methow grist 2011-2014 archive


Congo Connection

Sonja Carson, formerly with the high-tech industry in Seattle, has lived in the Methow Valley since 2009. Here she writes of a life-changing event.

In 1999, I had the good fortune to meet an African leader named Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya.

At that time, our little internet start-up,, was getting ready to launch. Our mission was to impact economic opportunity for women in those parts of the world that were most environmentally and economically stressed. We were investigating a women’s beading co-operative in the refugee camp outside Nairobi. One of our board members at the University of Washington invited Dr. Maathai to speak to us and share her story of the Green Belt Movement. When we met she looked deeply into my eyes and simply said, “I see you.” That was a pivotal moment in my life and one that I will never forget.

In 2004, Dr. Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.’ She brought to our attention facts that we might have preferred not to know. With a smile on her face, she told us stories that made us laugh and cry at the same time. But, she did not let us look away. She showed us the power of community standing together finding solutions to crises like the encroaching deserts that consumed farm land, thus cattle and crops, and food. The Green Belt Movement women planted one tree at a time, until there were over 20 million trees between the deserts and their now returning farm plots.

I believe Dr. Maathai would encourage us to look at what is currently taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are a number of leaders who have recently returned from time in the Congo who have reported on the conditions there and alerted us to information regarding the core of the problem in that war torn country. It seems that part of that problem is every one of us.

The Congo provides a large percentage of minerals such as Colton and tungsten, tin, and gold. These precious metals and minerals coming out of the Congo enable our cell phones, our computers, our televisions, sound systems and I’m speculating that would carry out to GPS in our vehicles and beyond. These metals and minerals are intricately woven into the design and fabric of a myriad of products that are now deeply woven into our lives.

I have no answers; in fact, when I force myself to do a bit of research and try to link it all together, it frightens me. We are all so intricately connected. The Congo and their trouble seem so far away as I sit here looking out at the mountains. I cannot imagine a village of 2,000 people having 200 of their women raped, some of the women grandmothers who were raped in front of their grandchildren. It is too horrific to contemplate and yet, last July this atrocity occurred not far from the UN Peacekeepers.

Were it not for these precious metals enabling my laptop, the research so quickly and easily done; the phone calls, the retrieval of notes on Wangari Maathai, this essay typed, spell checked and delivered via Word, on my lap top - would simply not have occurred. It would take weeks to accumulate the amount of information we can now retrieve via the web in hours.

Dr. Maathai asked us to look at the cost of resource wars. Given the extreme stress being felt in the Congo; given the vulnerability of our ‘resources’; given the atrocities being committed in our names, and our role as consumers, it seems wise to take a look and see how ‘sustainable development, democracy and peace’ are being witnessed and attended to in our lives.

This is not an easy problem with an easy solution. And, yet it seems apparent to me, that this particular problem cannot be resolved unless we are all aware of it and put our minds to stopping it.

This may all be redundant to many of you. And, it is true that if you dig deeply enough on the web you can find any and all information you would need to understand the basics of the dilemma. However, while Nokia, Microsoft, Apple and many others have promised to address the supply chain issue regarding conflict minerals, I see very little appearing in the press discussing how this ‘transparent’ supply chain is going to be enforced.

If we closed the mines that are producing the minerals and metals and found those products else where in the world, it would likely increase the devastation. While the workers there work in a less than humane environment, they do have some work. Taking that away would likely increase the militant activities, not to mention the complete obliteration of the few silver backed gorillas living there. Poachers kill gorillas for bush meat. We see magnificent creatures in the zoo who remind us of Tarzan. I suspect many of the starving villagers simply see them as food.

I wrote this piece because I’m frustrated with doing nothing. We have ‘Occupied’ just about everything there is to occupy. We are a strong community. We vote. We take care of our own. We grow organic gardens and orchards and beef. We are educated and we are responsible citizens.

Would a million signatures on a protest to Nokia solve the problem? I don’t know. We would have to protest to the majority of equipment manufacturers. We might all turn off our cell phones for a day. We can write to our senators and congress. The answers may be hard to come by, but certainly those answers won’t appear unless we are all aware of the problems. We must look and not look away because it seems too big, too complex, too overwhelming.

I no longer believe it is possible for us to change the world through good intentions. Sometimes our good intentions create more problems than they solve. But, I will not forget the Congolese people and the price they pay for my electronic convenience. Nor will I forget the example set for us by one Kenyan leader who would not give up and planted one tree at a time.




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