Kisengo lies in the heart of Northern Katanga province, in the southwest of the Democratic Republic of Congo. A remote village with no water or electricity supply, schools or hospitals, its population expanded from a few hundred to over 20,000 in a few months in 2007, when the mineral coltan was discovered there for the first time.
Coltan (columbite-tantalite) is refined into a bluish-grey powder called tantalum, which is used as a conductor to optimize power consumption in new-generation chips for PlayStations, laptops, mobile phones and other electronic devices. Increasing demand for the mineral has sparked a war between paramilitary groups for control over territories where coltan is extracted.
Miners buy from the chief of the mine the permission to dig in a certain spot. They work day and night with their bare hands, unaware that the mineral is radioactive. They clear the forest, dig a large hole in the ground and from here a horizontal tunnel of up to ten metres. They extract mud, mix it with water and sieve it until coltan deposits on the bottom. The entire operation is carried out with no safety measures; sometimes the tunnels collapse causing the death of those inside.
Many teenagers and children are involved in the extraction or the activities connected to it. In the words of former MP Oona King, "Kids in Congo are being sent down mines to die so that kids in Europe and America can kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms."