At a “conflict-free” copper mine in Katanga (Fairphone/Flickr)
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the richest countries in the world with an abundance of minerals such as Cobalt, Coltan, Copper, Diamond, and Gold. Still, despite its Natural mineral wealth, it is one of the poorest countries in the world with over 70% of the population living below the poverty line. This phenomenon can be attributed to the:” Resource Curse” paradox where countries with a high abundance of mineral wealth have slower economic growth in other sectors which in turn affects and lowers the Human development of the country. The resource curse has a long history dating back to the Colonial Era during which DRC(Democratic Republic of Congo) and ROC (Republic of Congo) were a single country known as Zaire
During colonial times when Zaire was a Belgian Colony, under King Leopold, the Congolese people were forced to work in the extractive industry in the rubber plantations and mines where they had to fulfill the daily quota or face strict punishment from the Belgian Authorities. King Leopold was infamously known for mutilating a large number of men who could not fulfill the daily quota limit, due to this many men who could not fulfill the quota limit were given strict punishments due to which they lost their hands which then forced millions of Congolese families into abject poverty. During the Colonial period, Zaire was used as a resource bank from which resource was extracted to develop Belgium. The Rubber Industry and Ivory extraction were the main industries prevalent in the Congo Free State, due to which large swathes of rainforest were cleared and rubber plantations and other plantations were established, the working conditions in these plantation estates were despicable and horrid and the colonial authorities only cared about the yield, ignoring many other factors. Also due to the clearing of the Rainforest many diseases which lay dormant deep inside the rainforest were unleashed on the Congolese people and colonial authorities and diseases wreaked havoc among the Congolese population. The trend of exploitation continues to this date even after Independence in 1960 due to corruption and exploitation by MNCs.
One of the ways the resource curse affects the Congolese economy is the Dutch Disease which is a phenomenon where due to the export of precious minerals the value of the currency increases which then makes it difficult to export and earn foreign exchange which slows down and stagnates the economy, this can be easily overcome by the equal distribution of the Forex into the economy but due to corruption the revenue gets accumulated only in a few sectors.
Another way resource exploitation affects the economy is the high demand of precious minerals, it encourages corruption in a country already scarred by colonial violence and Horrors, government officials often use their position to enrich themselves and their close ones, favoring their family members and relatives for important leadership roles in projects related to the economy of the nation. The resource curse has also given rise to violence and insurgency by armed militias where due to poor living conditions various groups pick up arms and then go on to exploit the poor people and terrorize the villagers in a bid to control the mines from which Cobalt, Coltan and other minerals are extracted. This leads to instability and in some parts of DRC the government has little to no control over the area, it is entirely controlled by rebel and militia groups.
The following are some of the ways in which the resource curse has manifested in the DRC
- The exploitation of Cobalt miners: The DRC has a bad track record of human rights abuses among the Cobalt miners who are often abused and forced to work in inhumane conditions, Child labor is prevalent in the Cobalt mines, DRC produces 60% of the world’s Cobalt and the multinational companies that use Li-ion batteries such as electric car makers and electronic companies ignore such abuses and continue to source Cobalt for their Lithium Ion batteries. However, due to recent international pressure and regulation, the companies involved are trying to clean up their supply chain and ensure that Human rights abuses don’t occur in their supply chains.
- Smuggling of minerals into the black market: The DRC produces significant quantities of Gold and other minerals such as Coltan which is used in modern-day electronics after extraction are smuggled out by the rebel groups that control the mines depriving the government of much-needed revenue which hinders the country’s development.
- Environmental damage: since mining and extraction of minerals is an extractive process the harm caused to the environment is massive and swathes of rainforest are cut down to open up new mines and smuggle illegal timber and minerals.
- Corruption in the oil and gas sector: The DRC has significant unconfirmed reserves of oil and gas which is up for exploration, most of the locations are in the middle of the Congo Basin Rainforest which would destroy the rainforest if Gas and oil reserves were confirmed as MNCs would use corrupt Government officials to get exclusive drilling rights which would decimate the Rainforest and cause problems as mentioned in the previous point
- The use of Natural resources to finance conflict:
Congolese miners working one of the thousands of artisanal mines that cover the country
large MNCs use Natural resources as an excuse and fund conflicts in secret to get their hands on precious minerals. The concept of blood diamonds can be understood by the fact that it is obtained by terrorizing and enslaving villagers to illegally extract diamonds which then get sent off to be made into luxury jewelry which the rich buy in turn financing the conflict, it is a complete circle which lines the pockets of the elites involved in this operation.
In the end human suffering can only be alleviated by bringing in more stricter rules and regulations
Strict law enforcement
Investing in education and healthcare
Promoting sustainable development
Until such steps are not taken the poor in Africa keep getting poorer and the rich keep getting richer.