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Congo’s coltan rush

The discovery of the mineral coltan—essential for mobile phones—in a remote region of Congo has been a mixed blessing

The police chief of Kisengo, Katayo Katambo, glances sideways at a line of passing ragtag soldiers. They are a dishevelled lot, some in the uniform of the recently birthed Congolese army, some in jeans and filthy sleeveless shirts, but all bearing heavy arms. The last one, looking no older than 16, swings a mounted, belt-fed machine gun around his shoulders, peering lazily in our direction.

Surrounded by nervous men in his office, a soggy, thatched hut, Katambo looks at his deputy, whispering in Swahili, “Which are those? Are they the ones that came from Kongolo?” Then he remembers our presence…

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