“It’s possible that two children died so that you could have that mobile phone,” says Jean-Bertin, a 34-year-old Congolese activist who wants to end the “absolute silence” around the crimes committed in his country to exploit strategic raw materials like coltan.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has at least 64 percent of worldwide reserves of coltan, the colloquial African name for a dull black ore composed of two minerals, columbite and tantalite.
Tantalum, the metal extracted from this ore, is a rare, hard, blue-gray, lustrous transition metal that is highly corrosion resistant. It is used in the production of capacitors for electronic equipment such as mobile phones, computers and tablets, as well as in earphones, prosthetics, implants and turbine blades, among many other products.
“The DRC’s greatest curse is its wealth. The West and all the others who manufacture weapons have their noses stuck in there,” laments Jean-Bertin, who arrived eight years ago to the southern Spanish city of Málaga from Kinshasa, where his parents and two brothers still live.
The extraction of coltan contributes to maintaining one of the bloodiest armed conflicts in Africa, which has led to more than five million deaths, massive displacements of the population, and the rape of 300,000 women in the last 15 years, according to human rights organisations.