The Power of We: Congo Calling

Yesterday was Blog Action Day, and I’m late again! But I’m using the opportunity to highlight the Congo Calling campaign. Mobile phones are powerful tools for communication and bringing people together, but they leave a bloody trail. I lifted the following from the Congo Calling website, where there is more information on the issues and how to take action. 14-20 October is also Congo Week.

Congo Calling

We demand fairtrade food and fairtrade clothes. It is time to demand fairtrade phones.

What has this to do with the Congo? Well, every mobile phone contains the mineral Coltan, which is mined in the Congo. This natural wealth could bring many benefits to the ordinary people of the Congo, but instead it is funding armed conflict and horrific abuses.

Congo Calling’s vision is for a peaceful and just Congo, where people can live in stable and prosperous communities, where children are not enlisted, where women are not raped as an instrument of war, and where miners work for fair wages in human conditions.

Mobile phones are currently part of the problem, but could be part of the solution. Our first aims, therefore, are:

  • the UK government leads enforcement of pre-existing UN regulations on illicit mineral trade;
  • mineral supply chains are vigorously regulated by sympathetic governments; 
  • those who exploit the natural wealth and the people of the Congo for their own gain face sanctions, whether large corporations or corrupt individuals;
  • manufacturers make conflict-free phones that include minerals from the Congo;
  • purchasers and users of mobile phones are aware of the situation in the Congo;
  • the ethical consumer choice is transparent and appealing.

Congo Calling was launched off the back of Bandi Mbubi’s thought-provoking talk given at TEDxExeter on the 20th April 2012 – to a standing ovation. There was so much enthusiasm and interest in working towards fairtrade phones and clean mineral campaigns, and a very real human momentum has built up in response to Bandi’s talk.

A seed was sown, an idea worth spreading. Please use your mobile phone and be part of the solution.

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In The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith, Walter Brueggemann writes: “A symbolic sense of the term affirms that land is never simply physical dirt but is always physical dirt freighted with social meanings derived from historical experience. A literal sense of the term will protect us from excessive spiritualization, so that we recognize that the yearning for land is always a serious historical enterprise concerned with historical power and belonging. Such a dimension is clearly played upon by the suburban and exurban real estate ads that appeal to that rapacious hunger. Land is always fully historical but always bearer of over-pluses of meaning known only to those who lose and yearn for it. The current loss of and hunger for place participate in those plus dimensions – at once a concern for actual historical placement, but at the same time a hunger for an over-plus of place meaning. This dialectic belongs to our humanness. Our humanness is always about historical placement in the earth, but that historical placement always includes excess meanings both rooted in and moving beyond literalism.”

Yesterday I cycled past this estate agent’s sign. Its confused message beautifully illustrates Brueggemann’s words.

On one hand, it presents us with the possibility of buying a “piece of Devon”, which, even though it applies to one of many large properties in the street in the middle of Exeter, conjures up images of England’s green and pleasant land, a piece of bucolic, rural, real and rooted heaven, your own cosy and snuggly-safe place.

On the other hand, the instruction is to “Buy this”, and not “Own this”. It is merely a financial transaction, an unloved impermanent investment which can be sold on tomorrow. The appeal to purchase power is set against the promise of belonging, and so our “rapacious hunger” goes ever unsated. After all, this “piece of Devon” turns out to be a second floor maisonette!

Brueggemann continues: “Most of all, it has been the failure of an urban promise that has reopened the question. That promise concerned human persons who could lead detached, unrooted lives of endless choice and no commitment. It was glamorized around the virtues of mobility and anonymity that seemed so full of promise for freedom and self-actualization. But it has failed… It is now clear that a sense of place is a human hunger that the urban promise has not met.”

This leads me to the question: “Is it possible to develop a sense of place in ‘my piece’ of suburban Exeter?”, or more optimistically “How can I develop a sense of place?”, or even “Are this blog and the activities it describes helping me to develop a sense of place, and can I extend that to my neighbours?”

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