Why Don't They Eat Coltan?
It was the unfortunate, but not much missed, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, who has been denounced over time for uttering that famous phrase: "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche/ let them eat cake/" when the French masses cried for bread just before the momentous French Revolution that cost her a pampered head. Yet, like all things taken for granted or lies so much repeated that they appear through time as being true, it was not Marie Antoinette who uttered the callous phrase. "As to the origin of the expression, two notable contemporaries of Marie-Antoinette - Louis XVIII and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, attribute the phrase to source other than her. In Louis XVIII's memoir Relation d'un voyage a Bruxelles et Coblentz, 1791, he states that the phrase was used by Marie-Thérèse (1638-83), the wife of Louis XIV. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's 12-volume autobiographical work Confessions was written in 1770. In Book 6, which was written around 1767, he recalls: 'At length I recollected the thoughtless saying of a great princess, who, on being informed that the country people had no bread, replied, 'Then, let them eat pastry! 'Marie-Antoinette arrived at Versailles from her native Austria in 1770, two or three years after Rousseau had written the above passage. Whoever the 'great princess' was - possibly Marie-Thérèse, it wasn't Marie-Antoinette". Few people care today to exonerate Marie Antoinette.
No matter. As a spoilt Queen she deserved, perhaps, the fury of the plebeian revolution. In our own time, I cannot with full certainty attribute the phrase to anyone but I have heard from very sure sources that one executive of a multinational mineral company has said "why don't they eat Coltan!" when he was informed of the immense suffering and death of the Congolese. Why not indeed? Talk of callous and cruel and it is clear that the French Queen was more considerate (as brioche is a sort of cake and is edible though it costs more than any ordinary baguette) while Coltan is a mineral (also known as tantalite) and not edible as such unless one refers to selling it and using the money for food. In Eastern Congo, where war and bloodshed rages on, close to 5 million Congolese have perished in what western sources deceitfully refer to as tribal war or the clash of warlords but is a violent campaign for coveted minerals like Coltan. If the bloody war in Sierra Leone was for diamonds, the murderous carnage in the Eastern Congo is mainly for Coltan. Mention Southern Kivu and its capital Bukavu and you are talking Coltan primarily.
But what is this coltan mineral in the first place? It is a heat-resistant mineral ore widely used in cellular phones, laptop computers and video games. The ore derives its name from a contraction of columbium-tantalite, the scientific nomenclature. More than 80% of the world's coltan is found in the Congo and therein comes the suffering and plight of the Congolese of whom close tom 5 million have already perished and thousands of raped and mutilated women still bear the terrible scars. Coltan is vital for cellular phones, laptop computers and video games. As one observer put it, "Columbium-tantalite is so vital to the high tech industry that, without it, wireless communication as we know it would not exist. Refined Coltan yields tantalum, which is used primarily for the production of capacitors, critical for the control of the flow of current in miniature circuit boards. Tantalum is also used in the aviation and atomic energy industries". The demand for coltan surged in the 1990s with the advent of newer video games, new generation of cellular phones and laptops. Coltan that started out at $40 for one unprocessed pound shot up to $ 400 within a short period. However, the price went down again after the multinationals and the warlords had made a killing and the ordinary miners had suffered throughout the process- paid a token sum (not even more than a dollar per a gruelling 12 hours day). Coltan country, Eastern Kivu, became a base for Kabila senior's rebellion backed by neighbouring Uganda and a Rwanda that was keen to crush the Hutu rebels hiding in the Congolese forests. Both Uganda and Rwanda dipped into the mineral riches of the area and even fought for the loot while Kabila invited in other African countries (Angola, Zimbabwe, etc) to fight his wars. A free for all, soldiers without frontiers, a military Club Med African style. Kabila senior has left his place to Kabila jr (the old man's assassination was planned by the powers that be) but the corruption continues at a faster pace and to a bigger extent.
Some 2 million child slaves labour from dawn to dusk, using their tiny hands to dig into the earth, to mine for Coltan. Diamonds and gold are also the curse of Eastern Congo. Can you be without your smart phones? Can your pampered kids go without the latest play station toys? To fulfil the capricious needs of the west, bot only hundreds of children labor as slaves but thousands of women ranging from 80 years to 8 years of age are raped brutally by cruel and drunk militias armed and financed by western mining companies. Numerous NGOs have found lucrative work in championing the suffering of these women without however making any impact on the brutal continuation of the rape and murder. A UN report made in early 2002 accused a number of American, Canadian and British multi national companies of fuelling the war in the Congo. Barclays Bank, De Beers, Anglo American Plc Mining conglomerate,, A. Knight International Ltd, Alex Stewart Ltd, Amalgamated Metal Corp Holding Company of AMC Group, Arctic Investment firm, Das Air Airlines, Euromet, Mineral Africa Ltd and many others have been accused of fanning the war in their drive to lay their hands on or the profit from coltan, gold and diamonds from the Congo.