The Coltan of Hypocrisy

Due to popular films like, Blood Diamond, the issues surrounding conflict diamonds are becoming much better known to the world. If you really want to read up, this article is long, but insanely brilliant and in depth. But something that people are largely unaware of (myself including until about a year ago) is the conflict surrounding Coltan which is the name for columbite-tantalite, an ore crucial to producing the materials needed for capacitors. This is critical because capacitors are in essentially every electronic device that we make today from cellphones, to laptops, to even our cars.

By itself Coltan is just another item that we are stripping from the earth in order to feed our thirst for technology. The big problem with it, is people estimate that 80% of the world’s supply exists in the Democratic Republic of Congo and it exists in areas that are rife with conflict and a tally of 3.8 million dead because of the conflict. Buying anything from this region in its current state continues to fund this conflict. There is basically no way to know if the Coltan in your electronics comes from here though as the material mined here is often smuggled out and sold in other neighboring countries who don’t have the stigma of continuing war. So, the debate about where the material in the capacitors of your electronics comes from and if you are thusly supporting conflict continues and will hopefully get more attention in the coming years. Currently, the only thing you can do to limit this issue in your own life is to reduce or eliminate unnecessary electronics purchases. From here I depart on to a tangent that is related, but shows how hypocritical Americans are when it comes to what we say and do.

Lisa F. Jackson has been getting a lot of press and showings lately because of her documentary, The Greatest Silence which is a film that addresses the rape and torture of Congolese women in the eastern part of the DRC; an area which is only now starting to emerge from war. Jackson’s approach puts her in front of the camera far too much and makes me respect Lumo even more as allows the story of rape and abuse to come forth from the mouths of the victims giving a much more powerful message from those affected. This method takes a great deal of time and isn’t the slap dash method that Jackson uses, as her film was shot in a matter of weeks, as opposed to Lumo’s two years.

But, this is subjective and I digress. The only think I wanted to establish is that Jackson is quite outspoken, which is good and bad. She is telling a message that needs to be heard. It’s her methods that are suspect. For instance she goes to great ends to bash on the UN (one of the more unoriginal organizations to attack) yet at the same time, her film wouldn’t have happened without the UN transporting her to areas or UN staff showing her around, such as the fellow in the film named, Bernard did. It’s just a wee bit hypocritical. Also in this vein was a comment for the blog of the film from when she was in the Bay Area and had a screening at Pixar:

“I’m afraid I was a little hard on them during the Q&A, commenting that there was probably more Coltan in this building than in all of Marin County and if one-tenth of the creative (and money-making) power at Pixar were harnessed towards solving the problem of sexual violence in the Congo, things would change over-night. I couldn’t get off my guilt-tripping and shared with them the suggestion of the person at Sundance who said I should start a campaign where after every screening folks sent text messages to the manufacturers of their cell phones to ask if they used Congolese Coltan and therefore had the blood of Congolese women on their phones. I told them that I had no clue how to initiate such a campaign, but perhaps there was a genius at Pixar who could get it launched.”

I find this preposterous. Jackson shot her film on DV. That requires a computer to edit the film, which requires Coltan to manufacture, so is she not guilty as well by having the “blood of Congolese women” on her editing system that she used to make the film? By her logic it seems that the rules of altruism she puts forth don’t apply to her as she is the one with the message. I feel that the message is being quickly tarnished and sullied as she appears to say whatever she can say to cause a stir and get her name out there, as opposed to actually posing solutions to these problems.

I have to say that I don’t care for this sensationalist approach to solving a problem as it gets people in a flap, but then has little ongoing result. But, such is the way with Americans I suppose and why for the last 50 years we have been so insanely bad at solving any problems in the world despite so many attempts and money thrown at them. I just wish that someone would start “guilt-tripping” Jackson and filmmakers who work in this manner to make them actually stand up and back their lip service to the causes they purport to be supporting, instead of bringing up tragedy after tragedy with no solutions offered or any kind of meditation on what is at the core of the problems.

While about 24 minutes in length, the following is an excellent documentary on the subject, focusing on the mining of Coltan.

The Coltan of Hypocrisy

2 Replies to “The Coltan of Hypocrisy”

  1. Oddly enough, none of the components in the picture above are tantalum capacitors, so nothing in the picture actually required coltan to produce.

  2. Whether a fact or not, yippee. Doesn’t change the argument as it’s just a photo I had lying around.

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