A explosão dos smartphones e tablets deu-nos um grande conforto: podemos ver as notícias em qualquer lado, consultar o email, ir ao facebook e até actualizar um blogue. No entanto, os recursos naturais necessários a esta tecnologia tornaram-se bens raros… e caros. Matéria prima por que vale a pena lutar, ou obrigar outros a lutar. Como crianças pequenas, no Congo. O artigo é da National Geographic deste mês.
The minerals in our electronic devices have bankrolled unspeakable violence in the Congo.By Jeffrey GettlemanPhotograph by Marcus Bleasdale
The first child soldier pops out of the bush clutching an AK-47 assault rifle in one hand and a handful of fresh marijuana buds in the other. The kid, probably 14 or 15, has this big, goofy, mischievous grin on his face, like he’s just stolen something—which he probably has—and he’s wearing a ladies’ wig with fake braids dangling down to his shoulders. Within seconds his posse materializes from the thick, green leaves all around us, about ten other heavily armed youngsters dressed in ratty camouflage and filthy T-shirts, dropping down from the sides of the jungle and blocking the red dirt road in front of us. Our little Toyota truck is suddenly swarmed and immobilized by a four-and-a-half-foot-tall army.
This is on the road to Bavi, a rebel-controlled gold mine on the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s wild eastern edge. Congo is sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country and one of its richest on paper, with an embarrassment of diamonds, gold, cobalt, copper, tin, tantalum, you name it—trillions’ worth of natural resources. But because of never ending war, it is one of the poorest and most traumatized nations in the world. It doesn’t make any sense, until you understand that militia-controlled mines in eastern Congo have been feeding raw materials into the world’s biggest electronics and jewelry companies and at the same time feeding chaos. Turns out your laptop—or camera or gaming system or gold necklace—may have a smidgen of Congo’s pain somewhere in it.
The mine in the Bavi area is a perfect example. It’s controlled by a potbellied warlord called Cobra Matata, though “controlled” may be a strong word. There are no discernible front lines out here marking where government rule definitively ends and Cobra’s territory definitively begins, no opposing troops hunkered down in trenches or foxholes eyeballing each other through their scopes. Instead there are just messy, blurry degrees of influence, often very marginal influence, with a few Congolese government guys lounging under a mango tree in one place, and maybe two miles down the road a few of Cobra’s child soldiers smoking pot, and nothing in between but big, vacant, sparkling green wilderness.
“Sigara! Sigara!” the child soldiers yell, seeking cigarettes. Photographer Marcus Bleasdale and I quickly push fistfuls of Sportsmans, a local brand, out the window, and they are instantaneously gobbled up by feverish little hands. That seems to do the trick, along with a few thousand crumpled Congolese francs, worth less than five bucks, and then we’re on our way again, rumbling down an excruciatingly bumpy dirt road, past thatched-roof villages and banana trees. In the distance giant mountains nose the sky.
When we get to Bavi, we sit down with the village elders and talk gold. The world gold price has quadrupled over the past ten years, but there’s no sign of development or newfound prosperity out here. Bavi has the same broken-down feel of any other village in eastern Congo: a clump of round huts hunched by the road, a market where the shops are made of sticks, shopkeepers torpidly selling heaps of secondhand clothes, and glassy-eyed men reeking of home brew stumbling down the dirt footpaths. There’s no electricity or running water, and the elders say they need medicine and books for the school. The kids are barefoot, their bellies pushed out like balloons from malnutrition or worms or both.
“We’re broke,” says Juma Mafu, one of the elders. “We’ve got a lot of gold but no machines to get it out. Our diggers use their hands. No big companies are ever going to come here unless we have peace.” Which they clearly don’t.
The birds are chirping, and the afternoon sun is slanting behind us as we walk down the hill toward the gold mine. First stop is to say hello to the “minister of mines,” who is at a pub in the market, sitting Buddha-like with his eyes half closed behind a forest of freshly polished-off Primus beer bottles. He is an enormous man and wears a cheap, silvery blazer stretched awkwardly over the thick rolls of fat on his back.
“Hujambo, mzee,” I say, giving him a respectful Swahili greeting.
He burps—loudly. I tell him we’re journalists and we’d like to see the gold mine.
He laughs a nasty little laugh and then says, “How do I know you’re journalists? Maybe you’re spies.” The word “spies” shoots through the market like a spark, igniting a crowd of people, who suddenly flock around us. A one-eyed child soldier glares at us menacingly and fingers his gun. Another young man abruptly announces that he works for the Congolese government intelligence service and wants to see our documents.
Time to leave, I think. Time to leave, right now. As casually as I can manage at this point, though my voice is beginning to crack, I say, “Fine … uh … no problem. Then we’ll just … um … go home.”
But the minister of mines shakes his fat head. “No, no, you won’t. You’re under arrest.”
“For what?” I ask, my throat parched.
“For being in a zone rouge.”
Isn’t most of eastern Congo a red zone, controlled by armed groups? I think. But I don’t say anything, because the next minute we’re marched into a car for a five-hour drive to the larger town of Bunia, where we will be held at gunpoint and interrogated in a dark, little house with mysterious stains on the floor.