The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), located in Central Africa, is a resource-rich nation that has been plagued by conflict for decades. It has been the site of ongoing violence and civil war in what is known as the deadliest crisis since World War II. The country possesses vast amounts of natural wealth but mineral wealth in the Democratic Republic of Congo is even more famous, including gold, diamonds and coltan (a mineral essential to manufacturing cell phones). It is currently sitting on approximately $24 trillion worth of raw minerals; however, it suffers from perpetual strife and endemic poverty.
How is it possible that such a resource-rich nation is so engulfed in crisis? What role has natural wealth played in destabilizing the DRC?
Oftentimes, in states with vast natural resources, greed abounds and corruption permeates the fabric of society. This relationship has its roots in colonialism in the case of the DRC. The DRC was once a colony of Belgium’s King Leopold II, who exploited the colony’s abundant resources. In 1960, the Belgian government abruptly awarded the colony its independence, resulting in a nation without the experience to govern itself efficiently. In its infancy, the nation suffered from civil war and dictatorship, both of which drained natural resources.
The bloody conflicts that have stained the DRC’s postcolonial history have been funded largely by mineral wealth. In the eastern part of the DRC, illegal trade of minerals, especially coltan and gold, helps finance rebel groups. The combination of ineffective governance and abundant mining opportunities have made it relatively easy to fund insurgency, especially in this region. The International Peace Information Services estimates that 57 percent of Congolese gold miners work with an armed group present. International corporations have often bought minerals obtained from unregulated mining from rebel groups. An estimated $1 billion in resource revenue has been lost due to these types of foreign companies. The majority of profits made from mining in the DRC is used to perpetuate armed conflicts or to line the pockets of CEOs in foreign countries. Most citizens, 63 percent of whom live below the poverty line, are harmed by the effects of the wealth that should benefit them.
Undoubtedly, the extensive mineral wealth in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been a curse. But how can this legacy of exploitation be reversed? How can the resources that have financed war be used to improve the lives of the Congolese?
There is still hope that the Democratic Republic of Congo will be able to reform itself. Between 1990 and 2015 the country’s Human Development Index increased 22 percent, proving that progress is not just possible; it is plausible. Through the cooperation of the DRC’s government, the international community, as well as the efforts of non-governmental organizations, the Democratic Republic of Congo makes strides toward achieving stability.
– Emma Bentley