Monday, January 30, 2012


Recently I had been compiling research for an essay for my environmentalism degree.  I have had a love for Africa, especially for the Cong.  I hope you enjoy my paper, I hope you leave thinking about what you buy, where it comes from and what is the actual human cost!  ~Deanne

Consumerism + Materialism


= Destruction in the Congo

     Saving natural resources is not just about an environmental movement, a fad; it is about preventing wars, genocide and destruction.  For hundreds of years countries like Africa have been a wealth of resources for many other nations most notably the United States, Britain and Belgium.  Africa has been an export of humans, minerals, timber and quite possibly oil all hidden in the disguise of war, “It is a battle for the metals that make our technological society vibrate and ring and bling, and it has already claimed four million lives in five years” (Congo’s Tragedy, par 2).  At least the past 50 years, since the 1960’s or earlier, Africa’s own people have waged war with on their own people for the destruction and consumption of land. Wars between people within a region in the Congo are not over differences in religion or politics but over resources.  Humans are or have become environmental refugees or murdered for natural resources because the wealth a natural resource will provide.   It is the same old song that has been sung for thousands of years it is a group of people living on a resource another group of people want to gain wealth from obtaining that resource.

     Developed countries continue to pass a blind on the Congo calling it an internal war between tribes and villages when in reality it is countries like the United States, Britain and Belgium want to claim the region for their own resource to consume.  The wars within Zaire, Congo as most of us know it, are caused by the need to control the resources because the tribe or ruler with the most resources will obtain the wealth promised to them by foreign countries.  It is easy for these foreign countries to ignore the genocides, the rapes and the destruction of the environment because it isn’t their own people dying, out of sight out of mind.  They don’t have to step out their front door and see the death or destruction because in their own countries they have laws preventing such horrific ordeals to happen in their country.  The Congo is rich in many ways but suffers because it is a nation of poor people.  Unfortunately it is the poor and the uneducated that get enslaved or taken advantage of as Kingsolver writes, “He’ll go on falling over his feet to make deals with the Americans, who still control all our cobalt and diamond minds. In return every grant of foreign aid goes straight to Mobutu himself” (448).  Money may come from various programs promised by some foreign country when in all reality it goes to the person or dictator who has the power over its people.  That dictator is willing to allow the raping of their own women and kill any men/children to keep power over its people for hard labor in obtaining the highly needed natural resources.

     Foreign countries willing enslave the people of Africa simply because they can and try to mask it by sending in goodwill in the form of missionaries, education, vaccination or industrialization as in The Poisonwood Bible, “in seventy five years the only roads Belgians ever built are the ones they use to haul out diamonds and rubber” (Kingsolver 122).  There is always a promise to aid the Congo but that promise to provide a benefit comes at a high price for the natives.  As the natives of the Congo die digging for all the precious metals to feed the Wests lust and desire for diamonds or the newest iPad without a clue to the realities happening an ocean away.  As with many humanitarian and environmental disasters as long as it isn’t seen in their everyday life no one gives it another thought.  There is no connection to the gold on their finger to the hand that was cut off trying to dig for that gold, “bragging about his humanitarian goals of course-seized Congo and turned it into a slave colony geared to extracting rubber, the coltan, and cassiterite of its day.  The “natives” who failed to gather enough rubber would have their hands chopped off” (Congo Tragedy, par. 11).  These types of methods of control by their own government and military have long been used to keep the natives mining, digging or cutting down forests.

     The West, as if to feed their guilt, sends in its finest doctors or educators or missionaries to save the poor ignorant Congolese as penance for their crimes against humans and destruction to the environment.  As long as nations keep pouring in their charity for the Congolese and promise of creating a “better place” that charity wipes their mind clean of mass killings and rapes of women over land, water and precious minerals to be exported to their foreign country’s corporations to sell at inflated prices which people clamber over in hopes to find the best deals on Black Friday for gifts they don’t need.  All the while children are working 15 to 18 hours per day in Africa are stripping every last natural resource from their homeland causing waste lands, drought and environmental refugees.    The United States has now become the husband of Zaire’s economy, and not a very nice one” (Kingsolver 456).  Consumers should and must know where and how their products are obtained and at what cost.

     Presidents and leaders in Africa come and go depending on their willingness to continue to enslave their own people for the sake of consumerism and greed in other countries.  Foreign countries control Africa, Africa does not control itself.  The genocide, rapes of women and the destruction of Africa are only a blip on the news when a celebrity decides to speak about the travesties without correlation to the United States, Britain and Belgians thirst for precious minerals, timber, and oil as the cause for these crimes.  It has been said that countries with the most wealth hold all the power, however it should be noted that it is the wealthy country that hold power over poor countries because poor countries currently have all the natural resources.  Currently, the country retains power over Africa because they can ascertain wealth through Africa's natural resources this is done by war.  Villages in the Congo of Africa disappear overnight, killed by militias who are connected to their own government and many times to foreign corporations because those villages sit on a natural resource that foreign corporations want for their consumers.  Congo is rich in its resources but there are quickly disappearing and no one is willing to do anything about it.  It would mean consumers would have to realize they can’t have everything and everything has a cost, human and environmental cost.

