Is That A Bloody Connection To The Congo In Your Pocket Or Are You Pleased To See Me?

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There is a Congo connection to cell phones and all types of digital devices…

We are constantly reminded that we live in a global community and what we do here can have sometimes unknown consequences elsewhere. That’s true for the bloody war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 80 per cent of the world’s Coltan is mined.

Coltan is a mineral that is used to produce tantalum, a metal with unique properties for storing an electrical charge in capacitors. It is used in all cell phones and in digital devices of all types and sizes.

Here is cellular-news to explain more:

Coltan, Gorillas and cellphones

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 neighboring 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.

. . .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.

. . .American-based Kemet, the world’s largest maker of tantalum capacitors, has asked its suppliers to certify that their coltan ore does not come from Dem. Rep. of Congo or from neighboring countries. Such moves could lead to “Gorilla Safe ” cellphones being marketed, much in the same way that Tuna meat is now sold as “Dolphin Safe”.

Should we stop buying any electronics unless it is certified to be “civil war free?” Coltan buyers report that it is nearly impossible to know the original source of the coltan they buy.

The civil war that has displaced and killed millions of people in the Congo is more like a systemic invasion by six armies to exploit the mineral wealth of the country. So that people’s insatiable appetite for gizmos and gadgets can be satisfied?

So think twice about that new gadget, smartphone or laptop. If you need a reason to wait, here is a good one. Another reason why living green is nearly impossible unless we get rid of inequalities and war worldwide.

Here is a news report on coltan mining:

Coltan mining in the Congo

And it’s not just coltan, there is a mineral called cassiterite that is also heavily used in electronics manufacture, and is also mined in the Congo.
(Hat tip to Anne Garrison.)

Tom Foremski
Tom Foremski is the Editor and Founder of the popular and top-ranked news site Silicon Valley Watcher, reporting on business and culture of innovation. He is a former journalist at the Financial Times and in 2004, became the first journalist from a leading newspaper to resign and become a full-time journalist blogger.

Tom has been reporting on Silicon Valley and the US tech industry since 1984 and has been named as one of the top 50 (#28) most influential bloggers in Silicon Valley. His current focus is on the convergence of media and technology — the making of a new era for Silicon Valley. He also writes a column at ZDNET.
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