The role of minerals as fuels to armed conflicts in poor countries has been long debated. Conversely, to date, policy initiatives towards the eradication of those clashes have not achieved any noteworthy breakthrough. This work addresses the specific case of the deadly conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the strategic position of a specific mineral commodity (coltan) in such framework. It starts with a short description of the mineral resource itself and its supply chain. In addition, it provides a brief overview of the recent historical background of political instability in DRC and the conditions under which coltan mining takes place. Afterwards, a short ...view middle of the document...
Lastly, they sell their products to original equipment manufacturers (HCSS, 2013).
Brief History of Recent Conflicts in DRC
As soon as independence from Belgian colonial rule was declared in 1960, the newly emancipated state was overwhelmed by political instability, which culminated in a military coup (HCSS, 2013). A single-party political system, widespread corruption, and economic mismanagement were the hallmarks of this administration (HCSS, 2013). Weiss and Carayannis (2004) imply that the genocide of 1994 in Rwanda was the ignition for the onset of the First Congo War, characterized by the Rwandan invasion into the then called Zaire. Supported by other African nations and taking advantage of the weakened and disorganized Zairian army, a Rwandan armed group took over the country. His leader, Laurent Kabila, declared himself the president of the country, then renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (HSCC, 2013).
As soon as the First Congo War came to an end, the scenario for a new confrontation was already being set. Violence against civilians and mass displacement were so starling that the Rwandan troops were ordered to leave the country (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004). The subsequent outbreaks of violence (The Second Congo War) resulted in an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe, moving the international community (Camm, 2011). The growing external pressure in face of the atrocities and human rights abuses led to several conciliatory efforts (HCSS, 2013). Upon Kabila’s assassination on 2001, his son Joseph Kabila became president of the DRC. He started a breakthrough, laying the basis for a transition into a democratic regime (HCSS, 2013). A downside of this revolutionary process was a power vacuum left in the eastern provinces once occupied by Rwandan troops. This vacuum was filled by organized criminal groups. From 2004 onwards, armed conflicts between the government army and those armed groups has given continuity to brutal human violence (HCSS, 2013).
Coltan Mining and Armed Conflicts in DRC
Before 1990s, tantalum was mainly extracted as by-product of tin mining (Tegera et al., 2002). Economic difficulties risen in the 1980s by tin price collapse and lack of infrastructure led to massive closures of industrial mines; consequently, laid-off workers heavily migrated to artisanal mining (HCSS, 2013).
Coltan mining in eastern DRC by the early 2000s was done exclusively on artisanal basis (HCSS, 2013). Notwithstanding the high risks of such extraction method such as lack of safety owing to landslides and collapsing mine walls, coltan mining was seen as more profitable than agriculture and even mining of other mineral commodities (Tegera et al., 2002). Artisanal mining appears to be the most suitable economic activity in a country ravaged by war and lacking essential infrastructure. This is so because it demands minor capital inputs, and due to its flexibility it is more able to effectively react to market and/or political fluctuations...