Blood Coltan Fuels Butchery in the Congo

By B. McPherson

Is that blood on your ear? Is blood oozing from the coltan that helps power your phone, your computer and a myriad of other electronic goods that make life in N. America so enjoyable?

Coltan is the commercial name for the ores columbite and tantalite which, when refined, is used in electronic capacitors. Australia, Brazil and Canada are some of the leading producers of this new “gold”, but 80% of the world’s supply comes from sub-Saharan Africa. At one point this most useful substance was fetching $1000 per kilo. It has fueled a mineral rush in the eastern Congo (DRC).

There were far reaching effects of the discovery of this mineral. Firstly, the miners rushed to exploit possible deposits, with no regard to the environmental consequences. Virunga Park has fallen victim to the freelance digging. Accompanying the ruin by mining is the poaching of large mammals for bush meat, including the critically endangered mountain gorilla. The DRC has the second largest rain forest which is important in helping regulating and modifying the Earth's climate. This is being destroyed in the mineral rush.

The human toll has been staggering. Children are employed in these “boutique” mining operations which are carried out in unsafe conditions. It didn’t take long for criminals to move into the industry to exploit the new mineral wealth and victimize the miners and their families. Then the various irregular militias, some from neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda moved in to scoop up more wealth to fuel their bloody ways.

In a recent count, there are 6 million dead in the DRC as a result of the lords of war.

The DRC has vast mineral wealth. Diamonds, gold, tin, copper, cobalt and coltan are present in fabled amounts. The mining and selling of these resources have not helped the general population who have been colonized and victimized and are now the subject of genocide. You may well ask if the ordinary people are not benefitting from the sale of billions of dollars of mineral wealth who is.

“The United Nations notes in its 2001 report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources in the congo that "The consequences of illegal exploitation has been twofold: (a)massive availability of financial resources for the Rwandan Patriotic Army, and the individual enrichment of top Ugandan military commanders and civilians; (b) the emergence of of illegal networks headed by either top military officers or businessmen." Friendsof the Congo

Friends of the Congo go on to name some multinational corporations that fuel the conflict in Africa by buying the blood coltan. They name companies in the US, Germany, Belgium and China. The US has laws that prohibit the use of tantalum that is from conflict areas, but the reality is that once refined, the source is almost impossible to determine.

New sources of this modern “gold” are being discovered in S. America. Perhaps when these sources are developed, the market for blood minerals will also disappear.

A powerful film explaining some of the issues in the complex situation may be viewed at: Crisis in the Congo


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