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Stopping Flow of Conflict Minerals from Congo to Your Cell Phone

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Stopping Flow of Conflict Minerals from Congo to Your Cell Phone

Posted by John Prendergast and Sasha Lezhnev on August 3, 2010

This piece originally appeared on

At a time when partisan politics are bitter, midterm election races are tight and almost every legislative effort is stalled, who would you expect to take the boldest step in years to address the deadliest war in the world, in the heart of Central Africa?

Congress, of course.

Quietly, over the past four presidential administrations, a powerful and deep bipartisan consensus has developed in Congress in support of a stronger U.S. policy toward Africa. The latest manifestation of this cooperation is a small but potent provision addressing Congo’s "conflict minerals," folded into the recently passed Wall Street reform bill.

The trade in four conflict minerals — tin, tantalum, tungsten (the 3Ts), as well as gold — fuels the war in eastern Congo today. It’s been the deadliest war in the world since World War II.

We regularly travel to eastern Congo, and on our last trip, we traced the minerals from the mines.

At the mines, we saw militiamen armed with AK-47 machine guns standing over miners and forcing them to work and pay bribes, including child miners as young as 11. We then crossed through army and rebel checkpoints, where smugglers paid off the commanders in U.S. dollars, and then witnessed how these same minerals were packed into barrels with Congolese flags on them and loaded onto planes and flown out of the country.


Click here to read the full piece and view a slideshow of photos from Sasha’s most recent trip to Congo.