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The illegal exploitation of coltan in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Which influences have the economic interests of the high-tech industry on the maintenance and intensification of the conflict in the country?

Essay 2013 11 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Region: Africa

Excerpt

Content

1. Introduction

2. The resource wealth of the DRC and the importance of coltan for the world market

3. The coltan commodity chain - from the mines of the DRC into our mobile phones

4. The Exploitation of Coltan and the Finance of the Conflict

5. Conclusion

Bibliography

1. Introduction

"No blood on my mobile phone" - This slogan published by a Belgian human rights organization as part of a famous campaign gives a glimpse on what disadvantages the increasing digitalization and globalization has on our society.[1] It refers to a material which is used in almost any device of our daily life. We are talking about coltan, one of the rarest and most sought commodities in the world. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) owes hereby one of the largest mineral deposits, but due to the illegal exploitation of natural resources it is at the same time one of the most affected countries.1 The DRC is rich in various minerals, but because of years of dictatorships and wars that lasted in Congo since the beginning of the so-called First Congo War in 1996, there was not only the death of up to an estimated 5.4 million people, but also the dissolving of ordered structures and the economic system.[2] In the context of rival rebel groups, government militias as well as occupying forces from neighbouring countries like Rwanda and Uganda one can also find a number of foreign companies that take advantage from the lack of structure and use it for tracking economic interests. Over the last decades a web of corruption, exploitation and trafficking developed, through which it was possible for the beneficiaries of the conflict to achieve their profit.

The German journalist Peter Eichstaedt, who himself lived for years in the DRC and reports on the consequences of illegal resource extraction in the country, is therefore of the opinion that ,,the mines that scar the verdant hills and mountains of Eastern Congo produce a very small but very bloody portion of the tin and coltan metal that is critical to our modern lives. Each time we use a mobile phone, use a video game console, or open a tin can, we hold the lives and deaths of the Eastern Congolese in our hands.[3]

In this essay, I would therefore like to analyse the question, in how far the economic interests particularly of the high-tech industry influence the maintenance and intensification of the conflict development in the DRC. Due to this the main thesis will be: "The economic interests of external actors lead to a continuation of the existing conflict in the DRC." Therefore the core of the essay will be the examination of the so-called illegal supply chain and the refinancing options forms by the rebel groups in order to proof the correlation positioned in the hypothesis.

2. The resource wealth of the DRC and the importance of coltan for the world market

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has an enormous mineral and natural resource wealth with the Congo Basin supporting the richest species diversity in central Africa. The DRC possesses abundant reserves of gold, cobalt, diamonds as well as coltan.

The latter was first discovered in 1910 in the northern part of the DRC, in the Kivu region especially in Walikale.[4] But until the beginning of the 1990s and the increasing demand by the technological industry, the mineral was more or less a by-product of the extraction of other resources like casserite. Today the mineral is one of the most valuable trading products in the country. Coltan consists of the two minerals columbium and tantalum, the latter is after further processing steps mainly used to manufacture so-called tantalum capacitors.[5] The important characteristics of those are their small size, their life duration, their low power consumption and its resistance to temperature fluctuations. The capacitors are mainly used in mobile phones, computers, digital cameras, hearing aids, pacemakers and the automobile industry.[6] The growing miniaturization of our technology and the low recycling rate of 10­20% depending on the degree of purity are the most influential factors for the continuous - increasing demand of coltan worldwide.[7]

Currently Australia is the biggest producer of tantalum with about 25% of the global market,[8] but it is estimated that the DRC holds the world’s largest reserves with about 80%.[9] Due to the on-going digitization and technologization this rare commodity is therefore of an increasing demand. This is also reflected in the price development of coltan, which within the last year rose from $38to $95a pound.[10]

Just about 5% of the world’s coltan usage comes from the Great Lake Region, most of them from the ores of the Kivu region. Obviously the region is not critical to the high-tech industry, but “despite the very small role that Congolese tin and coltan play in the global market, the money these minerals generate is hugely significant to eastern Congo. That significance can be counted in the millions of dollars and millions oflives lost or damaged.”[11]

3. The coltan commodity chain - from the mines of the DRC into our mobile phones

The plundering of Congolese commodities has always played a significant role throughout the history of the country and its bloody conflicts. Back in 2001, the "United Nations Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo", which was launched by the Security Council on 2nd of June 2000 with the resolution S/PRST/2000/20[12], stated in its final report on the significant importance of coltan for maintaining and financing the war and for the first time outlined the so-called coltan chain and thus named the actors involved in the conflict-both at regional and international level[13]. Following that also various non-governmental organizations such as Global Witness and Human Rights Watch reported about the trade routes of coltan and its consequences for the population.[14]

