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Coltan Mineral in Eastern DRC

Written by  William A.Twayigize

The controversy surrounding blood diamonds from the Democratic Republic of the Congo has made world’s headlines since 1993. However, it has remained relatively murky because of well-connected individuals involved in illegal mining and trading of colt a mineral.

Coltan, also known as columbite-tantalite, is a black metallic mineral that contains both niobium and tantalum. It is a heat-resistant material that can hold a strong electrical charge. Most capacitors found in variety of electronic devices are made from Coltan. This rangers from cellphones, nuclear reactors, to aircraft engines. This shows you that those country blessed with this material should be ranked among the richest if and only if their natural resources well managed effectively by its own people. Effective management of our natural resources does not only involve extracting the minerals but processing, trading them fairly. This process would involve people on the community level.

Most of the today’s electronics contain coltan. This mineral is used in the production of electronic devices such as cellphones, game console, and DVD players. Human rights observers charge that coltan, used in electronic devices such as cellphones, DVD players, video game systems and computers, has been directly linked to financing civil wars in Africa, especially in the DRC. Men, women and children are said to be forced at gunpoint to mine coltan that is then shipped out of the country at huge profits.

Coltan mineral is found in a number of countries but the largest deposit of Coltan supply is found in an African country called the Democratic republic of Congo formerly known as Zaire. DRC produces more than 80% of the world’s coltan. There are also other countries that produce Coltan such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Greenland, Mozambique, the United States, Finland, Afghanistan, Venezuela and Colombia.

Although Coltan 80% of the world’s coltan used in the industry today comes from DRC to make our smart cellphones and video games, only half the population have access to cellphone. According to the World Bank report (2012), cellphone us in DRC is estimated to be around 47% in 2013. Especially in the most rural areas of the Eastern province of South Kivu where most of the Coltan is extracted and most illegal mining takes place. It is a wake-up call to both the international community and the DRC government to work together to improve living g conditions of the people from this region focusing on children and women to empower them to benefit from the rich natural resources that the country has to offer such as the Coltan. While the rest of the world continues to enjoy the beauty of electronics made from coltan illegally mined from Eastern DRC, it is a high time that the same world worked together to put an end of the blood coltan at the expenses of the innocent lives of Congolese people, especially women and children. Majority of the people living in the areas where Coltan is produced do not have access to basic things such as clean water and infrastructure. DRC government and international community such as UN which has thousands of troops in DRC should engage in development activities by promoting programs that improve how communities manage their natural resources to benefit their communities. The idea to keep peace in Eastern DRC is not bad but bringing guns alone is not enough to improve peace and security in the region. Congolese need a legal investment in their natural resources in order to invest in their development and improve their living conditions.

Coltan is now more valuable than the gold. It is being used in almost any electronics today, especially cellphones. When you refine coltan you get a heat resistant powder called tantalum, which an important component in most of all electronics today. The market for Coltan continue bourgeoning today. In 2013, the world’s electronic companies used around 7 million pounds of tantalum. 80% of this coltan came from DRC. This is approximately 5, 6 million. However, if you look at what the Congolese people get from all this is next to nothing. They have no clean water, no health clinics, no roads, no schools, and no peace as well. It is very hard to imagine that UN troops have been in this region for over 14 years, but people continue to suffer, especially women who are sexually abused on daily basis with impunity. Creating a fair environment that enables local people to manage their natural resources would not only be beneficial to the national government but also to the international community that support a huge military presence in DRC would start experiencing law and order in the region because of the public involvement.
Over the last two decades, in DRC, Coltan has been extracted under horrible conditions of killings and rapes. Women and children have been subjected to harassment and child labor without forgetting mass rape either by rebels operating in DRC or they have been forced into prostitution at different mining sites in DRC, especially in mines of eastern Congo. In 2006, the UN “reported the illegal mining of Coltan in DRC has increased child labor in Africa where children have dropped out of school to go and work in illegal mining. Others have been abducted by rebels and forced them to work in mining.

It is true that there have been some progress here and there to stop illegal mining and trading of the DRC’s minerals. However, there is much that can be done apart from the formation of programs to identify smelters and try to know whether the minerals on the market did not come from sources that contribute to conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Recently, President Barak Obama signed US financial regulation bill that requires U.S. companies that import certain minerals to file an annual report declaring whether the minerals from DR Congo or its neighboring countries have not been smuggled out of DRC illegally. Justice to the victims of illegal mining and mineral smuggling should be a paramount and a prerequisite to the stability and human rights to the Congolese people.

There have been other countries which have taken steps to promote human dignity in DRC. Recently the Canadian New Democrat MP, Paul Dewar also introduced a bill in the House of Commons seeking to stop the mining of conflict minerals in Central Africa. This bill targeted the DRC. Like I said earlier these political will should also be coupled with justice in order to honor the victims of mineral conflicts, who are mostly women and children. It is also good to help the Congolese government to create an enabling environment that would empower local communities to be actively involved in natural resources management. This would also offer them opportunity to understand the value of their minerals and assist them in planning developmental activities to better their environment, which would contribute to peacebuilding and sustainability.

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