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Imagine a country with enough wealth to pay off all U.S. creditors, and still have enough in the vault to fund their economy for an entire year. Picture such a nation sitting in the basement of the Failed States Index, and you’re picturing the Democratic Republic of Congo; a nation with enough of the world’s mineral wealth to satisfy the whole of its voracious appetite for electronic devices, for a very, very long time.

A great deal of the blame for Congo’s “Failed State” status can be attributed to corrupt leadership which have satisfied their own ravenous appetites, while shoving all governing accountability on foreign governments and organizations. Congo’s mineral wealth is unmatched by any other nation on the globe, with a vast store of diamonds, gold, cassiterite, copper, the world’s largest deposits of cobalt and coltan, and enough hydropower potential to power most of Africa. Yet its people live in poverty, and without electricity or potable water. Our country, with such capacity and promise, due to those who hold its reigns, is branded a “conflict nation” with “conflict minerals.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a nation of 70 million people; 70 million of the 7 billion on the planet; just 1% of the whole. And yet we know that one day, because of our heritage, we will be embraced. The concern is, by whom? And the greater concern is: who will represent us? The principled nations will bring their own dowry in trade, but the unprincipled may make an offer too good for our insatiable fathers to refuse, and may again sell their progeny’s birthright for a bowl of porridge for themselves.

We are holding out hope that the world will see this day coming, even if we do not, and take us under its wing, and begin to prepare us to meet that day, in our own right mind.

There are a number of the world’s nations suffering a similar plight, and each have their own story. For brevity’s sake, we’ll set aside the fact that Congo was just liberated 52 years ago from what the oldest generation calls, “the whip and chain days of Belgian colonization.” It seems a good deal of the more recent blame for Congo’s failing condition, would be attributed to the seeds of corruption planted by former President Mobutu. He is remembered for, instead of paying his nation’s public servants a decent and timely wage, shaming them as ignorant of the privilege of power. He stuffed his own pockets with millions and advocated that his administrators follow his example. Of course, they only had one another to take from, so the takings were relatively small. But after 32 years of being encouraged to make a corrupt living off the people you are appointed to serve, that mind has grown deep generational roots.

The Congolese people, therefore, don’t really expect much from their authorities. As an example, it takes an average of 65 days to get a business license in DR Congo, compared to just 24 hours in neighboring Rwanda. I was at the end of the process and had been at the Registrar’s office for three days waiting for my final document to be printed and officially notarized. The problem was that the electricity had been off for those three days, so the notary couldn’t print the document. Obviously I wasn’t the only one waiting, and so when the mayor happened through the crowded office I confronted him, pleading with him on behalf of all to get the power back on. His reply? “It’s not just here; it’s all over town!”

There’s no accountability, because that mentality comes from the top down. Whatever accountability there is in DR Congo is directed internationally. With average life expectancy being only 48 years, the World Health Organization and medical NGOs are looked to regarding the challenges to public health. For the most part, churches provide primary education.

The UN’s 20,000+ Monusco presence is supposed to look after the security sector. But it is terribly unpopular, particularly since it has proven incapable of protecting civilians in this vast, populous, war-torn, rape capital of the world, whose mass is as large as Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal, Switzerland, Armenia, Spain, Albania, and Italy combined.

The one brightening spot may be the police. Seems the top man there, General Bisengimana, is effecting positive changes throughout his troops nationwide. I think that fact, and the fact that his impact has been evidenced in such a short amount of time, suggests that Congo’s disease is less a contagion, as much as it is a “fostered” state of things.

Of course in the upper echelons of authority here, it is systemic. More than that, it is organized; it is organized crime, where absolute power has absolutely corrupted.

What is startling is to put these realities against statistics that, standing alone, would portend a different state of things.

African Business Magazine stated in 2009 that the mineral wealth of DRC is estimated at $24 trillion, pointing out its equivalence to the GDP of the United States and Europe combined; making DR Congo potentially the richest country in the world. It even overwhelms the eye-popping $18 trillion total value of Saudi Arabia`s oil reserves.

Congo has 30% of the planet’s diamond reserves. And speaking of potential, Congo has the capacity to produce 13% of the world’s hydropower. Its rivers could power much of Africa. And yet most of its citizens live without, or at best, enjoy the benefits of electricity only intermittently.

Congo’s unmatched mineral store contains over 80% of the world’s deposits of Coltan and 59% of “accessible” Cassiterite (tungsten), which are necessary elements for the untold number of devices in today’s electronic universe; most notably in the mobile phone industry.

Yet with all of this wealth, Congo is still strangely devoid of infrastructure; from roads to electricity to Internet to airports to potable water, and the list goes on.

The issue really is that up to now, the rest of the world has set this “1% nation” aside. Congo has been embroiled with military conflict since 1996, and much of that due to and in the regions of its vast mineral reserves. Millions have died, millions have been displaced, and at least hundreds of thousands have been and continue to be brutalized. It’s a horrific situation. And the whole world knows it’s all been about profit. Evidence abounds regarding minerals funneled by and through Rwanda and Uganda toward Multinational companies, recognizing them as being “the engine of the conflict in the DRC,” according to the UN.

The world’s reaction so far has been to step up and name Eastern DRC as a conflict zone, and minerals that come from there as “conflict minerals.” The UN Security Council has imposed asset freezes and travel bans on companies that support armed groups dealing with illegal minerals sourced from eastern Congo.

The US Senate passed a bill in 2009 that obliges US companies to declare the origin of their ores. An EU special representative has also been appointed to review the trade.