     Foreign countries thirst, desire and greed to have more has decimated a country by exporting its people to other countries for slavery, and exported every known mineral and natural resource currently available.  The consumption of goods in developed countries has caused environmental wasteland without a single change, “The only change over decades has been the resource - snatched for Western consumption – rubber under the Belgians, diamonds under Mobutu, coltan and cassiterite today” (Congo Tragedy, par. 16).  Western countries have no thought in allowing an entire race, culture and villages to die or be killed for resources.  There seems to be no care or understanding that their consumerism is killing people, species, water resources and forests.  The constant thirst for more only depletes another resource, for every action is an opposite and equal reaction. 

     Countries, corporations and consumers need to understand their actions have consequences, these consequences may not affect them directly but they do happen to someone somewhere.  It is like the pebble being thrown into a body of water.  The pebble hits the water and sinks causing ripples to begin to grow and multiply.  These ripples are the consequences of the actions taken by this pebble or person.  Each ripple touches or affects something or someone it comes in contact causing a reaction positive or negative.  Don’t forget that pebble didn’t just cause some ripples but it sank in the water.  This action has unseen consequences under the water which we can only guess.  Humans are the pebble and their decisions cause consequences that are seen and unseen it is our responsibility to understand how we impact everything.  Many resources are not renewable, once they are gone, they are gone.  We may be able to replant a forest but the original forest that has been there for hundreds if not thousands of years hold within its very DNA solutions to diseases which humans have no cure but plants have resisted for centuries.  Not to mention the loss of species alone is devastating to our existence.  We are all interdependent on each and every living thing especially these organisms dying by the thousands each year due to deforestation and desertification.

     Western countries make promises to the Congo only for the Congolese remain enslaved to continue foreigner’s quest to retrieve all the natural resources.  What happens to the Congo when these resources are depleted? Where are the roads, the hospitals, the schools and the resources for the people left behind?  What are the foreign countries responsibilities’ to the Congo after they have used all the resources for their diamond rings, Wii, and fuel?  These are the decisions that are not being thought of today as countries continue to mine and clear forests in search of more resources creating massive projects as Cooper discusses in Water Shortages, “The largest project of its kind in Africa, is being built and managed by a consortium of foreign companies to collect water in Lesotho and transport it to South Africa.  The reservoirs created by its dams displaced more than 30,000 people and promises to use part of the projects profits to help them relocate have not been honored” (par. 27).  As cultivation of the Congo for agriculture, oil, timber and precious minerals continue the Congolese are dying from drought caused by the deforestation, destruction and war over their land.  As these natural resources deplete the wars will increase killing thousands if not millions of more natives to obtain the land which villages and people live. 

     The rapidly declining resources in Africa will continue and the fighting within the Congo is controlled by outside foreign forces.  Africa is one of the poorest nations and according to Cooper in Saving the Forests, “The first and most obvious cause in many countries undergoing rapid deforestation is poverty” (par. 29).  Poor countries are subject to persuasion of wealth by the promise aid in education, food, vaccination and financing industrialize only to allow other countries to come in clear cut an entire section of forest for its own means leaving the poor country without a natural resource.  Many times what is forgotten are the consequences of these actions?  Forests when clear cut do not have the proper soil to maintain agriculture, and it is nutrient void.  The soil can only maintain an agriculture crop for three years maximum only then to leave in its wake a desert; this is called desertification.  Forests also retain water resources and when the forest is gone so are the water resources.  When the forests are gone so are the people, animals, plants, medical wonders and habitat along with the resources.  The Amazon, the Congo Basin and many other rain forests are quickly being destroyed for timber and replaced with agriculture such as corn and soy only to be fed to cattle not for human consumption.  So the land is not even used to maintain human life but cattle another product western culture overly consumes and does not help to decrease world hunger. 

     Yet with all the studies, death and destruction, “scientists estimate that at least 34 million acres of tropical forests are still being cleared yearly due to the insatiable global demand for land, timber, crops and such valuable commodities as gold and oil; millions more acres are partially logged” (Hosansky, par. 8).  There is no stopping the demand, no convincing a mass consuming culture of the irreversible damage being caused throughout the Congo.  The destruction and deforestation continues without stopping, “and Africa’s 800,000 square mile Congo Basin rain forest also is rapidly being logged and converted to agriculture use” (Arrandale, par. 13).  Where will the people of the Congo go? Who will take in these refugees of war, famine and environmental destruction?  Will the very countries, such as, the United States, Britain or Belgium take in the very people they enslaved for goods and services now that they are displaced from their home?  The Congolese may be poor but they are a proud people who live innately in tune with nature but are subjected to destroying the very land they put their own religious faith into in fear of being killed.  All for what, some person in some foreign country to get diamond engagement ring that she may only wear for 72 days without a clue how it came to be.

