Image result for coltan miningColtan is an opaque metallic mineral extremely important nowadays. It’s not a chemical specific element but a combination of columbita (niobium oxide with iron and manganese) and tantalite (tantalum oxide with iron and manganese too). The amount of each of these components isn’t always the same and its market value depends essentially on the percentage of tantalum (between twenty and forty per cent). Coltan can be mined in Australia, Brazil, Canada and China, but the riskiest deposits are in The Republic Democratic of Congo.

But, why tantalum is so important right now? This is because with it, we can manufacture all kind of small electronic condensers, static turbines, human prosthesis, and even nuclear reactors. Its most relevant properties are: High energy efficiency, high reliability and enormous stability over a wide range of temperature (from -55ºC to 125ºC). As a result of all these attributes, people can enjoy, for instance, smartphones with small batteries, thinner lenses in camaras, high speed data transmission, and so forth. It is a priceless component for the electronic world.

And now, please, close your eyes and imagine, for ten seconds, an African tamtalum mine. Maybe nothing further from the truth: men, women and children without safety measures, without especial clothing or shoes, neither helmets nor tools or vehicles. However, you will find hundreds of men with a rifle in their hands guarding every square inch and every worker as a way to control one of the most profitable shady business in the world. The reason for this appaling fact is easy to understand: A Congolese farmer earns 10 dollars a month. However, working in a coltan mine, supposing that they take one kilo a day, they can earn up to fifty dollars a week. And that very same one kilo of coltan, in an international market, can reach the price of five hundred euros.

As you can imagine, Republic Democratic of Congo is living an endless confrontation between armed groups to get the control of the mines. And, to make matters worse, there are other problems such as: the agreements with bordering countries to make smuggling goods easier, the radioactivity of other minerals close to Coltan, slavery and risky work conditions, the environmental disasters (because they have started to exploit the second biggest lung on Earth), etc.

Never since the Second World War, has any other armed conflicts killed so many people. It’s believed that more than 5.5 millions of human beings have died since 2005. And meanwhile, Western World turns a blind eye to it, in order not to hamper the technological and electronic development, the cheaper the better. Our gadgets and devices are more valuable than one single African life.

Everyone should think it twice before changing their two-year-old smartphone.

© Plataforma creada por Alfonso Hinojosa - Profesor de Inglés de la E.O.I. de Santander