Prendergast: Millions of Congolese Lives Depend on Our Consumer Actions

Pandergast discussed how the "conflict mineral" trade in the Congo is the reason behind the rape of women by local militaries (Photo by Dave Chase).
Pandergast discussed how the "conflict mineral" trade in the Congo is the reason behind the rape of women by local militaries (Photo by Dave Chase).

Nitze Senior Fellow John Prendergast spoke Wednesday, Nov. 4 on the use of rape as a weapon in the Congo to protract the mineral trade.

Introduced by Professor Michael Taber, director of the Nitze Scholars Program, Prendergast began by speaking on how our consumption inadvertently leads to problems, such as the conflict in the Congo. Prendergast said, “There will not be peace in that country until we as consumers deal with innocently and inadvertently perpetuating violence in the Congo.”

Prendergast described how civil war has been affecting the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1960 and how militias have taken control of the mineral deposits and mines in order to make a profit. In order to control the local populations, the militias rape the women systematically.

He gave his lecture a personal feel by telling the story of a woman named Honorata who was sexually abused and raped as a result of the conflict. He linked the minerals, referred to as “conflict minerals” to the rapes and pointed out how consumers help enable such problems to continue.

Pulling out his cell phone, he said that the vibrating mechanism in cell phones is made from tungsten, how solder in electronics is being replaced by tin, and how gold is present in many other electronics. All of these minerals and more are major exports of the Congo.

Prendergast said, “I don’t think there is any other place in the world where the link between our consumer appetites and sexual violence is so direct.”

However, he offered ways in which everyone in the audience could help alleviate the suffering of people in the Congo through their consumerism.

There are three types of actions that all consumers can take reduce the use of conflict minerals. First, he encouraged the audience to call, meet, or write to their Senators and ask them to sponsor the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009, which gives authority to the U.S. government to help control the mineral trade and to make electronics companies’ business practices more transparent.

Pandergast urged students to encourage their senators to support the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009, which would allow the U.S. to control the "conflict mineral" trade in the Congo (Photo by Dave Chase).
Pandergast urged students to encourage their senators to support the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009, which would allow the U.S. to control the "conflict mineral" trade in the Congo (Photo by Dave Chase).

Second, he asked the audience to visit raisehopeforcongo.org and email large electronics companies and demand conflict-free electronics. He said, “We need to tell Apple that we want rape-free cell phones. Conflict-free laptops. Spread the word about it.”

Third, he encouraged students to help their campuses support conflict-free electronics. Prendergast said schools can publicly call electronics corporations and tell them they want to buy conflict-free products.

He said that these actions can change the course of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We need to make conflict minerals the new blood diamond.” He went on to say that people’s movements have changed history the most in the last century. “All of these have contributed to real progression for humanity.”

“So instead of feeling guilty or sad or bad about how much destruction has gone into these consumer products…use these for change,” said Prendergast. “Millions of these [Congolese people’s] lives are at stake depending on what people like us do.”

Following the lecture, several students gave their opinions on what they had seen. Sophomore Elena Gross said, “There were a lot more implications of corporations than I thought,” and sophomore Lilian Timpson said, “I liked that his thoughts were very applicable to our lives.”

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