     Many Americans sit in their warm homes with running water and massive amount of “things” to fulfill their every want and desire.  There is a country dying slowly.  Dying by needless war over gold, coltan, diamonds, timber and water. Women are being raped daily then killed, children having their hands cut off because they did not mine enough minerals, men being shot so the women would work and a land dying from deforestation and desertification.  The understanding of the importance that every resource, every person and every species matters because we are tied by tiny unseen ripples in the water.  Everything living thing and natural resource depend on each other.  If Africa is lost to deforestation, mining, wars and famine the resources in other countries become more valuable and the continuation of destruction further.  Moving wars from one country now with depleted resources to the countries with the resource in attempt to ascertain power or obtain the resource for power or take the land to move environmental refugees to a foreign land for survival of its own.  The Congo is not the only country fighting over resources, “Israeli-Palestinian standoff is the West Bank aquifer, the only source of water for much of the region and arguably the most critical water hot-spot in the world today” (Cooper, par. 8).  The West Bank is a great example of a long and bloody war for a resource.  The truth of their war maybe blurred by politics and religion but the fight continues for a body of water.  Africa will soon, as we are seeing in news, be at war with any surrounding countries for its water and land resources.

     As Africa has had years of droughts, famine and people moving from region to region in search of water.  Wars will continue, genocide will continue and destruction of more land in search of wealth via precious mineral only to eventually spill out into neighboring countries for survival.  For this very reason it is essential for the people of the United States, Britain and Belgium to stop using Africa as its own resource for gold, diamonds, timber, etc.  Unless the citizens of these foreign countries want to move their water resource or food resources to Africa or better yet move Africans to their countries to live because they no longer have natural resources to live.  They could stop using any new resources from Africa but instead finding ways to reuse gold, diamonds, coltan, cassiterite and timber already on the market or sitting in our landfills.  There are many companies like Turn Green Solutions who are taking a need such as not using virgin resources to make a product instead they are taking waste from plastic, rice production and old pallets.  If we are to save our natural resources we need to look at companies like Turn Green Solutions to prevent further deforestation, desertification and death to workers mining these precious commodities.

     Africa is more than about humanitarianism it is an example of what greed has done to a country.  It is the responsibility of the foreign countries who’s thirst for materialism to restore life back into the Congo. They need to release control over Africa’s resources and stop pretending that computer you are sitting at to update your Facebook profile did not cause thousands if not millions of Congolese to die in mines.  These products we wait in long lines to buy at every new release date come with a high price, a price of innocent blood.   We cannot pretend that people are not dying at our expense.  No longer can we assume that other countries will have human rights and labor laws as countries like the United States.  We cannot sit in a country like the United States where children are not forced to work in factories or mines in fear of their hands being cut off if they do not produce enough precious minerals but let that very thing happen in another country.   The United States children are protected from labor women are not allowed to be raped as a tool to make men work and entire cities are not killed simply for their resources.  So how come we let this happen a continent away?

     Our consumer dollar speaks louder than any war, or any march on Wall Street.  Corporations and governments listen when their bottom line is in jeopardy of not showing a profit.  Change happens when people are willing to take a stand and choose wisely.  If people were no longer willing to buy blood diamonds, or virgin timber or one use gold then countries and companies would be forced to how they do business, change how they procure their goods.  Wars end when no one wants to fight, buy or when all is dead and gone.  We the citizens of the United States, Britain, Belgium, and China that have a stronghold on countries like Africa, Brazil and Spain for their natural resources must use our ability to protest at the checkout counter, in the voting booth and on the streets to prevent our own demise by consumerism and materialism. Our choices, our decisions can and will prevent war, genocide and destruction if only we choose to open our eyes to The Congo. 

Works Cited

Arrandale, Tom. "Disappearing Species." CQ Researcher 30 Nov. 2007: 985-1008. Web. 18 Nov. 2011.

“Congo’s tragedy: the war the world forgot.” The Independent May. 2006. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.

Cooper, Mary H. "Global Water Shortages." CQ Researcher 15 Dec. 1995: 1113-36. Web. 18 Nov. 2011.

Cooper, Mary H. "Saving the Forests." CQ Researcher 20 Sept. 1991: 681-704. Web. 18 Nov. 2011.

Cooper, Mary H. "Water Shortages." CQ Researcher 1 Aug. 2003: 649-72. Web. 18 Nov. 2011.

Kingsolver, Barbara. “The Poisonwood Bible.” New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998. Print

Hosansky, David. "Saving the Rain Forests." CQ Researcher 11 June 1999: 497-520. Web. 18 Nov. 2011.

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