Conflict Minerals: The Truth Underlying the Systemic Looting of Congo

Coltan: Learning The Basics

with 23 comments

WATCH “Crisis in the Congohere to understand more about conflict minerals.

What is Coltan? (Sign-up here to Pre-Order Coltan Book)
Coltan is short for Columbite-tantalite – a black tar-like mineral found in major quantities in the Congo. The Congo possesses 80 percent of the world’s coltan. When coltan is refined it becomes a heat resistant powder that can hold a high electric charge. The properties of refined coltan is a vital element in creating devices that store energy or capacitors, which are used in a vast array of small electronic devices, especially in mobile phones, laptop computers, pagers, and other electronic devices.

Who are the primary exploiters of Coltan in the Congo?
Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and their proxy militias are the primary exploiters of coltan in the Congo. In an 18 month period Rwanda made $250 million as a result of exploitation of coltan in the Congo. Although Rwanda and Uganda possess little or no coltan, during the period of the war in the Congo, their exports escalated exponentially. For example, Rwanda’s coltan export went from less than 50 tons in 1995 to almost 250 tons in 1998. Zero cassiterite was transported from the Congo to Uganda in 1998, however by 2000 151 drums were transported.

The United Nations notes in its 2001 report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources in the congo that “The consequences of illegal exploitation has been twofold: (a)massive availability of financial resources for the Rwandan Patriotic Army, and the individual enrichment of top Ugandan military commanders and civilians; (b) the emergence of of illegal networks headed by either top military officers or businessmen.”

Foreign Corporate exploitation
Although the countries mentioned above directly exploit coltan, foreign multi-national corporations have been deeply involved in the exploitation of coltan in the Congo. The coltan mined by rebels and foreign forces is sold to foreign corporations. Although, the United Nations in its reports on the Congo do not directly blame the multi-national corporations for the conflict in the Congo, the United Nations does say that these companies serve as “the engine of the conflict in the DRC.

Major United States players include:
Cabot Corporation, Boston, MA
OM Group, Cleveland, Ohio
AVX, Myrtle Beach, SC
Eagle Wings Resources International, Ohio
Trinitech International, Ohio
Kemet Electronics Corporation, Greenville, SC
Vishay Sprague. Malvern, PA

Corporations from other countries have been a part of the coltan exploitation chain. These companies include but are not limited to Germany’s HC Starc and EPCOS, China’s Nigncxia, and Belgium’s George Forrest International.

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.

What are some of the uses of coltan in modern society?
• Laptop computers
• Cellular phones
• Jet engines
• Rockets
• Cutting tools
• Camera lenses
• X-ray film
• Ink jet printers
• Hearing aids
• Pacemakers
• Airbag protection systems
• Ignition and motor control modules, GPS, ABS systems in automobiles
• Game consoles such as playstation, xbox and nintendo
• Video cameras
• Digital still cameras
• Sputtering targets
• Chemical process equipment
• Cathodic protection systems for steel structures such as bridges, water tanks
• Prosthetic devices for humans – hips, plates in the skull, also mesh to repair bone removed after damage by cancer
• Suture clips
• Corrosion resistant fasteners, screws, nuts, bolts
• High temperature furnace parts.
• High temperature alloys for air and land based turbines

Links and Resources
Coltan Wiki Facts
Guns, Money and Cell Phones
United Nations Coltan Primer
Congo’s Coltan Rush!
POLE Institute Report “The Coltan Phenomenon!” (PDF)
Columbium and Tantulum: US Geological Survey (PDF)
“Stolen Goods: Coltan and Conflict …” by Dana Montague (PDF)

Written by Congo Kin

November 25th, 2009 at 4:15 pm

Posted in

23 Responses to 'Coltan: Learning The Basics'

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  1. […] stretches of real estate in the world, endowed with an abundance of vast mineral deposits, such as coltan and cobalt, which are key to the functioning of modern-day […]

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    William Ragon

    23 Dec 09 at 11:12 am

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    Congo Kin

    23 Dec 09 at 7:38 pm

  4. […] device of modern capitalist society, from laptops to cell phones to cameras and jet engines. See Coltan: Learning the Basics. Coltan is just one of several expensive and rare minerals abundant in this remote region of […]

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  13. […] on the Conflict Minerals blog they have quite a different story regarding the purchase of coltan from the DRC: Once the coltan is […]

  14. […] on the Conflict Minerals blog they have quite a different story regarding the purchase of coltan from the DRC: Once the coltan is […]

  15. […] il blog Conflict Minerals [in] offre una prospettiva ben diversa sull'acquisto del coltan nella Repubblica Popolare del […]

  16. […] embargo, en el blog Conflict Minerals (eng) tienen una historia muy diferente acerca de la compra de coltán en la […]

  17. Very helpful website. I can see that no comments have been entered for nearly 2 years. I just found this today when researching the subject after reading a book called “Unfair Trade.”

    There has got to be a fair way to balance this cycle — and most especially to provide solutions which put the Congolese people in the driver’s seat AND ensure they are the financial beneficiaries of the minerals extracted from THEIR land.

    Cell phones are virtually given away free by major telcos just to make sure that their customers sign a 2-year Service Contract. The only way this makes “market sense” is to assume that big western corporations buy in bulk, at very low cost, and give nothing back to the countries which own the minerals.

    There is always a way to fix these issues — if there is a will. If the UN and the corporations drag their feet then consumers need to know the real PRICE of the many applications within which these minerals are used.

    Annie Kelleher

    7 Dec 11 at 3:35 pm

  18. […] a workers are paid around 70 cents an hour, or a fact that many of a electronic inclination enclose Coltan mined by children in a war-torn Congo). we don’t support this kind of exploitation, we am […]

  19. […] until we’re blue in the face, but few of us are willing to abandon using our cell phones whose raw materials lead to so much violence in the region. Or we’ll protest the pathetic wages of workers in Southeast Asia, but most of us refuse to […]

  20. Hi I’m doing my dissertation on the natural resource exploitation occuring within the DRC and how it can be viewed as a State Corporate crime this site is great it really condenses great points down in to one small chunk..Thanks


    8 Apr 12 at 6:32 pm

  21. I am a congelese teen and I am making a documentary about this so THE WHOLE WORLD CAN KNOW!!


    14 Apr 12 at 7:58 pm

  22. Hello Congo Kin, I enjoyed reading about the vast uses of coltan and was able to use some of that information in my blog post. I also feel that my blog Has Your Cell Phone Killed anyone may interested you. Would you mind reading my blog at I would like to have your perspective.
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    17 May 12 at 4:58 pm

  23. […] matter where you live, you’re buying a phone made with coltan, a columbite-tantalite mineral. You’ve probably heard of conflict diamonds, which the typical […]

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