What the global cell phone boom has to do with the metal tantalum and rebel groups in the democratic republic of congo
Tantalus was banished to the underworld, where he suffered the torments of eternal hunger and thirst. Agonies of a moral nature should plague the buyers of cell phones in this country. Your cell phone contains components made of tantalum, a metal named after the above-mentioned greek king of myths. This, in turn, could have come from the democratic republic of congo and its sale could have served to finance the burgerkrieg that has been going on there since 1998, as new scientist claims in its current ie
Tantalum (symbol: ta) is a rare metal that is extremely resistant to heat and acid, is very dense and at the same time easy to process. Because of these favorable properties, it is used, for example, in the manufacture of surgical equipment and in aircraft construction. The demand for this metal has increased dramatically, however, because it is also ideally suited for the production of components for cell phones, pagers and computers: because of its good conductivity, it is used for the production of capacitors, important components that regulate electrical current.
There are huge tantalum deposits on the african continent, around 80% of which are estimated to be in the eastern democratic republic of congo, a country where a devastating civil war has been raging since august 1998. In that time, at least six foreign states have invaded congo and exploited the country, which is rich in mineral resources (besides tantalum, gold, oil, diamonds) like no other. At present, the situation there seems to have stabilized. A turnaround that became possible with the assassination of president laurent-desire kabila in january, whose son and successor joseph kabila is currently traveling the world to express his desire for peace. According to UN estimates, the civil war has cost the lives of about 1.7 million people, and 16 million are suffering from hunger or are victims of human rights violations.
How stable the current cease-fire in congo is remains to be seen. For the country has many occupiers. Joseph kabila’s government is seen as a puppet of zimbabwe and angola, which father kabila brought in as military support: while angola controls the capital, zimbabwe rules in the south and west. The common enemies uganda and rwanda, which supported the armed opposition in the fight against laurent kabila, have spread in the east. And it is in the east of the congo, in the kivu region, that the huge tantalum reserves are stored. Their demand and export is regulated by the company SOMIGL, in which the rebel group congolese rally for democracy (RCD) is the main shareholder and thus also a beneficiary of the enormous world market demand for tantalum.
Tantalum is also available in australia, brazil, canada and nigeria, so why buy the coveted metal in the congo of all places?? According to initial forecasts, demand for tantalum has increased by 20 percent in the past year alone, mainly due to increasing consumption by the electronics industry. The industry is talking about a supply shortage, and the US defense stockpile center has responded to the american market by making additional purchases. An important indication of a supply shortage and the role the metal plays in the defense industry. While tantalum could be bought for 40 to 50 U.S. Dollars per pound in recent years, its price in december 2000 was already 443.90 U.S. Dollars.
In order to be able to guarantee the supply of the world market at an increasing level, the demand in existing mines must be further expanded and new deposits must be developed – this costs a lot of money and, above all, time. The industry does not want to submit to moral concerns. The tantalum-niobium international study center, the industry’s trade association, surveyed by new scientist, says calls for ethical trade policies are ineffective. Every company that buys tantalum for processing is responsible.
In any case, a drop in demand is not to be expected. The industry is already talking about tantalum as a "final metal of the new millennium" and expects rosy times ahead. The congolese opposition does not have to fear an economic slump – it is the consumer who will have to suffer the agony of tantalum.