DRC: Users of smartphones support “industry of death” in Africa

Users of new technology are unwittingly fueling violence in Africa and exploiting workers, according to leading priests in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who have spoken out against alleged corruption in the production of minerals used in mobile phones and other electronic devices.

Father Richard Muembo, rector of Christ the King Seminary, in Malole, in the DRC, said: “Anyone who uses modern technology nowadays is in some way using the blood of the Congolese people.

“Looters from all over the world come here to exploit the country.”

Speaking in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Father Muembo highlighted accusations of foul play in the extraction of coltan, a black ore made of columbite and tantalite used in the production of batteries for smartphones, computers and GPS devices.

Coltan, which is mined in the DRC, has been described as a ‘blood ore’ amid reports that its extraction involves human rights violations and is used to fund armed groups, helping to fuel conflict.

Father Apollinaire Cikongo, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Kananga in the DRC, said: “It is necessary… to say no to violence, to the industry of death, to the arms factories and the arms trade.

“Technology should make lives easier, not end lives.

“We should use it to discuss the hard reality of the Congo, to ask for prayers and international support to uphold life and human rights.”

Father Cikongo, who is also on the staff at Christ the King Seminary, went on to speak about the recruitment of child soldiers by DRC armed groups: “We have also heard of superstitious rituals.

“They recruit children and adolescents, give them a potion and a ritual bath, and let them believe that they cannot be harmed by bullets, that they are immortal.

“And so they commit barbaric crimes, just as if they were under the influence of drugs.”

Describing the crisis in the DRC, Father Muembo said: “Schools have been closed, hunger reigns, parts of the population are hiding in the jungle … We dream of an end to this pointless war.”

Father Muembo described how attacks against the Church have escalated in the last few months during which Catholic leaders have worked for peace in the country.

He said: “Since December of last year, the Catholic Church has been the mediator between government and opposition to find a transitional arrangement.”

His seminary in Malole was firebombed by opposition forces on 18th February after Church leaders refused to allow the seminary to be used as a military outpost.

Describing how the building was looted and parts of it destroyed, Father Muembo explained that the seminary’s 77 students – aged 21-27 – fled with only what they were wearing.

For about three weeks they stayed with families before receiving help from the United Nations.

Security problems mean that for the time being it is impossible to rebuild the seminary – the nearest seminary is nearly 250 miles away.

On 31st March a militia group burned Catholic schools and desecrated St John the Baptist Cathedral in the city of Luebo near Malole.

Father Muembo said: “The Catholic Church is highly respected in this country because it has never let itself be co-opted by any political group.

“Now attempts are being made to embroil the Church in the conflict.”

Last year, Aid to the Church in Need supported 41 seminaries in the DRC, providing help benefitting 1,229 students for the priesthood.