The Coltan Phenomenon

Linked with Justine Masika Bihamba – Dem. Republic of the Congo,
and with The Pole Institute.

How a rare mineral has changed the life of the population of war-torn North Kivu province in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo, pdf-text published by the POLE Insitute.

(Co-Research: POLE INSTITUTE/CREDAP, A research directed by Aloys TEGERA, Pole Institute Manager, and member of CREDAP, In collaboration with Dr MIKOLO Sofia, member of POLE INSTITUTE and CREDAP, Dominic JOHNSON, journalist).

Excerpt: … The study found that:

  • - as crisis and war in North Kivu have severely hampered industrial mining, existing industrial mining concessions have been turned over to informal or artisanal mining, mainly of coltan. This phenomenon has led to a population exodus of all age groups with the aim of finding coltan;
  • - as a result, agricultural and pastoral activities are being abandoned in favour of coltan. There is a real danger of food insecurity in North Kivu if the agricultural populations continue to leave their fields in order to mine coltan or turn their fields into mines;
  • - young people, easily attracted by easy money, abandon school in favour of coltan mining. There is a risk that juvenile delinquency may develop, based on money and the AK-47;
  • - artisanal coltan mining does not offer security to those involved, who have no experience in the construction of underground galleries in order to protect them against regularly occurring landslides;
  • - the coltan export monopoly granted to the firm SOMIGL between November 2000 and April 2001 created conflicts, as miners felt cheated by price fixing contrary to the spirit of a liberal economy officially expounded by the RCD rebel movement which controls the region;
  • - unplanned coltan mining and export in a context of State collapse and prolonged crisis has been a source of wealth for a handful of businessmen working with old and new mineral trading networks in Eastern Congo, but it has also meant the emergence of a mafia economy organised around the rebel armies and their allies and the armed Mai-Mai groups.

Lobbying for a boycott or at least for a moratorium of coltan exports from the Congo has recently been presented as an easy solution to the problems associated with the international coltan trade. However, we think that if implemented this would only result in the concerned firms either continuing their activities, but in an even less transparent way, or simply moving to other locations to continue the coltan trade in the same or a similar way. The people of the Kivu would not gain, but would lose one of their very few remaining sources of income. The challenge is not to erase the Kivu from the coltan mining map, but to institute a fairer and less harmful way of mining and trading coltan. (Read the rest of this 20 page pdf-text on the POLE Institute).

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