I covered the background to the Congo tragedy in my Blog – Congo: A Humanitarian crisis on a massive scale.
A documentary film made by Frank Poulsen was shown on Current TV called “Blood in the Mobile” which charted the journalist’s investigation into the supply of certain minerals that were sourced in Congo, by Nokia, and what they were doing to ensure that better control was placed on the conditions under which these minerals were mined. I have attempted to pull some key extracts / stills from the programme to highlight some of the main points.
Poulsen started his journey by going to the capital of DR Congo, and meeting with Mr Kampekampe, who was a senior official at the Ministry of Mining. The 2 main minerals which were the source of wealth for some people in Congo are Cassiterite and Coltan.
Kampekampe also worked for a Private company that helped foreign companies to get mining licences from the Ministry of Mining in which he worked. This was not seen to be a problem – albeit overtly a conflict of interests.
The only safe way to travel in the Congo is with the UN Peace Keeping forces, and Poulsen’s first stop was Goma, in the north of Kivu province. At the UN HQ he was briefed about the mines in the Walikale area, the biggest one being Bisie which employed 15-20,000 people. Bisie is in a remote part of the province and to get to it requires a 2 day trek on foot from the nearest road.
Bisie is 170km by plane, and is controlled by a unit of the FARDC ( DR Congo Armed Forces); it is a place where even the UN feel threatened. News had been received back from Bisie that there had been a massacre in the mine; the thought of going there seemed even more of a remote prospect.
Poulsen had a meeting with the UN Press Officer, Barnard, in private, who gave him some stark advice.
He also recounted stories of how women were raped and men killed, and the atrocities committed amongst the people by the armed groups as a means of exerting control. One story was of how a man was killed, and chopped into pieces and his wife was made to lie on top of him, she was raped and forced to eat his severed penis.
It was necessary for Poulsen to get the appropriate papers signed and cleared by the FARDC so he could get access to the mine. The local senior army official explained how the administration during war was a lot easier and cheaper than during peace time. During war one can kill people and take their uniform, guns, bullets and food which, if there was peace, would all have to be paid for.
He took a plane which was used to transport the minerals, back and forth, and landed in the Walikale area.
He met up with a boy who had run away from the Bisie mine, called Chance. He was 16 years old, and had been down the mine for 3 years. Initially he could not stay down for too long as the heat was just too much. Now he was used to it, he would spend a whole week down there as the time to get into the mine was so great.
Poulsen, and his team, were transported along the road from Walikale along the jungle road on the back of motorbikes for as far as they could go. Chance joined them to help them with access. They could only go so far – they met up with the carriers who routinely walk the 90km from the mine to the road, carrying 50kg of minerals, for it then to be transported back to Walikale. Poulsen set off, on foot, through the swamps and the jungle to Bisie.
On arrival at Bisie they had to negotiate with 85 Brigade who were controlling the entrance. The papers that they had obtained from the FARDC gave them access.
Armed soldiers were at the access points controlling movements of people. The miners, had to pay taxes to get out of the mine so for many the mine complex was their home – they were financially stranded.
The living conditions in the mine complex were atrocious and very basic. The mine shafts were essentially just holes in the ground with minimal reinforcing structures. The tools were completely inadequate, the lighting practically non-existent; this was simply a case of total exploitation of thousands of people who were paid, minimally, for the benefit of the armed brigades.
Children as young as 14 were being used down the mines.
Evidence was shown of the recent massacre in the mine; nothing was said of why it had happened.
Poulsen went down the mine with a camera – it was shocking, claustrophobic, threatening, dangerous, medieval in conditions, and completely unacceptable that people should be subjected to this.
Poulsen returned to Nokia to discuss his findings. It was surprising to hear that they were trying to establish scientific ways of establishing traceability of mineral sources. Through this they could then ensure that they only bought from ethical sources.
A truly captivating piece of documentary making. Poulsen showed his true mettle as a journalist entering places that were clearly dangerous. In so doing he has highlighted to the rest of the world what most people would know little about. Why these minerals are the only ones that can be used successfully in modern electronics, is not clear to me, but relying on a supply chain with this amount of violence and corruption cannot continue. The wealth that these minerals can create should be channelled to the millions of people in the Congo who are well below the poverty line, and not to the unholy alliance between the uncontrolled armed racketeers and the Corporate consumer electronics giants.