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Editor’s Note: Filmmaker Mike Ramsdell is making a film about the impact of conflict minerals on local communities in Congo. He wrote this guest post to describe the motivation for his project and to share the stories of people he has met during recent trips to eastern Congo.
I am making a film about conflict minerals. Why? Because it has been proven over and over again that the minerals coming from the Democratic Republic of the Congo are linked to the suffering of the Congolese people—and many of those minerals are used in our laptops, Mp3 players, and cameras.
Congo is a nation that sits on a vast supply of untold natural resources, but, paradoxically, was just ranked last in the U.N.’s 2011 human development rankings. Of the often-quoted 5.4 million dead in the past 15 years, most of those deaths have been attributed to malnutrition and sickness. So how do we not become outraged when such incredible suffering and death is taking place, while individuals, transnational companies, and neighboring countries are making billions of dollars off of Congolese resources?
Ethnic tensions, property rights, security sector reform, and judicial impunity are all damn important issues, but those are best left to the Congolese and the experts. I am neither. I am a filmmaker and an activist who believes that any nation would be rife with conflict if subjected to the poverty and exploitation that the Congolese have suffered since their first resources—slaves—were snatched from their river basin 500 years ago. But we must ask, how much of this conflict would cease if the Congolese people had legitimate educational institutions, infrastructure, or employment opportunities? All of which could be aided by properly allocating profits earned through the country’s vast supply of natural resources.
I have spoken with too many Congolese who view their resources as a curse. How could people feel any differently as they watch their leaders sell mineral rights for billions below market value, as neighboring countries reap incredible profits from looted minerals, as their rain forests and mines are being parceled out by the World Bank in an effort to create “foreign investment opportunities,” or as they are told that the war in their country is being fought so kids in the rest of the world can have a Playstation? All this, and no roads?
On my last trip to Congo, I filmed in a village that had just been attacked. An elderly woman who had been gang-raped asked to speak. After she was done telling me her story, I asked her what she was going to do next. She responded:
What can I do? If I could have done something I would have done it a long time ago. You’re the American. You’re the one with the camera. You’re the one staying in a U.N. tent. What are you going to do?
My embarrassed answer was: I’m going to tell your story.
Some people think the story of Congo’s conflict minerals is a distraction from the real issues. I disagree. The suffering of the Congolese people due to the looting of their resources is something that should have never been. And it will only end when enough consumers demand that our devices no longer come at such a high cost to our fellow human beings.
A film is an incredibly powerful tool to make that happen, which is why I am working on the Conflict Minerals Project documentary film. We are currently raising funds for the next wave of filming in Congo, with a fundraising goal of $30,000 by December 25 to keep the film on schedule. Please help us meet this goal and tell the story of conflict minerals by pre-purchasing a DVD, download, or group screening package of the film. Check out the teaser about the film below, and help support its completion.
For film updates, follow the Conflict Minerals Project on Facebook.