What does your iPod, cell phone, pager, and laptop have to do with the crisis in the Congo? A lot, actually. Eastern Congo, where fighting has recently taken a dramatic upswing, is one of the best places in the world to mine Columbite-tantalite, otherwise known as Coltan.

Coltan is a unique metal used in the batteries of small electronics. And as devices like Ipods became more in demand around the turn of the millennium, so too did the demand for Coltan.

This turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing for the people of eastern Congo. competition over Coltan mines between the government of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and a panoply of armed groups in eastern Congo helped fuel a civil war in Congo that has claimed over 4 million lives.

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting offers a great explainer on the Coltan-conflict nexus in Eastern DRC.

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