EAC & The HornNews

What is Coltan? Kenya’s latest mineral discovery

This week, Kenyans have been treated to yet another groundbreaking revelation – the discovery of deposits of Coltan – a rare ore that is critical in powering modern electronic gadgets.

Coltan, short for columbite–tantalite and industrially known as tantalite, has become the latest mineral sensation, ushering Kenya closer to the league of nations with the potential to drive the global tech industry.

Based on research findings, Coltan is found in granitic pegmatites, which are pockets where the final crystallization occurred in deep-seated molten rock. Pegmatites harbor numerous rare metals and feature exceptionally large crystals of certain common minerals.

This dull black metallic ore is rich with the elements niobium and tantalum. The tantalum extracted from Coltan forms the core of tantalum capacitors, a variety whose quality surpasses conventional capacitors due to their stability.

These capacitors, in turn, play a pivotal role in crafting the electronic marvels that have become an integral part of our daily lives – from mobile phones to laptops, car batteries, and even components in the aerospace industry, owing to tantalum’s high melting point quality.

As we navigate the realm of technological progress, Coltan emerges as a linchpin in the manufacturing of digital gadgets, influencing the growth of various industries and shaping consumer behaviors globally.

The surge in smartphone usage among Kenyans, with a staggering 62.96 million devices as of last year, underscores the indispensable role of Coltan in meeting the demands of the ever-expanding electronics industry.

Kenya’s discovery, therefore, opens new possibilities for the nation’s economy. Deposits have been unearthed in Embu, Samburu, Kitui, West Pokot, Kitui and Turkana counties.

Value of Kenya’s Coltan deposits

“A precious mineral has been found here (Embu County) and if you want to benefit you should not sell your land,” Mbeere South MP Nebart Muriuki told The EastAfrican.

Early projections show that the mineral find offers a glimmer of hope and could see the mining sector potentially contribute up to 10 percent of Kenya’s GDP.

The Ministry of Mining and Blue Economy is working to unveil the economic value of these deposits, fostering optimism for strategic investments that could help alleviate unemployment and drive local development.

According to Forbes, the value of coltan is determined by its tantalum content, with an average of Kes7,816 (US$48) per kilogram for the rare ore.

“We will leave our teams behind to do ground truthing so that we can now begin to assess the economic value of that particular mineral,” Mining, Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs Cabinet Secretary Salim Mvurya said.

As fate would have it, the coltan’s discovery aligns with the latest advancements in Kenya’s tech industry value chain.

Last year, President Wiliam Ruto launched East Africa Device Assembly Kenya (EADAK) the first local smartphone assembly plant, signaling a promising era for digital transformation in East Africa’s largest economy.

The Athi River-based facility, which can manufacture three million mobile phone units annually, holds the potential to become a digital gadgets manufacturing hub, utilizing capacitors sourced from Kenya’s Coltan deposits.

The Kenyan government, recognizing the significance of this discovery, plans to decentralize mineral-testing facilities and establish laboratories in multiple regions.

Read also: AfDB nods Sh106.8 billion financing for Burundi-Tanzania SGR

Mining revenue

This framework is poised to ensure that 20 percent of mining revenue directly benefits counties where it is mined, while 10 percent is allocated for the welfare of residents.

This strategic approach aims to spur local development, reducing dependency on the allocation of funds from the central government.

In essence, Kenya’s Coltan deposits hold the potential of unveiling a transformative chapter, holding the promise of the nation becoming a significant player in the global Coltan market.

As the world watches, Kenya’s journey into the realm of this revolutionary commodity unveils not just a mineral, but a pathway to economic growth, technological prowess, and a future shaped by its natural resources.

The Coltan curse

Kenya may, however, need to look across the border to learn how not to harness the resource. The war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo currently holds the lion’s share, supplying 80 percent of the world’s Coltan.

Unfortunately, the pursuit of this precious metal has fueled conflict and unrest in the mineral-rich country for decades, revealing the darker side of the global demand for Coltan as well as other minerals.

In the DRC, miners encroach upon and harm, or sometimes even destroy forested areas in their pursuit of Coltan. The regions designated for Coltan mining also include National Parks such as the Kahuzi Biega National Park, the home of the mountain gorilla.

In this park alone, the gorilla population has been significantly reduced. Additionally, poverty is on the rise due to the displacement of local human communities by the miners, leading to the killing of gorillas for their meat.

Where else is Coltan found in the world?

  • Democratic Republic of Congo (80%)
  • Western Australia
  • Canada
  • Brazil
  • China
  • Ethiopia
  • Mozambique
  • Thailand and Malaysia also generate Coltan as a by-product of tin mining and smelting

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