I feel like I’m cramming for a chemistry exam. Thursday this week is the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative conference in San Jose, California and much of it will be focused on the sourcing of minerals (Coltan) coming out of the Great Lakes region of Africa (D.R. Congo, and by way of Rwanda and Uganda.)
Since I will be pouring out what I learn here and on the various GA2020 social media streams I thought a quick primer might help get you up to speed — or at least not leave you behind.
First, What Is Coltan?
Columbite-tantalite — coltan for short — is a dull metallic ore found in major quantities in the eastern areas of Congo. When refined, coltan becomes metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. These properties make it a vital element in creating capacitors, the electronic elements that control current flow inside miniature circuit boards. Tantalum capacitors are used in almost all cell phones, laptops, pagers and many other electronics. The fluctuating technology booms have caused the price of coltan to skyrocket to as much as $400 a kilogram in the past decade. Tantalum capacitors are a key component of everything from cellphones and digital-game stations, to car airbags, aerospace and surgical instruments. 
About Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Provision 1502
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the world’s richest deposits of minerals such as tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. Unfortunately, decades of war and corruption have lead to widespread poverty, starvation, gender-based violence, and sexual-exploitation. To bring social responsibility to American companies that extract minerals from the area, the United States recently enacted laws to ensure that corporate dollars were not going into the hands of warlords and those that seek to perpetuate the conflict. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was introduced into the House of Representatives by Congressman Barney Frank (MA-4) and in theU. S. Senate by Senator Christopher Dodd (CT). The bill was passed in the 111th Congress and signed into law by the President on July 21, 2011. This legislation calls upon U.S. companies to ensure that the products they manufacture do not contain minerals that directly or indirectly finance or benefit armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or adjoining countries. In coordination with the Security and Exchanges Committee, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of State, the Federal Government will work with American business to help rebuild communities in the Congo through sustainable development in the region.
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2015-2016 Global research and reporting on great apes made possible in part through the generous financial support of the Philadelphia Zoo