Thursday, August 09, 2007

Mineral Wealth and Poverty and Suffering Abounds

The chaos of the Democratic Republic of Congo is not about ideology , or religion , or race but another of Capitalism's internecine struggles for raw materials and natural reources - a war for profit . The DRC possesses 30 percent of world cobalt reserves and 10 percent of all copper, as well as gold, uranium, oil, and between 40 and 50 percent of Africa's water reserves, including the Congo River which crosses its territory and is comparable to the Amazon in South America in terms of its importance to the continent. With a land area as vast as that of Texas, California, Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado combined, the DRC has only 300 miles of paved roads.

Without cassiterite rock ( tin oxide, is the most important source of the metallic element tin, and the DRC is home to fully one-third of the world's reserves) and the other ores mined in the Congo we would be unable to manufacture the linchpins of our global "weightless economy" -- computers and telephones.
Coltan, an ore that is the source of the precious metal tantalum, used in cell phones and other electronic devices. Capacitors made with tantalum have an unmatched ability to hold high voltages at very high temperatures. Because of that, tantalum capacitors have been essential to the miniaturization of cell phones and other handheld wireless devices , video game systems, pacemakers, surgical instruments, pagers, automotive electronics, camera lenses, digital cameras, camera lenses, global positioning systems (GPS), electronic capacitors, lithium ion batteries, prosthetics, surgical implants, and fiber optics. It can also be alloyed with other metals to create heat-resistant compounds widely used in jet engines, nuclear reactors, and various missile parts. . In fact it was the attempt to control coltan mines that was the principal, if not the only, motivation behind the U.S.-backed 1998 occupation of part of DRC territory by Rwanda and Uganda. During the 18 months that the occupation lasted, Rwanda made a profit of 250 million dollars from sales of the mineral
There's not much tin, and only a tiny amount of tantalum, in an individual cell phone; however, explosive growth in the wireless market has piled those metals up, milligram by milligram, into countless tons. Cell phones, laptop computers and other portable electronics rely for their power on lithium ion batteries, which aren't just made of lithium. They contain copper and cobalt (often found together in a single ore called heterogenite) . The DRC has 10 percent of the world's copper reserves and 30 to 40 percent of its cobalt . Also produced Pyrochlore a radioactive compound comprised of a niobium compound bound to a form of tantalum called a microlite. The niobium (also known as columbium) is currently more desirable than its sister component. It is primarily used to create heat-resistant steel and glass alloys used in various construction materials. The steel alloys are widely used to construct oil pipelines and the glass alloys are used in the corrective lenses of eyeglasses. Niobium is also used in nuclear reactors, air frames, jewelry, chemical processing equipment, magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) machines and superconducting magnets. When niobium is combined with iron, the super-alloy ferroniobium is formed, which is used in jet engines, rocket assembly, furnace parts, automobile and truck bodies, railroad tracks, ship hulls, and turbines depending on the percentage of niobium composition.

"As you crawl through the tiny hole, using your arms and fingers to scratch, there's not enough space to dig properly and you get badly grazed all over. And then, when you do finally come back out with the cassiterite, the soldiers are waiting to grab it at gunpoint. Which means you have nothing to buy food with. So we're always hungry." - Muhanga Kawaya, a miner in the remote northeastern province of North Kivu

The level of exploitation continues to be affected much more by prices on the London Metal Exchange than by international efforts to protect workers or curb illicit trafficking of resources. A group of United Nations experts reported in 2006 that seven to 10 airplanes a day fly illegally from eastern DRC across the border into Rwanda, each loaded with two tons of cassiterite, from which tin is extracted.

Yet we find the situation in The Congo 75 percent of its 60 million people live on an average of one dollar a day, 10 million people have no access to drinking water, and a similar number have no electricity.

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