Buying an iPhone in Kinshasa

After a long day of reporting, Alain—a wonderful local journalist helping us with our stories—and I set off on a mission to buy him a new iPhone.

“We don’t have an Apple store in Kinshasa,” he tells me, as we dodge taxis crossing one of the main boulevards. On one hand it isn’t surprising; given the corruption-fueled lack of development in the city, it would be weird to see an international brand name store here. It is ironic, though; most of the minerals that make Apple products function—such as cobalt and copper—are found almost exclusively in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Like the perfectly formed bananas leaving Costa Rica’s ports for grocery stores in the United States that leave their rotting cousins behind, the breadth of Congo’s incredible natural resources are rarely enjoyed by its citizens.

In the first shop, a Lebanese man tries to sell him an iPhone 5—the most advanced model available—for $550.00. Meanwhile in the United States, this model is hardly even available, and I’m pretty sure they’ve stopped making the accompanying headphones as they’re out of date.

Naturally that was way too much money, so we headed to a different store—where he was able to find a more advanced model for a more reasonable price. Still, I can’t stop thinking about what would be possible if the resources that are being mined from national parks near the city limits were being invested here. Would the same conflicts that robbed Alain and many others of their childhoods still be happening in the East? Would there be actual salaries, so that people did not need to resort to corruption and robbery in order to survive? Would there be stoplights to keep people safe while crossing the city boulevards?

It is amazing how much can change—and how much cannot—with a simple redistribution of resources.

Anna Lekas Miller, DRC Reporting Fellow