From CopperWikicell phones, laptops, game consoles and other electronic devices. Coltan, short for Columbite-tantalite is a metallic ore comprising Niobium and Tantalum, found mainly in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formally Zaire). When refined, Coltan becomes a heat resistant powder, metallic tantalum, which has unique properties for storing electrical charge. It is a vital component in the capacitors that control current flow in cell phone circuit boards.
When the war in Congo and Rwanda began in 1998, the race for every adult in the West to have a cell phone was well past the starting line. A computer in every household was also becoming a reality. And by the end of 2000, millions of Americans were aspiring for a PlayStation 2, a second-generation video game console. The tech boom, and according to many industry observers, the success of the Sony Playstation 2 Game Console has caused the prices of Coltan to skyrocket. From the beginning of 1999 to the beginning of 2001, the world price of tantalum went from US $49.00 a pound to $275.00 a pound. By 1999, the Rwandan army and several closely linked militias had swarmed over the hills of eastern DRC and took many Coltan mines by force, according to the UN. This demand has fuelled the civil war in Congo and Rwanda as much as Blood Diamonds have. As a result of the pressure to mine more and more Coltan as well as the civil war in the region, Coltan mining, the UN says is subject to "highly organized and systematic exploitation." 
Mining of Coltan
Coltan is mined by hand in the Congo. Bands of men dig basins in streams by scraping off the surface mud. Then they slosh the water around the crater, which causes the Coltan ore to settle to the bottom of the crater where it is retrieved. One team can mine one kilo of Coltan per day.
Compared to an average salary of a Congolese worker, a Coltan miner's wages are much higher -- he could earn as much as US$200 per month, while a typical worker would earn about US$10 per month. 
Coltan's Role in the Congo Conflict
Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms...
(British politician Oona King, Member of Parliament from 1997 to 2005)
A 2001 UN report has claimed that all the parties involved in the local civil war, mine and sell 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.
A report to the United Nations security council has called for a moratorium on purchase and import of resources from the Democratic Republic of Congo, due to the ongoing civil war that has dragged in the surrounding countries.
The Ecological Impact of Mining Coltan
Coltan deposits have been located very close to the Kahuzi Biega National Park, home of the Mountain Gorilla. The number of miners and mercenaries that have begun to frequent the region in search of Coltan, as well as the clearing of vast tracts of land to mine for this `Blood Mineral', has spelled doom for these endangered creatures. Within the Democratic Republic of Congo as a whole, the U.N. Environment Program has reported that the number of eastern lowland gorillas in eight Democratic Republic of Congo national parks has declined by 90% over the past 5 years, and only 3,000 now remain.
How Can You Help?
Individual consumers wanting to stop fuelng the deadliest war in the world can do the following:
- Increase the demand for conflict-free electronics by visiting http://www.raisehopeforcongo.org to email the biggest buyers of Congo's conflict minerals (major electronics companies) and let them know that you want to buy conflict-free products.
- Call, email or meet with government officials and urge them to both cosponsor and help strengthen the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009. (S.891)
- Remain active in educating others on the issues surrounding conflict minerals and the importance of raising your voice (even your electronic voice) to pressure for a solution
Understanding Conflict Minerals: Conflict Minerals 101 Actors Lend Support for Cleaning Supply Chains for Conflict Minerals Tantalum, Tin & Tungsten
- Towards Freedom
- Coltan, Gorillas and Cellphones
- About Coltan