Why Congo Matters

A man digs for cobalt in the Shaba Province of Congo May, 2015.  Photo by Federico Scoppa AFP/Getty Images
A man digs for cobalt in the Shaba Province of Congo May, 2015. Photo by Federico Scoppa AFP/Getty Images

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the largest French speaking country among the nations of the world.

In terms of area, the DRC is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa and the second largest on the continent after Algeria.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is widely considered to be one of the world’s richest countries in natural resources; its untapped deposits of raw minerals are estimated to be worth in excess of US$24 trillion. The Congo has 70% of the world’s coltan, a third of its cobalt, more than 30% of its diamond reserves, and a tenth of its copper.

Since its independence from Belgium in 1960, the Congo has received more U.S. foreign aid than any other nation in Sub Saharan Africa

The richest uranium is found in Congo and 65 % pure uranium (contrasted with 1 % pure uranium deposits in Canada and the U.S.) from Shinkolobwe mine in Shaba Province was the crucial ingredient in the U.S. atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“The most important deposit of uranium yet discovered in the world,” stated a top secret American intelligence report in November 1943, “is in the Shinkolobwe Mine in the Belgian Congo.” The Congo’s “known resources of uranium, which are the world’s largest,” added the report, “are vital to the welfare of the United States…Definite steps should be taken to insure access to the resources for the United States.”

Congo (Kinshasa) has the largest population of Roman Catholics on the African continent. The Church remained the most consistent and severe institutional critic of Mobutu’s 32 year dictatorial rule.

The Congo was the focus of the first international human rights campaign. The Congo Reform Association’s “red rubber campaign” brought an end to King Leopold of Belgium’s horrific exploitation of Congolese labor in the harvesting of their land’s rubber vines. It also resulted in the transfer of rule over Congo from the King himself to Belgian State colonial rule.

At the turn of the 20th Century, King Leopold’s Congo Free State along with the Amazon rainforest supplied the bulk of the world’s

Salonga National Park is one of five World Heritage Sites located in Congo.  All five are classified by UNESCO as World Heritage in Danger.
Salonga National Park is one of five World Heritage Sites located in Congo. All five are classified by UNESCO as World Heritage in Danger.
supply of rubber. With its love for bicycling, the U.S. consumed half of the rubber produced from 1875 to 1900.

The Congo River has the second largest water flow and the second largest watershed among the rivers of the world (the Amazon is the largest). Its Inga Dam was designed with the intention of supplying hydroelectric power to all of Central Africa. The dam has never achieved close to full operating capacity.

The Congo rainforest is the second largest in the world after the Amazon’s. The two vast expanses of forest have been described by environmentalists as “the lungs of the world”. In recent years, Congo’s rainforest has seen stepped up logging and cutting of the trees for large scale agricultural projects.

Despite the country’s wealth in natural resources, the DRC consistently ranks near the bottom in the UN Human Development Index. In 2011 it was ranked the lowest among the 187 nations evaluated

The former Belgian Congo called on the United Nations in 1960 for support in defending its political independence in the face of attempts by Belgian settlers and mining companies to maintain control of the nation’s mines.

Since 1999 the United Nations has carried out the largest and the longest serving peacemaking mission in its history in the RDC. The chief of the UN Mission, formerly MONUC and now known as MONUSCO, in a report to the Security Council this month declared, “The Democratic Republic of Congo has entered a period of extreme risk to its stability. The electoral crisis has become a constitutional crisis, with deepening political polarization and no immediate resolution in sight.”

UN official reports of the effects of armed conflicts in eastern Congo have led to the area’s description as the most dangerous place to be a woman on the planet. One UN investigator called the area the “rape capital of the world” and the prevalence of sexual violence there described as the worst in the world.

It is estimated that about 4.7 million children aged 5–14 work in Congo. In addition to copper mines, children with their families participate in artisanal mining of the land’s precious minerals. These children use hammers to break free the ore, pour harsh chemicals with no protective equipment, and manually transport rocks from deep pit or open pit mines.

The Atlantic slave trade between Africa and the Americas began with the Portuguese shipment in 1526 of slaves purchased from the Kingdom of Kongo. For three hundred years, Portuguese traders controlled the purchase of human beings at the Congo River’s mouth which remained the leading source of slaves for the European colonies in the West.

Photo from the era of colonial rule in Asia.  Martin Luther King once declared: "Racism is no mere American phenomenon. Its vicious grasp knows no geographical boundaries. In fact, racism and its perennial ally - economic exploitation- provide the key to understanding most of the international complications of this generation."
Photo from the era of colonial rule in Asia. Martin Luther King once declared: “Racism is no mere American phenomenon. Its vicious grasp knows no geographical boundaries. In fact, racism and its perennial ally – economic exploitation- provide the key to understanding most of the international complications of this generation.”

At the ceremony declaring the new nation’s independence on June 30, 1960, the newly elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba foresaw that “The independence of the Congo represents a decisive step toward the liberation of the entire African continent”. Thirty four years after Lumumba spoke, the former Portuguese colonies and South Africa had freed themselves from white rule. Lumumba also prophesied in the same speech, “we are going to make the Congo the focal point for the development of all of Africa”. The potential of Congo remains huge, but Lumumba’s prophecy regarding the nation’s economic and social development has yet to be realized. Both Lumumba and the UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, also a fierce defender of Congo independence, were martyred in 1961.

This posting is inspired by all those who expressed solidarity with the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo by participating in consciousness-raising activities of Congo Week last week. To follow political movements in support of free and fair elections in the DRC go to http://www.friendsofthecongo.org and/or the site of the Africa Faith and Justice Network http://www.afjn.org. The latter site has just published their Congolese staff member’s commentary on political developments in the country, including the September 19-20 demonstration in Kinshasa which resulted in multiple deaths at the hands of the Kabila regime’s security forces.

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