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Interview 4:16 - 28:22 Play 4:16 - More
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John Hart  







Congo and coltan mining  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
12 Dec 2001

  • United States
    New York
  • National Public Radio; New York Bureau
  • 40.72833   -73.99417
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
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  • Stereo=1; Split track

Show: Interview with John Hart for R. E. Updates 2001
Log of DAT #:
Engineer: Studio 2D
Date: December 12, 2001

ng = not good
ok = okay
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vg = very good

chatter about when he will arrive etc.
Split track.

John arrives. John spoke with Alex re. updates.

4:17 JG
If I can just start off by asking you to say your name and how we should identify you please.

4:22 JH
Okay, I'm John Hart and I'm a senior scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society. And I'm coordinating the Unesco World Heritage Site monitoring program in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

4:38 JG
And where are you based?

4:40 JH
I'm based in Congo and moving between Congo and New York, our office is in the, up at the zoo in the Bronx in New York.

4:50 JG
When you say Congo, it's okay to say Congo and not DRC?

4:54 JH
You can call it Congo, there are two Congos, or DRC, or DR Congo. I'll probably use Congo, but fine on the DRC. Which would you prefer? Which would be clearest for you?

5:10 JG
Um, Congo I guess is fine. I think in our introduction we'll probably say Democratic Republic of Congo and then from there on we'll call it Congo.

5:22 JG
Well, as you know, this is just a follow-up story so I'm not going to ask you the whole history of coltan. Alex will say that very briefly in the introduction to the piece. Looking back on the piece. Small update. What's happened since May?

5:51 JH
Well, the most important thing that's happened to coltan is the global demand and price has fallen for various reasons: the economic situation globally is one thing for sure. The price for Eastern Congo, coltan, fell as well because there were competitive sources that also came on the market. But the fall in prices had a major effect on what's happening at least in the remote areas where coltan is being mined. When coltan was worth over a hundred dollars a kilogram, people would go to the far ends of the earth to scratch it out, including right into the heart of some of the most remote and wild national parks in the area. Now with the price less than 50 dollars and sometimes even less than 30 dollars and every day the price not going up, people are not going very far for it, although there still is some demand for it and some mining of it going on. It's difficult to understand, based on my last trip to Congo, to know what's happening there, whether it's just speculation on the part of people who think the price is going to bound up again or whether they've got other sorts of strategies. But the bottom line is that the large numbers of itinerant miners, small scale artisanal miners, those numbers have dropped. 7:23

JS: why?

7:26 JH
Well, they're turning to other¿the price of coltan that they could get has dropped from over 100 dollars a kilo to less than 50 dollars a kilo, in some cases less than 35 dollars a kilo, so they are using, they're spending their time and energy doing alternative things. Now that doesn't mean that the problem is really over with in terms of mining in the national parks because in fact some of them are turning from coltan which was relatively valuable to¿and as its value decreased are going back to gold which is harder to get but the price is more stable. And it's revealed as well although the egregious and large scale onslaught on the parks that came with the booming coltan business has dropped, it's still revealed the broader problems related to these national parks in this area, which are still related to resource extraction. 8:22

JG: drop, in response to public attention?

8:36 JH
The release of the UN report was important because it was flagged for the international community, the really the links, the direct links, of consumption patterns and production and basically the electronics industry with these remote far-off sites. So the report was very important in generating attention there. I think the report also prompted some companies to look for alternative sources and I think that may have been enough of a factor to make coltan sources outside of DR Congo economically interesting to extract and so in that regard I can say that the international, the attention that came with that internationally published report was useful. However the report, as I mentioned, the retreat of the coltan mining itself, which has taken some immediate pressure off the parks, still leaves unsettled the future of these protected areas because the anarchy and political instability remain. And in that political instability the run on resources in the Congo is still going on. So while Coltan has lost its luster so to speak, wood, gold, diamonds do remain products that continue to be extracted and running through the rebel administrations and out via various channels out into the rest of the world. 10:20

