Ongoing conflicts had made exploitation of coltan ore problematic, and much of it was mined illegally and smuggled out of the country by militias from Rwanda and other neighboring countries. As a result, Congolese coltan represented only about a tenth of the world’s total production even though the DRC was believed to have seventy percent of known coltan reserves. –The Orphan Uprising
The DRC…rich in minerals yet one of the poorest nations on earth.
In book three of The Orphan Trilogy, Nine (aka Sebastian) has reason to cross Zambia’s northern border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – previously and variously known as the Belgian Congo, Congo Free State, Congo-Leopoldville, Congo-Kinshasa and Zaire – in central Africa.
Nine’s target is a coltan refinery owned and operated by American conglomerate Carmel Corporation. The corporation is a fictitious entity, but the precious metallic ore known as coltan – official name columbite-tantalite – is very real.
This precious ore is found in large quantities in the DRC’s disputed eastern regions. When refined, the result is metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder capable of holding a high electrical charge – properties that are essential for the creation of electronic elements known as capacitors.
These capacitors are included in the manufacture of mobile phones, digital cameras, laptop computers and in communications technology generally, making coltan an indispensable part of the burgeoning and extraordinarily profitable communications and technology sectors. Hence its value.
DRC’s estimated mineral wealth US$24 trillion
African diamond miners at work (above). The end result of their labors (below).
As chance would have it, the DRC is believed to have seventy to eighty per cent of known coltan reserves worldwide. It also has around one third of the world’s known diamond reserves and is rich in other precious metals, too. With reserves of untapped mineral deposits estimated at US$24 trillion, it’s little wonder the DRC is considered by some to be one of the wealthiest countries in the world, if not the wealthiest, in terms of natural resources.
Now here’s the rub: the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been beset by war and is one of the most violent, unstable and poverty stricken nations on the planet.
In an article on the All Africa online news site dated November 21, 2013, the Congolese war (which incorporates the back-to-back First and Second Congo Wars) is said to have “killed over six million people since 1996,” and “is the deadliest conflict in the world since the Second World War. If you add the number of deaths in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Rwanda over the same period, it would still not equal the millions who have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo”.
Scenes like this all too common throughout the African continent.
Fatalities are just one side of the conflict, however, with rape also being used as a “weapon of war”, the article goes on to mention. Women and young girls raped during the conflict are estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands.
It’s a sad truth that conflict over control of the DRC’s mineral wealth accounts for much of the violence. Hence the term conflict minerals used to describe coltan, diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt and other precious minerals in the DRC and, indeed, throughout much of Africa.
Digging for gold in the Congo.
To Nine’s way of thinking, the problems surrounding the exploitation of coltan in the DRC epitomized the problems the entire African continent faced in capitalizing on the huge untapped wealth that lay beneath its surface. Corruption, political unrest and outside interference from non-African countries ensured the continent that should be the world’s wealthiest remained the poorest. –The Orphan Uprising
A plethora of rebel militias
In the DRC, the link between its vast mineral resources and financing the various militia groups running riot is impossible to ignore. And coltan plays a key role in this never-ending conundrum.
Ongoing conflicts have made exploitation of the DRC’s coltan ore problematic to put it mildly. As a result, Congolese coltan represents only about a tenth of the world’s total production even though it has the lion’s share of the precious metal within its borders.
A UN Security Council report leaves no doubt much of the country’s coltan is mined illegally and smuggled out by rebel militias from neighboring Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. Monies earned by these forces finance the ongoing conflict.
So who are these militia groups who are holding the DRC to ransom?
According to South African investigative site Daily Maverick there’s a plethora of rebel militias “all of whom are capable of causing varying degrees of chaos” in the eastern DRC.
In a report on the main rebel factions operating there, Daily Maverick states: “The M23 rebel movement has been the strongest in recent years, closely followed by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a motley but dangerous band of Rwandan refugees (some on the run from their role in the Rwandan genocide) and ethnic Hutus, dedicated to their own survival and the eventual overthrow of the Rwandan government”.
