The real costs of coltan mining in the DRC — report

The Luwowo coltan mine in the DRC is one of the few certificated by the United Nations peacekeeping force (MONUSCO) as conflict free. (Image: MONUSCO | Sylvain Liechti.)

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the most resource-rich countries in the world — its untapped deposits of raw minerals are estimated to be worth in excess of $24 trillion.

The DRC is most known for its cobalt mining — about 70% of the world’s cobalt is mined there, often by artisanal miners and even children. The trade has been linked by researchers to violence, substance abuse and food-water insecurity, but much less is known about its coltan mining sector.

Many cell phones and other electronic devices contain tantalum, which comes from the ore coltan (columbite-tantalite). The Congo produces more than a quarter of the world’s tantalum, the scarce mineral that’s extracted from coltan ore and used in Apple iPhones and other smartphones as well as armaments and aviation components. Societe Miniere de Bisunzu Sarl (SMB) is the Democratic Republic of Congo’s biggest coltan miner.

In 2021, the African country’s coltan production was estimated at 700 tonnes, making the DRC the world’s largest coltan producer.

Activists, journalists and scholars have found a relationship between coltan exploitation and large-scale environmental degradation, human rights abuses, violence and death, the Conversation reported.

A new study by Oluwole Ojewale, at Institute for Security Studies examines the impacts of coltan mining and trading on the environment and local communities in north-eastern DRC and poses the question: What can the DRC government and private sector do to ensure responsible sourcing of coltan?

Read the full report here.