From the mines of the impenetrable forest of Congo to the mobile market: the beginning and the end of the international traffic of “Coltan”, a precious mineral because it is behind the mobile telephony technology, but it is also damned because it has contributed to finance the conflict, devastating Central Africa since 1998, the most disastrous war ever known in Africa.
A network that involves above all important Belgian, German, American companies and others based in the ex URSS importing raw minerals from Rwuanda dislocated deposits in Kivu. This is the eastern region of Congo under control of the rebel party, the Rassemblement Constitutionnel Democratique (RCD) and its allie, the Rwandan army.
The mineral is, in turn, resold with big earnings to the chemical giants plants, namely the American Cabot or the German Starck, who extract “ Tantalite powder”, to produce circuits and phone microchips for the biggest international brands. Thus, RCD rebels manage to earn almost 1 million dollars a month to buy weapons and continue their fight against. Joseph Kabila’s government, the son of the dead Laurent Kabila. Thus, thousands of local farmers were denied their lands, forced to extract Coltan for the militias and reduced in extreme poverty, at the extent that they were forced to eat wild gorillas meat.
This is one of the most horrible thruth revealed by the UN investigating Commission report published last Monday, that points out the general Congo illegal exploitation of natural resources: not only Coltan, but also diamonds, gold, copper, etc. One of the greatest “theft” towards an entire population, more and more afflicted by war and lack of food.
Over the last 3 years, all African countries involved in the war, both allied and enemies of ex Zaire, have alledgedly enriched their own military and governmental hierarchies, as well as the importing companies of the developed countries protected by their own politic governments through these illegal traffics. In particular, 1500 tons of Coltan are estimated to have been illegaly exported between November ‘98 and April ‘99, for an estimated total of 550 thousand dollars. This can be found in a UN report that the biggest powers have tried to hide for more than a month, while they were cinacally condemning rebels and calling upon vain cease-fire.
Although Congo is not one of the major Coltan producers any longer and Coltan is also used for other purposes, the dreadful connection between mobile telephony and the war in Kiwu cannot be denied : the boom of mobile phones market, above all in 2000, and the subsequent increase in Coltan demand for the production of microcircuits and obvoiusly the increase of its price, attracted rebel fighters and Rwandans to occupy mines, by making them a new important source of financing for the weapons’ purchase.
Since then, the war between governmental militias and RCD Rwandan militias has not been fought in their own battleground, but around the mines, with a number of casualties even among civilians forced to work in mines.
However, Congolese Coltan issue involves several shadows, due to the attentive cuts in the report draft recently made by the Security Council. The Security Council did not resist to countries and companies pressures and decided to delete the burning issues of the text, by halving the document.
In particular, the reference to some Us Hi-Tech companies of the well-known Sylicon Valley and the reference to companies of ex URSS Kazakhstan, quoted in an exclusive article of the French newspaper “Le Monde” on last March , are supposed to have been deleted.
Yesterday, in Belgium above all, there were demonstrations about the central political role played by this country in the conflict resolution. The UN report quotes 13 Belgian companies trading Coltan, including Sogem, a subsidiary of Union Minière, the biggest multinational of import-export of precious minerals, with offices worldwide, also in Italy. Companies charged with illegal traffic of mineral coming from Kivu defend themselves by denying any kind of contacts with fighting groups, stating to purchase Coltan only from legal local producers. The controversy is also about Sabena airlines, accused of trasporting Coltan in Belgium from Kigali, Rwandan capital, illegaly.