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Congo Rebels Disrupt Tantalum Supply Chain

Eastern DRC Conflict Threatens Global Phone Production

by Victor Adetimilehin

The world’s supply of tantalum, a crucial component in most computers and mobile phones, is under threat due to a renewed rebellion in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The M23 rebel group, allegedly backed by neighboring Rwanda, has encircled Goma, a key trading hub, and is facilitating the smuggling of tantalum from some of the country’s richest mines, according to Congolese officials and UN experts.

“They’re taking it to Rwanda,” likely through Virunga National Park, Lt. Col. Guillaume Ndjike Kaiko, a regional spokesperson for Congo’s military, said in an interview in Goma, the lakeside capital of North Kivu province that borders Rwanda. Rwanda’s government denies the accusations.

Tantalum is a “conflict mineral,” meaning its extraction has funded years of violence in the DRC. Since 2010, industry groups have strived to ensure their supply chains are conflict-free. However, the M23 offensive has displaced over a million people and tainted the region’s mineral exports.

Renewed Conflict Disrupts Mineral Trade

The current fighting in North Kivu stems from the mid-1990s Rwandan genocide. The M23, a Tutsi-led rebel group, accuses the Congolese government of protecting Hutu militias linked to the genocide. Over 100 armed groups are currently active in the region, vying for control of land, resources, and political power.

Most mining in the region is artisanal, with armed groups, including a coalition called the Wazalendo, overseeing production. However, with the M23’s recent advances, the conflict has disrupted traditional trade routes, and minerals are now ending up in rebel-controlled areas.

Official tantalum exports from North Kivu have nearly ceased since the M23 captured the town of Shasha, cutting off the main route from the Rubaya mine to Goma. The Congolese government claims the M23’s primary motive is to exploit the region’s mineral wealth, fueling the humanitarian crisis.

Humanitarian Crisis Looms as Violence Escalates

The escalating violence has caused immense economic and humanitarian damage. Millions are internally displaced, and aid groups estimate the crisis response will cost billions.

The international community has urged a ceasefire and a return to peace talks. The United States and the European Union have legislation discouraging the purchase of conflict minerals. However, with the M23 controlling key mining areas, ethical sourcing of tantalum becomes increasingly challenging.

The international community must pressure all parties to the conflict to prioritize peace and stability. Transparent and accountable governance, along with a robust system for monitoring mineral traceability, are crucial to break the link between mineral wealth and violence. Only then can the Congolese people enjoy peace and prosperity, and the world’s supply of essential minerals can be secured.

Source: Mining.com

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