Bloodshed in Congo can be directly connected to the latest form of colonialism advanced by Western countries—the mining of resources for electronics and military industries. Over six million people have been killed in war over control of resources in the country since 1996.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, who impressed and moved critics with his incredible performance in 12 Years a Slave this year, produced a short film that highlights how one particular mineral, columbite tantalite (known as coltan), has been a curse for the Congo.
The short, which he called Columbite Tantalite, was inspired by a play Ejiofor performed in at London’s Young Vic this year on Patrice Lumumba.
Lumumba was elected in June 1960, as Congo was winning independence from Belgium. A coup backed by the United States ousted him three months later and he was executed in a plot that unmistakably had the support of the US and Belgium.
For The Guardian, Ejiofor explains:
…I became fascinated by the story of coltan: an extraordinary mineral that’s mined mainly in the eastern areas of the present-day Congo. In the ground, it’s a metallic ore; when refined, it acquires unique heat-resistant characteristics that make it perfect for use in electronic capacitors. As a result, it is present in nearly every electronic device you can name. Coltan is with us almost everywhere we are – in smartphones, laptops, desktop computers, games consoles – but few people have heard of it. And its story reaches back directly to Congo, where the mining industry has been linked with everything from bankrolling civil wars in the region to the destruction of gorilla habitats.
Tantalus, as Ejiofor notes, is a “figure in Greek mythology who was condemned to a horrifying eternal torment, of the things he most desired being just out of his grasp”—exactly what coltan is for the vast majority of people in the Congo.
The short features a character who deeply regrets the role he brought about in bringing this curse to the people of the Congo. It is a character who profited from exploitation.
It is structured well enough to provoke interest in the mining of coltan, and Ejiofor definitely seems to have developed a post-colonial parable that would be worth expanding into a feature film.