The coltan commodity chain starts at the mines of the Kivus forest in the area of the eastern DRC, which is mainly controlled by the Rwandan Army or allied rebel groups, because although there is a big ethnic diversity most of the ranchers are Tutsi or Rwandan.[15] The current political situation in the country and the difficult access to the mines in the forests suspended most of the commercial and legal activities in the area.[16] The mining of the coltan is very artificial, because most of the country’s production is done by artisanal Miners, where at the same time the conditions in the mines are inhumane.[17] The mined coltan is then sold to various local traders, who deliver the coltan in the neighbouring countries such as Uganda, Rwanda or even Burundi[18]. Partial the coltan is then delivered to Mombasa in Kenya or Darussalam in Tanzania from where it will be shipped overseas. There, or in Uganda and Rwanda itself, the tantalum is sold to international trading companies. The number of companies operating in the DRC, however, is difficult to determine: “It has proved difficult to estimate the scale of this aspect of the industry and therefore the best source of information is the Tantalum-Niobium International (TIC) Study Center’s membership list.”[19] In 2003 a total of 13 companies have been acting within the DRC according to that list. Nevertheless its “reasonable to assume, however, that large numbers of traders are not members[20].” In a series of reports that have been prepared for the United Nations, actors and companies are listed by name, which are supposed to be involved in the international trade of coltan from the DRC. The UN Panel report identified a total 85 companies working in the country as an international trading company[21]. Famous companies that delivered the coltan to the processing industry in Asia and Europe are the Belgian companies Sogem and Cogecom as well as the Japanese company Masingrio[22]. The reports show here an opaque web of international companies that are involved in trade with the ore. From the African continent the ore is then delivered overseas for further processing steps. Worldwide four companies dominate the market of further processing of coltan for the electronics industry:

H.C. Starck, Germany Cabott Inc., USA Ningxia, China Shoa-Cabot, Japan.[23]

Those disconnect in several chemical processes the valuable tantalum from coltan, which is essential for further processing for the high-tech industry. Based on the locations of the processed raw material, the obtained tantalum powder is then transferred to Nokia, Siemens, Alcatel and other major manufacturers.[24]

[...]


[1] BBC: Congo's coltan rush, <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/1468772.stm>, (opened: 22.01.2013).

[2] Bundeszentrale fur politische Bildung: Die Demokratische Republik Kongo, <http://www.bpb.de/themen/V2YYSY,0,0,Demokratische_Republik_Kongo.html>, (opened: 20.02.2013).

[3] Eichstaedt, Peter, 2011: Consuming the Congo: War and Conflict Minerals in the world's deadliest place, p. 5.

[4] Hayes, Karen/ Burge, Richard, 2003: Coltan Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo: How tantalum­using industries can commit to the reconstruction of the DRC, p. 25.

[5] Ibid. p. 17.

[6] Ibid. p. 17.

[7] Bundesamt fur Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit, 2007: Seltene Metalle: Mahnahmen und Konzepte zur Losung des Problems konfliktverscharfender Rohstoffausbeutung am Beispiel Koltan, p. 22.

[8] Jackson, Stephen, 2003: Fortunes of war: the coltan trade in the Kivus, <http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country„ODI„COD„4a5b32c20,0.html>, (opened: 21.01.2013).

[9] Global Witnesses, 2004: Same Old Story: A background study on natural resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo, <http://reliefweb.int/report/democratic-republic-congo/same-old-story-background-study-natural-resources-dr- congo>, (opened: 21.01.2013), p. 19.

[10] Finanzen, 2012: Coltan & Co: Harter Kampfum Seltene Erden, <http://www.finanzen.net/nachricht/rohstoffe/Glencore-Xstrata-Coltan-Co-Harter-Kampf-um-Seltene-Erden- 1846614>, (opened: 31.01.2013), p. 1.

[11] Eichstaedt: Consuming the Congo, p. 142.

[12] The United Nations Security Council: Resolution S/PRST/2000/20, <http://www.un.org/Depts/german/sr/sr_02-03/sr1457.pdl>, (opened: 23.01.2013).

[13] United Nations Security Council, 2002: Final report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo, S/2002/1146, No. 7.

[14] Amnesty International, 2003: The Democratic Republic of the Congo: Our brothers who help kill us - exploitation and human rights abuses in the east,

<http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AFR62/010/2003>, (opened: 21.01.2013).

[15] Jackson, Stephen, 2003: Fortunes of war: the coltan trade in the Kivus, <http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country„ODI„COD„4a5b32c20,0.html>, (opened: 21.01.2013), p. 9.

[16] Hayes: Coltan Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, p. 17.

[17] For further details on that: Global Witnesses, 2004: Same Old Story: A background study on natural resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo, <http://reliefweb.int/report/democratic-republic-congo/same-old-story-background-study-natural-resources-dr- congo>, (opened: 21.01.2013).

[18] Global Witnesses, 2004: Same Old Story: A background study on natural resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo, <http://reliefweb.int/report/democratic-republic-congo/same-old-story-background-study-natural-resources-dr- congo>, (opened: 21.01.2013).

[19] Hayes: Coltan Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, p.18.

[20] Ibid.

[21] United Nations Security Council: Final report of the Panel of Experts, Annex III.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid. p.16.

[24] Ibid.

Details

Pages
11
Year
2013
ISBN (eBook)
9783656691730
ISBN (Book)
9783656691723
File size
431 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v275940
Institution / College
University of Frankfurt (Main)
Grade
2,0
Tags
democratic republic congo which

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Title: The illegal exploitation of coltan in the Democratic Republic of Congo