The report continues: “Their existence is thought to be a major factor in Rwanda’s involvement in the conflict in the eastern DRC (that and the region’s vast, lucrative mineral supplies, of course) and the group has a horrendous record when it comes to respect for human rights”.
As for the amount of money at stake, the Rwandan Army was rumored to have raised around US$250,000,000 from illegal coltan sales in just 18 months. The Rwandans have denied this of course.
Government troops or armed militia…it’s not always obvious in Africa.
“The continent that contains the most poverty also contains the most wealth.” –Bono, from a speech given at the G8 summit held in Chicago, IL, in May 2012.
An unnecessary war
It has been widely acknowledged that the brutal war in the DRC is primarily and directly related to the massive demand in the developed world’s countries for the minerals required for their military and electronic industries.
Coltan reserves are not abundant around the world like many other precious metals are. For instance, no coltan mining is undertaken in the US, which is totally reliant on imports of the precious material. The DRC is by far the easiest and cheapest place for the US to import coltan from.
Coltan mining is declining in Canada. And although China has some coltan, it has nowhere near enough to provide for its own high demand for the commodity. Both countries are in a very similar position to the US in this regard.
If the likes of North America and China dealt with alternative coltan suppliers – such as Australia – that would prove far less profitable than dealing with the DRC whose Third World conditions and lack of protections in place guarantee coltan can be sourced at rock bottom prices.
As mentioned in Chapter 16, fleecing the Third World has been a reality for decades if not centuries. Mineral-abundant Third World nations, which should be some of the richest on Earth, are all too often among the poorest. Many argue that the poverty of these nations can usually be blamed on wars strategically engineered by developed nations and Superpowers – wars that are also armed and funded by the developed world.
There is no greater example of this ugly phenomenon than in Africa, and the DRC has regularly been referred to as the poorest country in the world by international aid agencies.
As well as engineered wars that last for many years, the DRC is also raped financially over and over again. The World Bank loans the country billions annually and special clauses in the loan agreements allow for multinational companies to take virtually all the DRC’s enormous mineral resources for a pittance.
Meanwhile, the DRC is left indentured to the World Bank, forever attempting to pay off crippling interest rates. Almost none of the nation’s mineral wealth flows back to its people.
Mining coltan in the Congo (above). These ordinary looking rocks (below) are coltan.
To add to the problem, many tens of thousands of children in the DRC are employed as miners – oftentimes in coltan mines. The work is primitive, dirty and dangerous.
Workers dig large craters in riverbeds to access the coltan. They then mix water and mud in big tubs to encourage the heavy coltan to settle on the bottom – much like gold miners did panning and sluicing for gold in years gone by. The mines management calls it child labor and officially employs children as young as 12 for this work; the outside world views it as slave labor, which is exactly what it is of course.
Child labor = slave labor in the DRC.
As most mobile phones contain coltan, it’s not too dramatic to say there’s blood on your cell phone – the blood of Congolese workers who are dying in their hundreds of thousands in a conflict that continues to claim many lives. There’s no doubt the demand for coltan is financing the conflict in the DRC and helping to promote the evil that is child/slave labor.
In an October 31, 2010 article by the leading Pakistani media outlet The Express Tribune, columnist Fatima Najm asks if “Pakistan’s 100 million cell phone users know their devices may be soaked in Congolese blood”.
Najm says within each of those phones are small amounts of coltan that add up to a lucrative illegal trade. “The explosive growth in the wireless industry means that demand for these tin ores collectively results in the rape and torture of hundreds of thousands of innocent Congolese people a year”.
The columnist points out that Congo is resource-rich, and its mighty river system has the potential to power all of Africa’s electricity needs. “Experts say stability in Congo could translate into peace and progress for all of Africa, but at least five neighboring countries have proxy militias battling each other in Congo for control of valuable tin ores”.
Is there blood on your cell phone…Probably.
