By Ilan Kelman
Recently, I saw a T-shirt that said “Au W Sn Ta”. I recognised what the symbols meant: they are the chemical symbols for the metals gold, tungsten, tin, and tantalum. But what did it really mean?
I had to ask. The T-shirt’s wearer responded that they are the four main conflict minerals from DRC. Suddenly I understood. What an innovative way of highlighting one of the many sordid chapters in today’s geopolitics of sustainability and exploitation!
Except that not everyone would follow. DRC is apparently not well-known as a large country in Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly called Zaïre.
Even less well-known is the brutal conflict, devastating poverty, and appalling exploitation of the people. All while some people get rich–rich on the metals which the affluent in the world are thirsty for and are willing to destroy a country for.
Beyond blood diamonds, blood tantalum does not have quite the same ring, but is equally malevolent.
Not that this is new. Just look at the Katanga crisis in the early 1960s. That conflict claimed lives all the way up to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
None of this claims “don’t mine”. It does open the debate about the affluent, mainly ourselves, paying more for our metals. If done properly, locations such as DRC could use the income to build a robust state with a healthy and sustainable population.
Resource wars are not inevitable. Violence does not need to accompany the wealth extracted from nature. It happens in DRC and other locations because the world permits it to happen.
All this from a creative T-shirt with just nine letters. Create your own, wear it, and help promote sustainability!
(With thanks to Micky Glantz.)