Thursday, 20 March 2014

Coltan, frantically promoting war and progress

My wife is getting really upset at my uncontrolled consumption of books. She says we have no space left and the little cuddy we have in the living room cannot take anything else. But the fact is that I love reading, so she suggested me a Kindle; fact is 1) it is too expensive for my financial possibilities at the moment and 2) I like holding my books and smell the paper and relive the memories of walking to my office and lab whilst munching on the different books I consume. I must admit I am an avid consumer of literature, but an eclectic one. From Richard Dawkins to Richard Matheson, from Patrick Suskind to Jose Saramago, I travel the whole globe in search of knowledge, amusement and new ideas.

Recently I've listed yet another book to read this Summer, immediately after I finish four novels (including Napoleon), eight science books (including Ben Goldacre's Big Pharma) and two autobiographies (Man Utd's former manager Sir Alex Ferguson and The Smith's former lead singer Morrisey). The book I'm talking about came to my attention after my wife's cousin, Alexandra Valentim, emailing me a PowerPoint Presentation on the subject of war in Congo... and the need fro Coltan in the industrialized world.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is just on top of the country where I was actually born, Angola. With a population of over 70 million people and a ridiculous life expectancy of less than 50 years, this country is extremely wealthy. But it doesn't appear so considering the devastating war that has been consuming lives unnecessarily. Did you know that 80% of the world reserves of Coltan are found in DR Congo?

Coltan, what is it?
Short name for two minerals, columbite-tantalite, it is also called grey-gold. A very scarce and strategic resource in nature, primordial for new technologies such as sat-navs, mp3/4 players, missiles, plasma screens, consoles, digital cameras, etc.

What's the issue?
The issue is that Congolese workers who are paid ridiculous wages for mining this mineral under Pre-historical work conditions and treated like modern slaves will never see the real value of their work materialized in better life conditions, for them or their families. Several technology companies have been profiting millions from their work and a natural resource that should offer better education and quality of life to the Congolese who inherited it. But in opposition it has been creating more war, more social decay and more offenses to their human rights. In addition, wildlife is treated as pure rubbish as workers are forced to rage against protected areas in search for more of this mineral that will end up supporting a devastating consumption economy in the industrialized modern "civilised" world. The link between a continuing war and the total devastation of Africa through extensive use of their resources creates two realities, both too difficult to operate on and solve: 1) Africans gets poorer and more social decay is expected as warlords get richer and invest even more in modern slavery strategies; 2) We consume terrible amounts of resources that our world can still offer us, at an insane rate of self-extinction that leaves us with immense gaps for the future to come... and usually these things end up promoting more war incidents between countries when the resources become rare, scarce, too precious... Just like Coltan in DR Congo.

Tell me about it?
Well, apparently (because I haven't read it yet), Alberto Vazquez-Figueroa, a Spanish Writer/Journalist and author of the acclaimed "Tuareg" (more than 5000 copies sold worldwide - find it here) published a very good book on this matter. The book is "Coltan" and can be bought online for around £15 (new paperback) or approximately £9 (used paperback version). As usual I am going to buy it and read it, and when done with it I'll leave you with my updated opinion on it. For the time being I did not manage to find a single review online about it, maybe you shall be so lucky and if so, let me know about it too.

1st image taken from

2nd image taken from

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