Coltan Mining

September 10, 2011 DR Congo 7 Comments 136,721 Views

Coltan Mining In The Congo: We All Have Blood In Our Hands.

I just recently heard about a really disturbing topic. And the most disturbing part about it is that we all have blood in our hands. Whether it’s a mobile phone or a PlayStation…for these gadgets to work, there is a brutal war going on in the Congo…

What do we need Coltan for?

The ore Coltan is just one of many minerals over which there is a civil war going on. When it comes to its mineral reserves (particularly diamonds, coltan, cassiterite, tin, and copper) the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the richest countries in the world. And Coltan is its Gold. Out of the ore you obtain the rare metal Tantalum. Without it, the modern world wouldn’t be the same: Tantalum is used in cameras, game consoles, laptops, flat-screen TV’s, nuclear reactors as well as our mobile phones. Since all of these gadgets are produced in huge quantities, the demand for Coltan constantly ascends. And the worst part about this: there is no real alternative for it.

The Coltan War.

80% of the world’s known Coltan supply is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Experts say, that the demand for Coltan is one of the driving forces behind the war in the DRC. Most of the mines are rebel-controlled. A UN-report states that the Rwandan army made 250 million US $ from selling Coltan in less than 18 months (even though there is no Coltan in Rwanda to mine). Apart from the corruption that is going on, child labour is also very common in the Congo, and the mining industry is no exception. In the past ten year, millions of people have died; villages have been (and still are) raided & families have been massacred. The money from the Coltan sale is often immediately spent on new weapons; it’s a vicious circle.

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Environmental issues.


Farmers have been forced off their land (or were forced to mine themselves) as war has ravaged their land. Most of the men who work in the Coltan business used to be farmers. Their wage is above average with about 200 US $ per month. Though the problem about this issue is simple as well. Once they get paied, it’s not unlikely that they’ll be robbed as soon as they return home. The people can’t do anything about this, because…well, life is cheap in Africa…

Wild life:

The Congo is well knows for its Silverback Gorillas and they are also one of the victims because the main area in which Coltan is mined, is in the Kahuzi-Biéga National Park. This park is home to the famouse Mountain Gorilla. Diane Fossey also started studied their life here, before she decided to leave for Rwanda. Miners are killing the gorillas for their “bush meat”. It’s highly priced and therefore the demand is rising. There are only about 130 free living Mountain Gorillas left in this National Park (where before there were over 14.000), and their numbers are still decreasing.

A dead mountain Gorilla in The Congo. Photo by Brent Stirton.
A dead mountain Gorilla in The Congo. Photo by Brent Stirton.

What can we do?

Well, there is not that much that we “little ones” can do, because as usual this lies with the big companies. But there’s still something that each and every one of us can do:

  • Try not to buy a new mobile phone every year. Of course we all know that the iPhone 6 will be faster & better than the iPhone 5, but if you wait one more year, there’s going to be a new phone on the market anyway…
  • If you do decide to throw out your old phone, think of a way to recycle it. Give it to charity, or look on the Internet for other ways of recycling.
  • Spread the word. Most people don’t even know about this issue and the situation hasn’t changed mostly because the consumers don’t complain. Visit to get more information.
Soil erosion caused by excessive mining (source: ABC Australia).
Soil erosion caused by excessive mining (source: ABC Australia).
Civil war because of minerals for our mobile phones...Photo credits unknown.
Civil war because of minerals for our mobile phones…Photo credits unknown.
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“Coltan Mining In The Congo: We All Have Blood In Our Hands.”

  1. Hi,

    I’ve just recently discovered your website and blog and have returned multiple times so far. You photography is amazing and I was very interested in the lifestyle you chose for yourselves.

    This is a great article as it pics up an issues we should all be aware of. As you said we all contribute to this dilemma almost daily. But the sad fact is that we as a society are mostly unaware of what our actions cause others. For one there is sometimes no other way to find out about consequences of our actions but to listen to people who have those stories to tell. Secondly the big cooperations are not exactly communicative on that matter. Profits go first…

    Thanks for the great reminder! Happy to share this.

  2. Hey Philipp,

    Thanks for your comment & lovely words! Very glad that you enjoy our blog.

    As you said, society is mostly unaware of what’s going on behind the scenes. Whether it’s the issue with Coltan, the pollution of our oceans or the current financial situation…we tend to look away as long as it doesn’t affect us. But as soon as it does, it’s too late (at least most of the times). This has always been the case and I think it’ss (unfortunately) not going to change now. The big companies (who really have the power to do something right now)don’t give a damn about nature, life or even the people. It’s all about who makes the most profit…very sad but this is our reality…

    Take care!

  3. Corrina

    I appreciate a fellow photographer, i love your work, which actually was the second thing I looked at. I’m doing a research report on the mining of Colton…I’m amazed at how ridiculously it’s covered up and the word really needs to get out. It is a defense against people’s rights and the environment… If only humans didn’t put their greed first in order to have the best of the best technology and this and that… and if only we were more informed and less niave about worldy issues. The abuse that is happening in the Congo is far beyond words, we just have to figure out the actions to perform in order to stop it, which unfortunately might take a while due to our power in contrast to big companies that want what they want and get it. Thank you again.

  4. Nisa

    Hi Corrina,
    thanks so much for your comment. I’m glad you appreciate our work – it’s always nice to hear that.
    Yes, I agree with you that what’s happening in the Congo (and many many other places on our planet) is inhuman and totally unacceptable. I bet 99% of the people don’t even know anything about Coltan at all …
    It’s always hard spreading the word about something that powerful people don’t want the majority of people to know. But in sharing articles like this, it’s a good way of getting the message out there…
    All the best,

  5. Hi Nisa,
    I know this was written about a year ago, but I was researching the web to find out more about Coltan mining and how it effects (or affects – I can never remember that) the lowland gorilla and I came across your site and your article. It amazes me how little we as American consumers don’t know about this. Why are we not talking about it? There are only 130 gorillas left in the national park that you sited in your article? And that was a year ago. I’m afraid of what I’ll find as I keep researching the subject. I asked my daughter today if she would still want a new cell phone if she knew that a gorilla would possibly be harmed and she said “NO!” of course not. People just don’t know.
    Thank you for your article and the advice at the end. I just wish there was more we could do.

  6. Hi Beth!
    I’m glad that you appreciated the article. I wrote it because I also think that more people should know about this issue and I’m glad that the ones who come across it, think differently (at least a little bit) afterwards. This is unfortunately the harsh reality we live in … our “luxury goods” very often depend on third world countries and the effects that come with it are scary.
    Take care!
    Best, Nisa

  7. David

    My people are massacred…so that fancy gadgets are manufactured…so sad

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