Congo: The Coltan Conflict is in Our Hands (and Cellphones)

Coltan, columbo-tantalite, is a mineral used to make resistors  in our cellphones, video games, computers and home electronics.  Likened to blood diamonds, its mining has not only caused ecological damage, human rights abuses, but some say is also fueling the conflict in the Congo.

First, ConflictVoice points towards Blood Coltan, a 52 minute long documentary by Patrick Forestier. The 2007 film, shows the ins and outs of the coltan trade, the militia situation and the how the lives of everyday citizens are affected by this ore they mine sometimes as their only source of income in impoverished villages isolated from other settlements, and whose use they might even ignore.

blood coltan

Back in 2006, we mentioned Congo's Bloody Coltan, the Pulitzer's Center on Crisis Reporting documentary piece on the mineral and the crisis in Congo:

Global Post posted in late 2009 a gut wrenching photo documentary and interview with a Congolese Coltan miner, a story which might be every single miner's story:

Tristan McConnell, in his Global Post article Cell phone minerals fuel deadly Congo conflict points out why we should care about this issue:

The seemingly endless and faraway nature of the wars in Congo make them easy to ignore.

Until, that is, you realize that the internet-enabled smart phone beeping in your pocket, or the handheld games console that whiles away dull hours contain inside them little pieces of eastern Congo.

Jonathan Gosier, TED fellow, writes in Appfrica about how he mashed up information from Ushahidi crisis reporting maps with areas where Coltan is mined, noting a definite overlap between violence and the mines.


As you can see in the graphic above, red indicates reports of incident captured at while the blue illustrates areas where coltan is mined.

Coltan isn't only produced in DRC, although they are a major source.  Gosier gives some examples of actions some of the companies using coltan are taking to ensure they aren't aiding the conflict:

Many of the worlds leading technology companies use coltan in the consumer electronic products we use everyday (the Wii, Playstation, iPhone, Computers etc). Since the turn of the century most have implemented measures to ensure that most of their coltan is not coming from Congo. Who are some of them? Apple, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Nokia, Nintendo.

However, on the Conflict Minerals blog they have quite a different story regarding the purchase of coltan from the DRC:

Once the coltan is processed and converted to capacitors, it is then sold to companies such as Nokia, Motorola, Compaq, Alcatel, Dell, Hewlett-Packard , IBM, Lucent, Ericsson and Sony for use in a wide assortment of everyday products ranging from cell phones to computer chips and game consoles.

There are others who believe that although conflict and minerals are related, the approach to seeing the minerals as the source of conflict in Congo and addressing only that issue is flawed. Such is the case of the following video Ask the African – Kambale Musavuli, Friends of the Congo:

So what CAN be done about coltan? It seems that at the moment, positive actions are to pressure consumer product manufacturers to ensure that their coltan sources are conflict-free and also to keep ourselves informed so history is not repeated. This becomes quite interesting at this moment, particularly since it seems that neighboring nations Colombia and Venezuela, who have a history of conflict and animosity between their presidents, have discovered coltan in areas near the border.


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