Your cell phone is a weapon

Increased (cell) awareness is needed to end the bloody conflict in Congo.

âÄúCome Clean 4 CongoâÄù is not a classified ad for your wealthy next-door neighbor in need of a maid. All jokes aside, it has a far more necessary and selfless aim. âÄúCome Clean 4 CongoâÄù is the new advocacy campaign put out by the Enough Project and YouTube. They are calling for all amateur filmmakers to create and submit a one-minute video that exposes the supply chain behind our small electronics purchases. More often than not, the purchase of your cell phone, iPod or laptop directly fuels the brutal war in the Democratic Republic of Congo âÄî a war that has now killed more than 4 million people and produced a monthly average of 1,100 reported cases of rape. According to EnoughâÄôs most recent report, the three main militia groups operating within the Congo are able to garner an estimated $44 million a year by trading four main minerals: tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. They do this by taking control of mining operations, abusing the workers and extracting bribes and taxes from the transporters, international buyers and border control. If this description conjures images of Sierra LeoneâÄôs âÄúblood diamondâÄù drama, youâÄôve only brushed the surface of CongoâÄôs dilemma. Diamonds might pull a high price among the wealthy and elite, but small electronics are twice as ubiquitous in demand from all corners of society, thus making the mining of these minerals equally if not more profitable for the militias involved. Furthermore, 80 percent of the worldâÄôs coltan lies in the Congo, giving it a virtual monopoly on the international market. With your cell phone purchase, you may be implicit in the recruitment of child soldiers, indiscriminate rape and widespread violence. WeâÄôve heard words like âÄúblood diamondâÄù and âÄúchild soldierâÄù before, and the world has been slow to respond, but let me introduce you to a new term. If it doesnâÄôt make you loathe to touch anything electronic, I can at least guarantee that youâÄôll want to throw up. TheyâÄôre called CongoâÄôs âÄúfalling whistle boys,âÄù and theyâÄôre younger than 15. Abducted from their homes to serve in the war, yet too young to hold a gun, they are given whistles and sent to the front lines of battle. When the enemy comes, they blow their whistles to scare them and then act as human shields by receiving the first line of fire. Each day, their only choices are to fall early and fake death or to die. IâÄôm scared that this simple imagery wonâÄôt stir any kind of emotion because weâÄôre too far removed. I donâÄôt know how to make it more real. Sean Carasso is the founder of the non-profit Falling Whistles that is dedicated to saving and rehabilitating these children and he likes to quote Lauryn Hill: âÄúFantasy is what we want, but reality is what we need.âÄù On his motivation behind starting Falling Whistles, he says, âÄúI think thereâÄôs this feeling from all of us that are part of this growing thing, we want to be whistle-blowers because we donâÄôt want to live in denial; we want to live in reality. We want to live in all of it âÄî all the shades, all the darkness, all the brightness, so we can be honest and actually respond to the world.âÄù No, you canâÄôt pick up your phone and call that boy in the Congo and apologize. ItâÄôs not your fault; you didnâÄôt know. But now you do. Please visit Fallingwhistles.com to read the full story and Enoughproject.org. If youâÄôre really ambitious, educate yourself on the issue enough to submit a video to the âÄúCome Clean 4 CongoâÄù contest. Most importantly, demand information from your electronics provider on the standards imposed on the supply chain of your purchase. YouâÄôll likely find that industry standards donâÄôt exist, so itâÄôs our job to demand legislation from our congressmen. The irony is that sometimes it only takes a phone call to make a difference. Ashley Dresser welcomes comments at [email protected]