OPINION: Congo-Kinshasa: Blood Coltan – Remote-Controlled Warfare and the Demand for Strategic Minerals – by Giunta Carrie (All Africa.com – November 21, 2013)

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The atrocious war in Congo is tied to the huge appetite in the west for strategic minerals essential to the electronics and military industries. The criminal regimes in Uganda and Rwanda sponsor proxy militias whose violence facilitates the smuggling of these minerals through the two African nations.

The Congolese war, which has killed over six million people since 1996, is the deadliest conflict in the world since the Second World War. If you add the number of deaths in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Rwanda over the same period, it would still not equal the millions who have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Part of a solution to this is for western governments to hold Rwanda and Uganda accountable for funding proxy armies in the DRC. The retreat of M23 rebels from the Eastern DRC in recent days shows international pressure to stop Rwanda from supporting the rebels is working. The DRC insurgency is far from over, as other rebel groups are still to be defeated. There is a long way to go before stabilization in the region will be possible.

Considering that violence and brutality in the DRC is proportionate to the demand for the eastern regions of the country’s rich mineral deposits, it is less a matter of who is funding and supporting one army or another.  The question is, rather, what is creating a heightened demand for conflict minerals?

The high-grade metal tantalum, processed from the precious mineral coltan, makes it possible to build smaller and smaller electronic gadgets like smart phones and tablets. It is also essential in powering a new trend of military applications such as drones. A new demand for tantalum has boosted coltan mining, trading and smuggling.

As stockpiles run low, it is most likely a tantalum shortage could intensify violence again, which directly and indirectly affects people in the mining areas of the eastern DRC.

This province is the richest source of coltan in the world, with an estimated eighty percent of the world’s coltan reserves. Competition for minerals has a direct effect on the relentless violence in the region. Women and young girls have been among visible victims of the conflict and hundreds of thousands of them have been raped by opposing warring factions as a weapon of war.

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