Most of us probably havent even heard of cassiterite – the mineral used in electronics especially laptops. There was a time when laptops used to be hugely expensive. Now you can pick up one for a couple of hundred pounds. I dont know whether there is a relationship between the cheap price of laptops and the slave mining of cassiterite but it is quite possible.
At a remote mine in central DRC, workers with torches and pick axes hack at the ruddy earth. They are mining cassiterite, a mineral vital in the production of laptops and mobile phones. But dispersed among the miners are Congolese Government troops — in plain clothes for the camera — literally forcing most workers to work at gunpoint. ‘The soldiers always steal everything. They even come to shoot people down the mineshafts,’ complains Regina Maponda. Western greed for cassiterite is fuelling the boom — at an airfield near the mine, soldiers jealously guard their loot as it makes it way to Japan and the West. Conflict mining is a curse, and it is difficult to see what the G8 leaders can do. [Ota Benga]
There is much the G8 can do where mining feeds conflict. Oil bunkering in the Niger Delta is made much easier through the low intensity war taking place between militants and the Nigerian army. Both are involved as well as politicians – there are huge amounts of money to be made. Like with diamond mining in Angola , copper and cassiterite in the DRC, oil from the Niger Delta are all traded on the London and New York stock exchange. Buyers, sellers always claim they know nothing about the conditions of the mining but that cannot be true. Some named multinationals involved in the trade of mineral in the DRC are Anglo-Gold Ashanti [financial support to armed groups in exhange for concessions] Belgian company Sogem and the UK’s Afrimex though not named in human rights violations, its hard to imagine they dont know the conditions in which the mining takes place since they, Afrimex, buys the cassiterite in it’s raw form. Across the border in Rwanda in the town of Gisenyi there is a cassiterite smelting plant owned by Metal Processing Association which is owned by South Africans.
Another white man sailing up the wrong river. Instead of sailing up the Congo, he should be sailing up the Thames, which is where Coltan is traded – at the London Metals Exchange. And who owns these concessions? Who is the plunderer? HOW does coltan end up in London? Start acting like a journalist andï»¿ do your job for a change.
Here’s how the supply chain works.
The metal is mined by slave labour many under the guard of soldiers from various armies in the Kivu region. It is then moved by more slave labour to central loading locations where it is bought by private traders who fly the minieral to Goma and or Kigali in Rwanda. The ore is further purified and then shipped by road to Mombassa or Dar es Salaam traveling via Uganda. Now the Uganda / DRC border, Bunagana is controlled by various armies of course they collect taxes on the mineral exports.
By controlling the Bunagana border post, the CNDP is able to tax exporters on North Kivu’s busiest transportation route. Rwanda potentially benefits from this arrangement as well because travelers have few viable options if they do not want to deal with the CNDP. Ore transporters can take the Ishasha-Kabale route, but the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda/ Forces Combattantes Abacunguzi (FDLR-FOCA) and the FARDC periodically clash in this area.
Once at the ports shipping agents take over responsibility for the mineral and getting it over to Europe, Japan and China Some of the shipping names are Interfreight Panalpina and a Dutch company, C. Steinweg. The origins of the trade lies with the privately owned business known as Comptoir. Here is one comptoir story.
Senator Edouard Hizi Mwangachuchu, owns a comptoir called MHI. In 1996, Mr. Mwangachuchu was a political refugee in the United States after leaving the country following the invasion by Laurent Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL-CZ) and the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), along with some Burundians and Angolans. When he returned to the Congo in 1998, he founded MHI with his business partner; an American physician from Baltimore named Robert Sussman. They were interested in mineral deposits in Masisi Territory. There are smaller cassiterite deposits around Luwowo in Masisi Territory, but the infrastructure is so poor, it can only be worked by artisanal miners at the present time. The Mumba/Bibatama mine, also located in Masisi Territory near Rubaya, has coltan, wolframite (tungsten) and cassiterite deposits. They purchased land-use rights on Mataba Hill from the Rally for Congolese Democracy’s (RCD) Mining Department, bypassing the approval of the Congolese Ministry of Mining, the recognized state entity in charge of mining licenses. They then proceeded to hire armed guards to protect their investment.
The Comptoir sell on to middlemen who then sell to the people that actually turn the metal into a product to be used in an electronic component. Along side the supply train is a parallel train of war and continued conflict and militarisation of the mining and commerce. Governments in the G8 also turn a blind eye so towards something they could well take action.
Whats being done ? Germany and plans to initiate a certification process which would be for all the G8 countries. In the US the “Conflict Coltan and Cassiterite Act” is being considered plus a certification process. And there have been some minor censures in the UK but without prosecutions these are pretty worthless. So at a very minute level something is being done but nothing that will make much impact on the slave labour at the source. On a final note – Nokia is planning to expand it’s Congolese market and the Chinese government have signed a deal with Rwanda to build a mobile phone plant which of course will need copper, cobalt, tantalum and tin – all from the DRC.