Blood coltan not as sexy as blood diamonds
Najm makes an interesting comparison between Congolese coltan and diamonds, advising it’s logical to assume that “given the widespread violence attributed to coltan…one would imagine it would be destined for the same sort of notoriety as blood diamonds”.
Alas, not so, it would seem. ‘Blood diamonds’ obviously sounds a whole lot sexier than ‘blood coltan’ to Western media, moviegoers and the general public.
Blood Diamond the movie and star Leonardo DiCaprio made blood diamonds “sexy”.
Predictably, smart phone manufacturers and the like have been quick to distance themselves from the whole murky business. Some publish disclaimers, denying that they source coltan from militia’s operating in the DRC; many claim the supply chain for coltan mined in the DRC is so complex it’s impossible to ascertain whether it has been legally or illegally mined and supplied.
To be fair, several high profile manufacturers in the US and elsewhere are sourcing their coltan from outside the DRC and, indeed, outside central Africa until such time as the legitimacy of mining operations there can be more clearly established. However, they’re in the minority.
Cell phone consumers and others have long been questioning the legitimacy of products. For the most part, it appears their questions are falling on deaf ears. Perhaps it’s time to ask more questions – and ask them louder.
There has been a campaign in recent years to try to force the big multinational companies to disclose whether or not they use Congolese conflict minerals. However, it’s often impossible to prove where such minerals come from.
Just as crafty banksters frequently transfer vast sums of money between various offshore tax havens to conceal their money trail, corporations that profit from ultra-cheap Congolese conflict minerals have middle men – usually warlords – who smuggle minerals from country to country so it’s extremely difficult to trace their origins.
Convoluted smuggling routes make source of conflict minerals hard to trace.
Of course, the problem of conflict minerals isn’t limited to the Democratic Republic of the Congo; it exists throughout much of the African continent. Equally, the problem isn’t limited to Africa.
Perhaps the last word on this vexing issue should go to The Guardian contributor Zobel Behalal, a peace and conflict advocacy officer, who reminds us that in Burma the mining industry was militarized for several decades, with the national army controlling mining sites, business operations and exportation, while in Colombia tantalum, wolframite and gold mines as well as their respective business concerns are controlled and taxed by armed groups.
Writing in The Guardian, Behalal says, “Products that have funded conflicts can only reach the international market with participation of the businesses that buy and use them. Bloomberg revealed that BMW’s, Ferraris, Porches and Volkswagens contain tungsten and wolframite that come from businesses under the control of the FARC Colombian rebels”.
Behalal insists these aren’t isolated cases.
“The trade of natural resources continues at the expense of violence and human rights violations. There is an urgent need to create a win-win contract between the economic factors and the local populations in order to create real and sustainable development in countries rich in natural resources.
“Due diligence must be enforced as a mandatory requirement throughout the supply chain of natural resources.”
Laborers toil at Burma’s famed Hpakangyi jade mine.
Nine was aware the continued siphoning of coltan, as well as cobalt and diamonds, from the eastern Congo was part of a wider conspiracy to destabilize the country. –The Orphan Uprising
It’s our contention governments, big corporations, industries and business moguls of the West and elsewhere in the developed world are very aware of what’s going on in Third World countries like the DRC. At best they pay lip service to the need to stamp out the conflict minerals business; at worst they knowingly encourage the trade in conflict minerals.
There does seem to be enough evidence – anecdotal and otherwise – surrounding the trade of coltan sourced in the DRC to suggest most are content to turn a blind eye to the exploitation of natural resources and the human cost of the conflict minerals business. To our eyes at least, this evidence is overwhelming. So overwhelming that, of the 29 conspiracy theories highlighted in The Orphan Trilogy, the blood minerals conspiracy is probably among those most likely to be true.
But hey, what do we know?
Read more in The Orphan Conspiracies: 29 Conspiracy Theories from The Orphan Trilogy – available now via Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/The-Orphan-Conspiracies-Conspiracy-Theories-ebook/dp/B00J4MPFT6/
A book that’s for the common people.
Not all is what it seems! –James & Lance