Congolese Coltan

‘I knew immediately afterwards that this show was a success. How come? When I went to switch on my mobile telephone, I felt guilty.’
Daily Mail on They Drink It In The Congo

Inspired by They Drink It In The Congo, we're exploring some of the themes and issues bought up in the play. Our first installment looks at Coltan, a metallic mineral that, whilst dull in appearance, is one of the crucial elements to 21st century living.


What is it?

Columbite-tantalite, or Coltan for short, is a dull metallic ore from which two key minerals can be extracted, Niobium and Tantalum. Once refined, Tantalum is one of the vital ingredients for the world’s electronics industry, with Niobium used primarily in high strength steels.

70% of DRCs Coltan is consumed by the electronics industry, with Tantalum itself being highly conductive. As such it is primarily used to create capacitors in circuit boards in phones, tablets, laptops, ink jet printers, camera lenses, jet engines, prosthetic devices, pacemakers, games consoles, and many other technologies we have come to depend on.

With an ever growing demand on new devices and technology, the demand for Coltan will inevitably grow. There is no current alternative for this ore.


Where does it come from?

The Democratic Republic of Congo possesses 80% of the world’s Coltan, with the ore mined by hand across the DRC, with methods and conditions similar to those in the 19th Century Californian Gold Rush. The violence surrounding Congo’s Coltan mines escalated dramatically when the price of Coltan soared after the technology boom in the late 1990s, making it one of the DRCs most controversial conflict minerals.

1kg costs around $100, but prices have historically been as high as $600 per kg. A Congolese Coltan miner can earn up to $200 per month. However according to a recent report by Amnesty International children as young as seven are working in Congolese mines, being paid a dollar a day to extract this ore.

Click here for our page on a brief history of the DRC, and the origins of 'Africa's World War'.


In depth:

A number of organisations have reported on Coltan mining in the DRC, including:

Amnesty International: Is your phone powered by child labour?

Daily Mail: Picks, pans and bare hands.

BBC: Dan Snow’s history of the exploitation of D.R Congo - a country described as being ‘cursed by its natural wealth’

National Geographic: The Price Of Precious - ‘The minerals in our electronic devices have bankrolled unspeakable violence in the Congo.’

BBC: ‘People are now beginning to ask: what is the human cost of a mobile phone?’


If you’re interested in learning about D.R. Congo – its past, present and future –  They Drink It In The Congo playwright Adam Brace in conjunction with Congolese community members has complied a list of books, films and other resources:

They Drink It In The Congo runs until 1 October 2016.


The above links are selected as being editorially relevant to the content they are linking from and provide additional information for the intended audience. The Almeida Theatre is not responsible for the content of external websites.

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