Wednesday, January 09, 2019

The phone craze that zapped five million

Remember those old moralist tales where characters like struggling cobblers barely survived in spite of the skill of producing beautiful and fashionable boots for sweet darlings of the rich.
In a way, here’s an up to the minute variation of those moralistic yarns that unfortunately puts you
and me – Western society’s modern society - on the taking-advantage side. Unlike the poor fellow in the shoemaker’s tale, we are the baddies.
Our passion for mobile phones is the villain.
A beyond-horrible situation is revealed in a book highlighted in that excellent daily email delivery, DelanceyPlace.

Appalling treatment

The story tells of the appalling treatment a nation received as a result of our mobile phone infatuation.
Mobile phones batteries depend on two vital ingredients - dense, heat-resistant, noncorrosive metals, which blend together in the ground in a mineral called coltan.
Sam Kean reports in The Disappearing Spoon that global cell phone sales grew from virtually zero in 1991 to more than a billion by 2001.
By the mid-1990s, cell phone designers started demanding both metals from the world's largest supplier, the Congo, then called Zaire.
In 1996, the ousted Rwandan government of ethnic Hutus spilled into Congo seeking refuge. Sam Kean says that while the exit of the Hutus seemed only to extend the Rwandan conflict a few miles west, it turned out to be, as he puts it, a brush fire blown right into a decade of accumulated racial kindling.
Eventually, nine countries and two hundred ethnic tribes, each with its own ancient alliances and unsettled grudges, fought in the dense jungles.

Hatred and grudges

‘Clearly, cell phones didn't cause the war,’ Sam Kean writes. ‘Hatred and grudges did. But just as clearly, the infusion of cash perpetuated the brawl.
‘Once cell phones caught on, the price of coltan grew tenfold.
‘Unlike the days when crooked Belgians ran Congo's diamond and gold mines, no conglomerates controlled coltan.
‘Any commoner with a shovel and a good back could dig up whole pounds of the stuff in creek beds where it looks like thick mud.
‘In just hours, a farmer could earn twenty times what his neighbour did all year. Men abandoned their farms for prospecting.
'This upset the Congo's already shaky food supply, and people began hunting gorillas for meat, virtually wiping them out.

Enslaved prostitutes

‘Gorilla deaths were nothing compared to human atrocities. A brutal form of capitalism took over. Huge fenced-in camps with enslaved prostitutes sprang up …’ Continues on the blogs for my ocean adventuring book, Sailing to Purgatory, at


Post a comment

<< Home