An aerial view of multiple coltan mine tunnels in the ground with people scattered alongside them.

How Colonization Plays a Major Role in the Crisis in Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the modern era. Marred by centuries of exploitation and violence at the hands of foreign influences, internal conflicts, and bordering countries,

Congolese people in its Eastern provinces have been displaced, persecuted, and exploited by those profiting off of the region’s wealth. Though it’s framed as a “silent” holocaust and genocide, the crisis in Congo is anything but silent. From colonialism, lackluster intervention, and corporate greed, the persistent and unaddressed exploitation in the region is the culmination of international apathy and a desire to profit from the oppression of others.

Congo is home to large reserves of “conflict” mineral resources, including diamonds, copper, cobalt, and coltan, valued at an estimated $24 trillion (CNBC). Congo is one of the richest-resourced countries in the world, yet it is among the five poorest nations, with the majority of Congolese people in poverty and living on less than $2.15 a day (World Bank). The benefactors of Congo’s mineral wealth are the governments, corporations, and investors in North AmericaEuropeAsia, and Israel


• Learn more and share about the war and humanitarian crisis in Congo, including watching the documentary “Crisis in Congo” by Friends of the Congo

• Support Panzi Hospital and Foundation helping Congolese survivors of sexual violence. 

• Support Malaika, a school, community center, and organization, prioritizing Congolese girls’ education. You can donate to their current fundraiser in honor of the recent graduation of their first cohort of students. 

• Support Congolicious Foundation working to end hunger in the region. 

In 2019, Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla were named in a lawsuit by 14 Congolese families who accused the companies of being complicit in the death and injury of children while mining toxic cobalt (The Guardian). The case was dismissed in 2021, with each company regurgitating similar lines about their supposed commitments to ethical and human rights standards and opposition to child labor. The reality is that “there’s no such thing as a ‘clean’ supply chain” with the extraction of such minerals in the Congo because of the illegal and hazardous labor conditions, poverty, militia violence, and corruption. 

To understand the crisis in the Congo, consider this brief overview of its colonial and neocolonial history:

    • The 19th-century reign of terror by King Leopold II of Belgium, plundering the land of rubber and ivory and causing the deaths of 10 to 15 million Congolese people over 23 years (Decolonized).
    • The continued forced labor, looting, and violence during the colonial rule by Belgium from 1908 until 1960, when the Congolese won their independence (Reuters).
    • The 1961 assassination of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, the country’s first democratically elected premier, engineered by Belgium and the U.S. (HistoryBritannica). 
    • The 32-year, U.S.-supported regime of Dictator Mobutu Sese Seko which paved the way for other dictatorships in the region and further exploitation of the country’s resources. 
    • The Rwandan government, after the Rwanda genocide, carried out “revenge killings” against refugees and civilians in the neighboring Congo it claimed were complicit, with the international community and UN allowing thousands of deaths from 1996-1997 (VoxNBC News). 
    • U.S. funding of neighboring countries like Rwanda (Reuters) as they destabilize the DRC (AP NewsThe Guardian), contributing to the displacement of at least 6.9 million Congolese in 2023, the death from murder, starvation, and illness of over 4 million from 1996 to 2003 together with “violence linked to natural resource exploitation” (PBSUNUN).
    • And extreme rates of sexual violence against women and girls by rebel groups, neighboring militias, and UN peacekeepers (APNews, (NRC).

Maurice Carney, co-founder and executive director of Friends of the Congo, says:

“The situation in the Congo is not just a Congolese issue… Congo is a part of the second largest rainforest in the world; it’s vital to the fight against climate change… Half of those who have died as a result of the conflict are children under the age of five. So if you’re a child advocate, if you’re concerned about children, you ought to be concerned about what’s happening in the Congo. If you’re concerned about women, if you have a mother, a sister, you ought to be concerned about what’s happening in the Congo. If you drive an automobile or fly in airplanes or own a cell phone, as a human being, at the very least, you ought to be concerned. You have to say something” (Crisis in Congo). 

We can pressure big tech companies to end their exploitative practices in the Congo, including working with companies that use child labor and shift our relationship with technology and capitalism as a whole. Instead of upgrading or buying the newest technology, repair it or buy used or refurbished devices. Donate it to help close the digital divide or recycle your old tech. Even if it’s not repairable, the parts can be reused. Back and demand your elected officials introduce and implement right-to-repair legislation, requiring manufacturers to make information, parts, tools, and manuals available to consumers to fix their electronic devices. The new iPhone 15s were found to have “poor repairability,” “making independent fixes more difficult or near impossible” (iFixItCNBC)And demand they stop funding the violence and displacement of Congolese people.

“The likelihood that you are using a device or an item that has a mineral mined by children in Congo is a lot higher than you think,” said Jennifer Opal, a Congolese DevOps Engineer and technologist. “So this affects everybody, including you.”

1558 1012 Dominique Stewart

Dominique Stewart

Dominique is a writer and editor whose interests lie within the intersections of social justice and culture.

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