Some facts about columbite-tantalite and the DRC
Columbite-tantalite is needed to produce a super heat conductive material which is used to make the modern hi-tech capacitors for mobile phones, computers, nuclear reactors and playstations.
There are now more than 2 billion mobile phones connected in the world.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in central Africa has a lot of natural resources, including rubber, diamonds and 80% of the world’s known reserves of columbite-tantalite.
Columbite-tantalite is now a valuable, highly sought after resource.
The DRC has been involved in a civil war since the 1960s. Millions of people have been killed, tortured and have had to leave their homes and become refugees.
The north-eastern area of the DRC where Columbite-tantalite is mined includes national parks which are the natural home of lowland gorillas, elephants and okapi.
This area is a traditional farming area.
Militia (soldiers and guerrillas) from neighbouring countries such as Rwanda and Uganda have taken control over much of the mining area. They have made a lot of money from selling columbite-tantalite on the global market to satisfy the demand for hi-tech goods.
The average monthly wage in the DRC is $10/month.
People’s life expectancy is 43 years and falling.
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Joseph Kabila is the president of the DRC. He took over when his father, Laurent, was killed by opponents in 2001. Joseph did not want to be president, but he was forced to take over. The government is very weak, and has little power. Joseph had to invite some of the warlords into the government and give them some power. Some of the warlords have their own armies. Joseph does not have an army, and is very isolated.
There are groups of militia from Uganda and Rwanda who control the mining areas in DRC. Members of the militia are paid very well – up to $60/day. The militia are very powerful, and control the government.
The farmers’ land has been taken over by the militia, and destroyed by mining. The farmers have lost their traditional livelihoods. Food is not produced on the land any more, and people have to look for other sources of food. Some of the farmers have become miners. Others have been killed by the militia or forced to fight.
Women in the north-eastern area of the DRC can find work in the mining process. One job is carrying heavy loads for the miners. Others are forced to work as prostitutes for the miners who have left their families behind. In the civil war, many women have been raped.
The columbite-tantalite is dug by hand by groups of miners. It is a dirty and difficult job.
Miners can earn high wages – up to $200/month, but many earn far less than this. Often miners will sell the ore, but then the money is stolen by militia.
Some of the miners are children, or farmers, and some are prisoners of the militia.
Miners do what they need to do to survive. Sometimes they eat meat from gorillas or elephants.
Some children have left school to become miners, hoping to earn money. Sometimes they are captured by the militia and forced to work or fight. Some have also been forced to become sex workers. Children have been killed and injured in the fighting.
Schools have closed down as a result of the war.