How the PlayStation 2 sparked a war in Africa

If you own a PlayStation 2 you may have inadvertently helped spark a war in Africa.

As it turns out, the PS2 is made in part by an unrefined metallic ore called coltan, which when processed is reduced to a powder called tantalum. Tantalum can be found in a wide variety of electronic devices such as cell phones, laptop computers and gaming consoles.

According to the group Toward Freedom, the launch of the PlayStation 2 in 2000 caused coltan demand to soar. The surge in demand caused the price to spike, rising from $49 a pound to $275 seemingly overnight.

Rwandan military groups – seeking to capitalize on the price spike – reportedly plundered hundreds of millions of dollars worth of coltan from the Congo region. Additionally, they took prisoners of war, including children, and forced them to work in coltan mines.

“Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms,” said Ex-British Parliament Member Oona King.

Sony swears that current versions of the PS2, as well as the PSP and PS3 systems, do not contain tentalum that has been illegally mined in the Congo. And the price for coltan has since cooled down to pre-1999 levels. However, there is speculation that “another Congo resource will take its place as the next ‘hot commodity’, and the emergence of another African resource war will not be far behind.”


12 thoughts on “How the PlayStation 2 sparked a war in Africa

  1. Dont care sorry.
    You really think if Sony didnt make the PS2 Rwanda woulda become a vacation destination for the Bertou family?
    Some people (see Isreal) will be fighting forever.

  2. Nah. I don’t really have the energy for it today. 😆

    I thought the story was interesting because it illustrates how often times the commodity consumption of developed nations can have moral implications for people in poorer parts of the world. (See also: the diamond industry)

    Cell phones, laptops and gaming consoles are all fine and dandy. It’s perfectly appropriate to enjoy the convenience and other benefits that come with these things. Make all the PS2’s you want. I’ll keep buying.

    But at the same time, I don’t see any reason we shouldn’t be encouraging manufacturers (with our voices, votes and dollars) to make ethical decisions on their supply side in order to help raise the standard of living for others.

    Had more companies refused to buy coltan from pirate militia groups, and instead shifted their attention to suppliers in good legal and ethical standing, maybe there wouldn’t have been as much bloodshed. Maybe children wouldn’t have been be taken as prisoners of war and shoved down mineshafts.

  3. Oh and for the record, Team Bertou would love to make a return visit to impoverished areas of Africa – such as the Congo and Rwanda. The first time I did it, it dismantled my worldview and made me a whole lot more compassionate toward the plight of the third world.

  4. Thanks for the comment on my blog! I posted my response there, but I’ll leave it here as well.

    I fully agree with what you’re saying here, but look at the length of time it takes for information like this to come to the attention of the consumer. 9 – 10 years later is way too late to realize that you should be encouraging Company A not to obtain their raw materials from a certain source. Company A should be ethical enough to do their own due diligence on where there materials are coming from, but apparently, that is asking too much.

  5. Yeah…as it turns out this stuff is found in more then just PS2’s, but a whole slew of consumer electronics.

    I don’t seem the harm in making people aware of it. However, to suggest we’re somehow responsible for how foreign political “leaders” mismanaged their resources and treated people brutally is a bit silly.

    Who’s to say that our purchasing of these resources could have had the opposite effect in that country? Causing their economy to soar perhaps?

    However, am I responsible for a business owner’s drug addiction because he uses the money I give him to support his drug addiction? If I purchase from him with that knowledge, yes…but, if not, I’m just buying something.

    Thankfully I don’t waste my time with PS2 or most video games for that matter, but if I did, did I start a war? No!! I need only ask myself, is this still happening? That’s the question.

  6. It is still happening. And it hasn’t caused the DRC’s economy to soar. Instead it has helped escalate a civil war, one result of which has been the enslavement of children.

    And since it is still happening, and we have been made aware of it, that makes me feel at least somewhat culpable with each new electronics purchase I make going forward.

    As such, I’ve chosen to do a couple of simple things in the hopes of helping to make a difference.

    1) Tell others in an effort to raise awareness here on my little corner of the blogsphere.

    2) Sign Global Ministries’ petition voicing my support for legislation proposed by Sen. Brownback (R-KS) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) called the Conflict Coltan and Cassiterite Act of 2008. This bill would “prohibit the importation of certain products that contain or are derived from columbite-tantalite or cassiterite mined or extracted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

    Either manufacturers would be pressured to prove they’ve gotten their coltan from credible suppliers, or the Rwandans would have to clean up their act and end their exploitative practices in the Congo.

    I’ll lend my voice to that.

  7. i simply do not and cannot how people can say things like “i don’t care” about the rampant suffering going on throughout the world. it’s absolutely disgusting and how you face yourself each day in the mirror is completely beyond my comprehension. all i can say is thank God my ma taught me about jesus so i could know about compassion, love and care for those who are in need and who are suffering. otherwise, i might be a completely deplorable person like that.

  8. sorry brosef. i no start flame wars on your site…i was mad about how expensive beer is in quebec city 🙂

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