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October 25th, 2007
Niobium & the politics of scarcity
In North Kivu province the Lueshe mine provides a well-documented example of the kinds of nefarious activities that all Western governments are involved with in Congo, and in Africa more generally, and these activities certainly apply to Banro and other corporations—this is how the system works, and who works it. The Lueshe Niobium mining scandal merely provides an excellent case study where the thief has been caught red-handed with his hands in the illegal minerals pot.
The Lueshe Niobium mine has been under the control of pro-Rwandan forces for the past eight to ten years, first under the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) rebels allied with Rwanda and Uganda and Jean-Pierre Bemba, and now under the "protection" of General Laurent Nkunda. But Lueshe's history is deeply rooted in the controlling interests of the German government and its U.S. and European partners.
The rare earth metal, niobium or "niob" for short, formerly also known as Columbium, is found there, together with tantalum, in the mineral Pyrochlore. Niobium became extremely important within the last twenty years because of its enlarged range of application for aerospace and defense purposes. Niobium is mainly used as an alloying addition in the production of high quality steel used in the aircraft and space industries, as well as in medicine. It is also widely used in basic applications of machinery and construction and in quite large quantities in the production of stainless steel. Niob, like tantalum and columbium-tantalite or "coltan," is also coveted for the emerging and secretive "nanotechnology" sector—also pivotal to state-of-the-art and futuristic aerospace, defense, communications and biotechnology applications.
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