Coltan, the Congo and your cell phone


When Goma was captured by the M23, last November, people wanted to know the reasons behind this new war imposed on north Kivu. People continue asking themselves why the biggest UN peacemaking mission in the world, with its 19.000 men, didn’t stop the military offensive lead by Rwanda in the North Kivu

The connection between your mobile phone and the war crimes and human rights
violations committed for more than a decade in the eastern part of the Democratic
Republic of the Congo (DRC) lies in the metallic ores found there. The ores contain metals valued for their use in a range of high technology products. By controlling the mining, in order to impose a “tax” or simply to expropriate the ores, a variety of armies and militia, regular and makeshift, domestic and foreign, have found the means to continue their conflicts, including the purchase of arms. A strong correlation has been shown between valuable resources and civil wars.  For more details on this read coltan, the congo and your cell phone

What Is Coltan?

Columbite-tantalite — coltan for short — is a dull metallic ore found in major quantities in the eastern areas of Congo. When refined, coltan becomes metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. These properties make it a vital element in creating capacitors, the electronic elements that control current flow inside miniature circuit boards. Tantalum capacitors are used in almost all cell phones, laptops, pagers and many other electronics. The recent technology boom caused the price of coltan to skyrocket to as much as $400 a kilogram at one point, as companies such as Nokia and Sony struggled to meet demand.

How Is Coltan Mined?

Coltan is mined through a fairly primitive process similar to how gold was mined in California during the 1800s. Dozens of men work together digging large craters in streambeds, scraping away dirt from the surface in order to get to the coltan underground. The workers then slosh water and mud around in large washtubs, allowing the coltan to settle to the bottom due to its heavy weight. A good worker can produce one kilogram of coltan a day.

DRC-coltan mining

Coltan mining is very well paid in Congo terms. The average Congolese worker makes $10 a month, while a coltan miner can make anywhere from $10 to $50 a week.

Financing the Conflict

A highly controversial U.N. Security Council report recently outlined the alleged exploitation of natural resources, including coltan, from Congo by other countries involved in the current war. There are reports that forces from neighboring Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi are involved in smuggling coltan from Congo, using the revenues generated from the high price of coltan to sustain their efforts in the war. By one estimate, the Rwandan army made at least $250 million over a period of 18 months through the sale of coltan, even though no coltan is mined in Rwanda. All countries involved in the war deny exploiting Congo’s natural resources.

Environmental Consequences

In order to mine for coltan, rebels have overrun Congo’s national parks, clearing out large chunks of the area’s lush forests. In addition, the poverty and starvation caused by the war have driven some miners and rebels to hunt the parks’ endangered elephants and gorillas for food. In Kahuzi Biega National Park, for example, the gorilla population has been cut nearly in half, from 258 to 130.

Tracing the Source

The path that coltan takes to get from Central Africa to the world market is a highly convoluted one, with legitimate mining operations often being confused with illegal rebel operations, and vice versa, making it difficult to trace the origin. To be safe, in recent months many electronics companies have publicly rejected the use of coltan from anywhere in Central Africa, instead relying on their main suppliers in Australia. American-based Kemet, the world’s largest maker of tantalum capacitors, has asked its suppliers to certify that their coltan ore does not come from Congo or bordering countries. But it may be a case of too little, too late. Much of the coltan illegally stolen from Congo is already in laptops, cell phones and electronics all over the world.

The entire world pray and fasts with the Pope for the Congo and South Sudan

pope prays for South Sudan
On November 23rd, 2017, Pope Francis joined Catholics and non-Catholics in a special day of prayer and fasting for peace…. especially for the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.

At All Saints Episcopal Church in Rome on 26 February 2017, Pope Francis had announced that with his collaborators he was considering the possibility of going to South Sudan. He explained that the Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic South Sudanese bishops had together approached him asking him to visit South Sudan along with the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Unfortunately, due to security concerns, a planned October 2017 visit had to be canceled. The Justice and Peace committees of both groups representing the superiors general of men and women religious in Rome, the Diocese of Rome, and other groups organized that prayer service. Then in January 2018 a roundtable on the same issue was convoked at the Pontifical University Urbaniana.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Between 1998 and 2002, about 5 million people died in the Congo in what has been called “the First African World War.” Rich in petroleum, diamonds, coltan, cobalt, silicon and uranium, local and international interests have turned the country into a battleground. In addition, Joseph Kabila, the Congolese President, has created political unrest because he refuses to step down from power after his mandate expired in December 2016. There are hundreds of thousands of refugees in Kivu and Ituri. Mass graves have been found and the military is responsible for widespread violence against civilians.

South Sudan

South Sudan is the youngest country in the world. It was born after a referendum in 2011 after the longest civil war in the history of Africa which began in 1960, shortly after Sudan gained its independence from Britain, until 2011. Two years later, in December 2013, followers of Salva Kiir, the president, and those of his former vice-president Riek Machar began armed conflict in the capital of Juba. Since then about twenty cease fires have been violated. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the war. It is estimated that up to 25% of the country’s twelve million people have been displaced because of the war. Around 1.5 million of these displaced persons have taken refuge in neighboring countries. Some estimates say that half of the population is facing starvation. One of the atrocities of this conflict is the high use of children as soldiers.


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