's Resistance Army, who were recently in the area raping, pillaging and burning entire villages to the ground as they kidnap Congolese youth to restock their brutal child army?
Isn't it simpler to focus on the silly question Clinton didn't answer, rather the the one that came immediately before it (which she did answer), on whether or not the West should apologize for colonialism?Precious little was published.
“I am particularly concerned about the exploitation of natural resources,” she said, referring to Congo’s vast reserves of diamonds, gold, copper, tin and other minerals.
She said that illegal mining was one of the root causes of Congo’s violence and that armed groups were sustaining themselves off the mineral riches. “There is a lot of money being made in eastern Congo,” Mrs. Clinton said.
The war in eastern Congo may be Africa’s worst right now, and Mrs. Clinton is hoping that her visit will revitalize efforts to end a dizzyingly complex conflict involving neighboring countries, dozens of rebel groups and a toxic mix of ethnic and commercial interests.
Incidentally, there was much more that slipped between the corporate media cracks.
While we're on the subject of Congo, over the weekend I heard from Adolfo Makuntima Makwiza (Ado Makuntima), a writer and musician from Congo now in Canada. (Here's a recent interview with him, en francais.)
And here's a YouTube video of his haunting and beautiful song Congolese Woman, with more information on the war. Be warned. Some of the images are upsetting and, yes, graphic. Of course, you wouldn't see anything like them between the media shots at Clinton.