JH-11 :39 .... While I was there there was a definitive interest in resolving the links btwn these occupying foreign forces and resource extraction before there could be any movt of devlopment money into the country ... the report clearly identified that recourse extraction in Congo is at the heart of the eastern part of the coutry -put a halt to that in order to allow the political process to be sorted out and any rational and managed extraction to go on. The fact that this process is going on has not stopped locals in these proctected areas in particular where the illicit and illegal is going on and what is associated with it -the killing of gorillas and the elephant and other fauna in the park ...the window of opportunity that has been presented be ofthe fall of coltan and the price of coltan and as a result the retreat ofminers from the most remote areas where they -where they are turning to other activities is really giving some opportunity to strengthen some ofthese local management initiatives and this has been -I spoke with the warden at kosi-baga ... and working with some ofthe local chiefs ..... there are some ....the drop in the demand of coltan, the retreat in some ofthe large numbers of miners has given that opportunity. Nevertheless, to take a case where I have the most info, which is the okapi wildlife reserve where there whreer 3,5 thousand miners present at the peak of the coltan boom, most of those of those have left, however there are still 200-500 that have remained and settled, opening gardens, small shops, perhaps they are waiting for the next coltan boom, or perhaps they are not -but they have added to the human pressure on the park 15: 16 this reflects the broader problems still in the DR Congo with the lack of political stability, you have got anarchy, lack of opp for employment -conflicts for land ..... we have now have these problems highlighted even though we have not got the immediate huge drive on the coltan. 15:50

Talk about the role of Rwandas and their involvement with coltan ... 16:27 I spoke with a south African pilot who is still flying plane loads of coltan-this is in Novemeber -out of remote airstrips in the area ofthe kahusi park right to Kigali for some Rwandan military who are involved in eastern Congo 16:55 ....most ofthe local people have not done really well by this mining boom at all 17:57 18:31 coltan is one of a series of minerals that have been extracted from eastern congo ...w/out any clear advancement in the standing and economica development of this society.

What should happen now ....

19:09 JH -I think one of the most imp thing is to have the resumption of political stability in the area to the degree to which you can cut the link btwn the conflict and the resources I think the conflict will stop. The Congolese have no interest in this conflict going on and considerate an imposition in the interest in outside groups and you definitely can see the evidence for that when you are in the east where the resources to be removed. So that would allow politic process to be put in place and then we our very concerned that on the table of discussions ..... that the conservation issues and the management of natural resources issues be among the items on the agenda so that at the very beginning a discussion ofthe policy and position for forestry, mining, hydro-electric developments all be dissused in the context of the sustainable use ofthese resources and that the role of these large and world-class national heritage sites, national parks, be discussed, what their role will be in the development of the country. 20:59 the position that we have -the country needs to reutnr to political stability and so does wildlife conservation. It is only when youhave political stability and the end to the anarchistic extraction and helter-skelter boom and bust extraction of these resources that is now in control and such a threat to wildlife -it is only when you have an end to that there really can be some managt ofthese parks and protection of these parks in any sort of a rational way, and what our hope would be is that as the political dialogue advances and begins to include the international community -especially the investment community that at the very outset .... that these wildlife conservation issues and more broadly, the sustainable use of the country's natural resources be among the priority items on the agenda .....

21:55 .... 22:04 how should the parks be protected and what role should these wonderful national parks play in the future of the country ......22:18 right now we are working to development local capacity to manage it and protect it and that bc in the anarchy the state institutions that are supposed to be responsible are so dysfunctional. 22:36 22:55 the most important thing is for the conflict to come to an end.

JH -lives in okapi wildlife reserve ..... but works in all 5 of the parks .....

23:59 JH -the most interesting thing ....offthe record -it has to do with the demobilization of these rebel army and armed militia directly in the conservation area -but can't talk about it until it becomes clearer .....

25:03 this is one thing that this is a growing paradigm that we will have to deal with in the conservation arena. Some of the most important regions for the conservation of biodiversity are in hot conflict. 25:21 25:52 we have to learn how to extend out that operational horizon bc in fact the -we are going to find that increasingly areas are becoming under threat from break down of order of one sort or the other -the DR Congo case is one case in this broader context.

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