Briefing

New trouble in Congo

Instability in Congo affects human rights there, and the cost of cellphones in the US.

By , Staff Writer

3. Its chief export fuels the high-tech trade

Congo may have as much as $24 trillion worth of mineral reserves, and it is the source of an estimated 80 percent of the world's coltan (also known as columbite tantalite), a key component in modern electronic circuitry, from the circuit board in your smart phone to that in your Xbox or Wii.

However, very little of the coltan dug up from Congo's soil is monitored or taxed by the Congolese government, and much of it is actually flown out to neighboring countries like Uganda and Rwanda, which derive tax revenues from its export. Inside Congo itself, militant groups and rogue Congolese Army commanders "tax" the trade in coltan, and use that funding to arm and feed their fighters, leading some human rights groups like the Enough Project to call for cellphone producers to track the source of the minerals they are using.

But frequent Monitor guest blogger Laura Seay argues that efforts to rein in the trade of "conflict minerals" are a blunt instrument that would take away income from artisanal miners and encourage militant commanders to move on to other income sources, such as bananas. She notes that "well-meaning attempts to 'do something' in Africa unintentionally harm the innocent without touching the guilty."

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