Coltan is a rare mineral used in the production of tantalum capacitors – a component of many electronic devices. An estimated 80% of the world’s coltan reserves are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In 2003 a UN security council report condemned the illegal mining and smuggling of coltan ore by militias from neighbouring countries; Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.
The FDLR rebels – comprising of members of the Hutu Interahamwe, who were responsible for the brutal butchering of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide, having subsequently fled to the DRC – are reported to be using valuable minerals obtained in their territories in eastern DRC in exchange for weaponry. These minerals wind up in western electronic goods. Since their occupation of the DRC, the FDLR have been involved in killing government troops and civilians in Busurungi, as well as in many other villages, and have been reported to have carried out mass rape and sexual violence.
The FDLR are by no means the only group known to profit from the minerals of eastern Congo. Bosco Ntaganda otherwise known as “the Terminator”, is reported to control the Mungwe and Fungamwaka mines, and profits from mineral exploitation at Nyabibwe, and taxation at Rubaya (see here). Ntaganda has been indicted by the ICC for war crimes, including the use of child soldiers (KONY 2012 supporters might feel a twinge of painful irony here).
Furthermore, these mines have been reported to exploit children in slave-like conditions (See below):
Much of the coltan (one of the many minerals that these violent criminals profit from) is exported to China – which then goes into their electronic goods, which we in the West consume in blissful ignorance. The point of this post is not to make you feel guilty for possessing electronic goods, the demand for which is contributing to the territorial conflicts in the mineral rich eastern DRC. The point is to get you to think about what we as consumers can do about this. I think that we need to demand evidence that the coltan used in our mobile phones and other electronic devices is not being sourced from conflict regions. We need to do what we can to raise awareness about these issues, and need to make producers aware that their exploitation of bloody conflict ridden regions will not go unnoticed and unchallenged.