Article The World We Want In partnership with the UNDP - Peter Dörrie: Pickaxes into plowshares? Two visions for development in the DR Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a rich land – in theory, at least. Below its soil lie some of the world’s largest reserves of copper, cobalt, tin, tantalum and considerable amounts of gold and diamonds. It is the type of wealth that is measured in billions of Dollars and which has fuelled the industrial revolution in Europe and beyond.
In practice, the DR Congo is poor. Its population of 66 million produces only an average of 230 Dollars per year and person in goods and services, making it literally the poorest country in the world, if measured by that metric.
Little wonder that many people want to change this unfortunate state of affairs. And little wonder, too, that most of these people are looking at the wealth beneath their feet for a solution. The Congolese government, its people, the international community, international and local business – they all have high hopes for the mining sector. For them, mining, and especially large scale operations, are the ticket to a brighter future for the Congo and its people, not to speak of the profits involved.
But mining brings with it a whole host of problems. Apart from obvious issues with environmental degradation, the incredible amounts of money involved with mining projects have so far arguably done more bad than good for the Congo and despite being a major branch of the Congolese economy since colonial times, most Congolese have yet to profit from the riches that are ripped from their soil every day. Can mining really hold its promises for the development of the DR Congo, or are there alternative, better ways for the government, donors and businesses to invest in a brighter future for the Congolese people?
The promise of mining
With a size rivalling that of Western Europe, it is not surprising that some valuable minerals can be found on the territory of the DR Congo. But the country is unique in that it harbours substantial shares of the worldwide reserves of some essential raw materials, like copper, cobalt and coltan, which is used in every smartphone and computer.
Taken together, these resources hold considerable economic promise. The 900,000 metric tonnes of copper that the Congo exported in 2013 are worth about 6.3 billion Dollars at current market prices. Hundreds of millions of Dollar more are exported in the form of gold, diamonds and other valuable ores, some of it legally, most of it smuggled through the porous Eastern borders.
Even at current production levels, the Congo will continue to enjoy this kind of financial potential for some time to come. It has proven reserves of 20 million tonnes of copper and is currently developing promising oil deposits on the border with Uganda. Additionally, few parts of the country have been prospected in detail. Were this to happen, proven reserves of all mineral resources would likely increase substantially.
If managed responsibly and intelligently, the Congolese population and economy could profit enormously from these riches. Currently, total government revenue on all administrative levels combined is little more than three billion Dollars – a paltry sum compared to the value that leaves the country in the form of raw materials.
The Full Article is available under the following link: Pickaxes into plowshares? Two visions for development in the DR Congo
About the author
Peter Dörrie is a freelance journalist. He reports on resource and security politics on the African continent and has written extensively about the Congo's crisis and economy. This is his second article on Contributoria, a third is in the works. Website | Twitter