Coltan is a dull black metallic ore from which the elements niobium and tantalum are extracted – used in various technological products including cellphones, personal computers, tables etc. Their main function in any technological product is to power and cool the device. This rock is largely and mostly illegally and unethically mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo and is used in almost every cell phone in the world. Dena Montague best describes the mineral as follows: “Coltan in its raw form simply looks like black mud or sand. Columbium and tantalum almost always occur together, but columbium is found in greater abundance than tantalum. Although the oxides of columbium and tantalum are chemically similar, tantalum is twice as heavy as columbium and is much more conducive to high-tech needs of the electronics industry. Once processed into capacitors, it conducts the electric charge in high-tech equipment ranging from cellular phones and computers to jet engines, missiles, ships, and weapons systems.”
Militia groups and armies sometimes working with Multinational corporations, some government officials and sometimes disguised as “protecting the country’s resources” in the DRC have been exposed in their attempts to control mining by deliberately maintaining civil war in the country. Reports have shown the relationship between valuable resources and civil wars in Africa and beyond, there has been a clear determination of the risk increased by commodities and prolonged conflict.
Reports show that coltan mining in the DRC boomed in 2000 as a result of the tantalum price spike of 2000/2001. In that year, the DRC accounted for 12% of world’s primary production of tantalum. An investigation done by the Pole Institute around the year 2000 revealed that “despite the high risks (low physical safety in mines due to landslides and collapsing mine walls; insecurity created by armed rebel groups and criminals), coltan mining was viewed as a more attractive activity than agriculture. Coltan mining also became more profitable than mining other minerals, such as gold or diamonds.” Programs such as Vice News pointed out that “thousands of Congolese were drawn to coltan mines by stories of miners rapidly getting rich.” This ultimately led to the scenes we have witnessed today in that country.
Publications of Share the World‘s Resources (STWR) maintain that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has since around 1996 been suffering “widespread looting, rape and killings of civilians in conflict zones, the international community has failed to take any actions against the actors in the conflict. They have, moreover, neglected the role of multinational corporations in the DRC conflict.” Various reports have exposed and condemned what is happening in that country and there has however been very little response from the international community in general. However some optimistically submit that “the exploitation of coltan in Central Africa can be considered a case of conflict minerals due to its nature. Many international organisations and bodies, national governments and private sector organisations seek to address this conflict, in particular via transparency, certification and accountability along the material supply chain.”
Multinational corporations have a very crucial role in the maintenance of human rights violations, child labour and exploitation of minerals in the DRC including conflict that have resulted in mass atrocities. A report produced in 2001 by the United Nations (UN) indicated that about 85 companies have desecrated international standards of good corporate conduct; these companies are looting the mineral resources of the DRC on “an alarming rate”. The UN argues that there is a “systematic exploitation of natural resources”. The report contends that some companies in the DRC exist solely to “facilitate illegal activities in the country. It shows that “On the Ugandan, MLC and RCD-ML side, rebel leaders and/or Ugandan military officials created new companies and businesses using pretenses. Most, if not all, of these companies are privately owned by individuals or a group of individuals.”
The United Nation’s Security Council has demanded that every country should apply due diligence when interacting with minerals from the Congo. It has also advised that African countries Particularly those in the African Great Lakes region to regularly publish import and export statistics for natural resources including coltan.