Coltan is mined by hand in the Congo by groups of men digging basins in streams by scrapping off the surface mud. They then “slosh” the water around the crater, which causes the Coltan ore to settle to the bottom of the crater where it is retrieved by the miners. A team can “mine” one kilo of Coltan per day. The tech boom caused the price of Coltan to rocket to as high as US$600 per kilogram at one point, compared to a previous value of US$65 per kilogram, although it has settled down to around US$100 per kilogram at the moment. A Coltan miner can earn as much as US$200 per month, compared to a typical salary of US$10 per month for the average Congolese worker.
80% of the world’s known Coltan supply is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which the UN says is subject to “highly organised and systematic exploitation.”
Hard labour: Panning for rare minerals for 12-hours a day, this miner is covered head to foot in the ore-laden mud. It may seem unbelievable, but he is searching for a mineral which will power the most 21st century of items, the smartphone.
Toil: Miners use their bare hands to filter out precious minerals using a sluice similar to those used in a 19th century gold rush.
Coltan financing war
A recent report by the UN has claimed that all the parties involved in the local civil war have been involved in the mining and sale of Coltan. One report suggested that the neighbouring Rwandan army made US$250 million from selling Coltan in less than 18 months, despite there being no Coltan in Rwanda to mine. The military forces of Uganda and Burundi are also implicated in smuggling Coltan out of Congo for resale in Belgium. A report to the United Nations security council has called for a moratorium on purchase and import of resources from the Democratic Republic of Congo, due to the ongoing civil war that has dragged in the surrounding countries.
International trade: A miners cooperative sells the raw materials to merchants who export the minerals to Europe and Asia for use in smartphone manufacturing
Coltan and Gorillas
The main area where Coltan is mined, also contains the Kahuzi Biega National Park, home of the Mountain Gorilla. In Kahuzi Biega National Park the gorilla population has been cut nearly in half, from 258 to 130 as the ground is cleared to make mining easier, which has reduced the available food for the Gorillas. Within the Dem. Rep. of Congo as a whole, the U.N. Environment Program has reported that the number of eastern lowland gorillas in eight Dem. Rep. of Congo national parks has declined by 90% over the past 5 years, and only 3,000 now remain.
Eastern DRC: The Luwow coltan mine is situated in the heart of Africa to the east of the DRC, less than 50km from three rebel bases where armed groups terrorise civilians.
- Coltan is the most needed mineral in phones
- Mined in conflict areas
- Child slave labour
- Civil war in Eastern Congo
- 5 million lives in the past 15 years and counting
- The bloodiest conflict since WWll
- Armed groups financing their warfare