Michael Nest


The story behind tantalum or ‘coltan’ is one of the most compelling of all those concerning natural resources. Yet, a decade ago, hardly anyone had heard of this obscure mineral, used to manufacture the cell phones and laptops that have become so central to our daily lives. Then, in 2000, reports emerged about mines deep in the Congo jungle where coltan was being extracted in brutal conditions watched over by warlords. The UN team sent to investigate revealed how international competition for coltan was contributing to the ongoing collapse of the DRC and the continuation of a war that has cost millions of lives.

The politics of coltan involves rebel militias, transnational corporations, determined activists, Hollywood celebrities, the rise of China as an economic and political superpower, and the latest communications gadgets. Michael Nest unravels a complex story to offer a clear and compelling analysis of the relationship between coltan and violence in the Congo, and the battle between activists and corporations to reshape the global tantalum supply chain. The political significance of coltan, he argues, is not simply its causal link to violence; it is the extent to which it exposes the underbelly of economic globalization linking ordinary people and transnational corporations to Congo’s coltan industry and its conflict. Nest concludes by drawing out broader lessons from the politics of coltan for the geopolitics of other key global resources.

About the Author

Michael Nest is an independent scholar working on governance and development issues related to natural resources. His previous book was on the economic dimensions of the Congo War


  1. Facts, figures and myths
  2. Organisation of production and markets
  3. Coltan and conflict
  4. Advocacy, campaigns and initiatives
  5. The future of coltan politics


“This book's treatment of the topic will be a major advancement in exposing the illegal coltan trade, and contributes to a broader understanding of how the global mining sector is changing as China carves out an increasingly dominant role and how natural resources continue to destabilize parts of the world.”

— Ian Taylor, University of St Andrews

“In this excellent book Michael Nest examines whether the cycles of violence in an impoverished region are caused by the behaviour of wealthy consumers. Are we as users of mobile telephones fuelling a terrible war? Nest provides a highly informative account, challenging commonly held views and presenting the facts in a lively and accessible manner.”

— Anke Hoeffler, Department of Economics, Oxford University

“Michael Nest demonstrates in this brilliant primer that coltan is only one source among many of the conflicts in Congo. He ably gets behind the headlines and NGO press releases to uncover the real and lasting role that this key resource has played in Congo’s unending struggles.”

— John F. Clark, Florida International University