WASHINGTON - A student and activist coalition is urging cell phone users
to "Cell Out" this afternoon in solidarity with the people of the
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where millions have died as a
result of conflict over coltan, a rare mineral used in cell phones and
Friends of the Congo is working with university students at dozens of colleges and universities in the United States and around the world to carry out a cell phone boycott between noon and 6:00 PM Wednesday.
The organizers particularly want to
reach the media, which has provided little coverage of a chronic
conflict in which nearly 6 million people have died since 1997, and
some 45,000 people die each month.
The United Nations characterized the conflict in the Congo as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.
Congolese journalism student Kambale Masavuli, a student at North Carolina A&T University
and one of the organizers of this week's events, said about the large
numbers of deaths: "The equivalent of a Darfur happens in the Congo
every five and a half months, yet mainstream media does not cover the
Most of the world's coltan (short for columbite tantalite) is found in the DRC -- about 80 percent. Armed militias from Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi, along with local militias from the DRC, are exploiting most of the reserves and selling the product to multinational corporations that produce cell phones and other electronic devices.
Companies benefiting from the coltan wars are based in Belgium, China, and Germany, along with several in the United States. Once processed, coltan is used by major firms such as Nokia, Compaq, and IBM in products as diverse as pacemakers, jet engines, digital cameras, and laptops, as well as cell phones.
The presence of these armed militias
has been deadly for local populations in eastern DRC, where frequent
attacks by militias have forced countless numbers to flee their homes
and villages. According to UNICEF, many women and girls have been
raped, and the lives of large numbers of young children are put at
In mid-September a spike in the
fighting over control of coltan mines produced "a brutal impact on the
children and women of the Kivus," said UNICEF's Julien Harneis,
referring to an area in the eastern part of the country that has long
been considered the epicenter of the fighting. "Many children are split
up from their families as they flee; in displacement they are even more
vulnerable to malaria, measles, cholera, and malnutrition."
In addition to the "Cell Out" boycott, the organizers of Break the Silence
Week are also encouraging university students to show a film or video
on the Congo, ask a professor to teach a special class, or ask
university administrators to issue a public statement deploring the
situation in the Congo and the lack of media coverage.