And as one reporter put it, a jewel in the Congolese crown of minerals is “the ore, Colombo-tantalite, which is more commonly called coltan. It is a black tar-like mineral, which, when crushed, becomes a heat-resistant powder capable of holding very high levels of electric charge. Given these properties, it is an excellent heat resistor and is used in the power-storing capacities of many electronic devices, including mobile phones, laptops, spacecraft and thousands more. Its use has made possible the reduction in size of many electronic devices as well as today`s advanced wireless technology.”

Obviously, then, “coltan is vital to the function of modem society,” as says Andrew Campbell, a professor of mineralogy at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMIMT). “It is an incredibly precious mineral.”

But due to the continual conflicts in the mining areas, and measures taken by the UN Security Council, the U.S. Senate, and other nations and authorities who have followed their lead, only 10% of the world’s annual need for coltan has come out of Congo.

It’s true; Congo is not the only place where coltan can be found. There are untapped reserves in Canada, Brazil, and Australia. The problem with those reserves, says Campbell, is that the coltan isn`t nearly as easy to mine as it is in Congo.

In 2008, the Australian mine was shut down. The head of Australia`s mining operation, Peter Robinson, said his mine just couldn`t compete with the low price of Congo`s coltan.

“When you dig, the metal you`re looking for will always be a small percentage of what you dig up,” says NMIMT’s Campbell. “In a copper mine, for example, you`d be lucky if three-tenths of 1 percent of the rocks you dig up are copper. In a gold mine, it`s way lower than that. And with coltan, the percentage is probably even lower.”

That`s why the abundant, highly concentrated coltan in Congo is so tantalizing to technology companies. “Coltan would be so much more expensive to mine in other countries,” says Keith Harmon Snow, an investigator for the United Nations. “You`d have a lot more rock to sort through…”

And that’s why 10% of the annual coltan mined still comes out of Congo, even illicitly, though global authorities have fervently sought to discourage purchasing minerals sourced from this conflict zone.

What does this mean to the rest of the world? The semiconductor industry (computer chips) is a 300 billion dollar a year industry, and drives the generation of 1.2 trillion dollars in electronic systems business and 5 trillion dollars in services, representing close to 10% of the world’s GDP.

And “at a time of economic uncertainty, the semiconductor industry continues to be a bright spot in the U.S. economy. Now more than ever, it’s clear that the only way to spur lasting economic growth is to empower the private sector to do what they do best—innovate, compete and grow,” said Brian Toohey, president of the Semiconductor Industry Association. “These (growth number) projections are simply estimates; it’s important to remember that U.S. policy can positively or negatively affect these growth numbers. This is why we are urging the Congress and Administration to move now to enact pro-business, pro-growth policies that will lead to a rebirth of the innovation economy.”

According to SIA, the Semi Conductor Industry Association, “Double digit growth continues in the Sensor and Micro I/Cs categories, …in part driven by the rapid increase in the tablet segment, as well as increased smartphone usage, especially in China, India and other emerging markets.”

It’s a 6.5 trillion dollar global business, in part driven by the rapidly increasing tablet and smartphone segments of the electronics industry; segments known to require the precious coltan.

At some point in time, this basement nation, this 1% of the big picture, with its 80% global store of what’s powering the industry that’s making the world go round, is going to have to play a role. And whom, on the Congolese side, is the world going to sit down and negotiate with? With all the rebel factions that are controlling illicit mining operations? With the Minister of Minerals? With the President of DR Congo?

There are other dynamics in play globally, and so now it’s not only how things are approached in Congo, and when, but by whom. The “who” – just “who” this player is that intelligently and artfully invests in Congo’s future – this “who” stands to win big.

The point is that there is a time coming, in probably the not too distant future, when this lowly “1% nation” is going to be seriously courted. Some nation, or some group of nations, is going to realize the extreme importance and potential in this woefully anemic nation. And they are going to begin to sow into her, for her good and their own good, and perhaps for the good of the other 99%. At least, that’s the hope.

There is clearly another option, which has been employed up to now by the less scrupulous. There are those who play a different sort of game; forming alliances with those whose appetites only serve themselves, at the expense of everyone else. These come and give Esau his bowl full of porridge, in trade for the nation’s inheritance.

But we pray for serious courters to come courting, who are thinking of our nation’s good, as well as their own. And what sort of dowry are we hoping they bring? We are praying they are peacemakers, whose intention is people investment, infrastructure investment, education investment, and social and health services investment. We pray they are looking for long-term commitment, to build up and raise up this basement nation, for the good of the whole.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.


Stella Paul's picture

Change is inevitable

Dear sister

A few months back I remember meeting a group of young university students.They were wearing T shirts with a slogan that read on one side 'Africa is rich' and on the other side 'Who enjoys the richness?' It made me think deep and really get the picture: a continent that carries so much wealth in her chest, is reduced to to a state where it is a perpetual borrower and at times, a beggar.

Your article brought back that memory. 30% of world's diamonds. Where does it go? Who owns, controls and uses them. Logic says this should indeed be one of the most prosperous nations on earth. The reality belies this.

But I believe in hope and change and I know that is what you are aiming and working for. So, I wish you change and a better future and send you a lot of love

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

BlueSky's picture

Change is inevitable

Yes my dear sister, I am hopeful. Yet I realize too how powerless I am at the grassroots level of things. I pray much for our people, and for the world. There is sooo much hanging in the balance. I am encouraged though because I know we are together; a sisterhood from 190 countries around the world. We are on the verge it would seem of wielding a force of sensibility, of soundness, of global sanity that the nations of the world so need to hear.

When I think about these things sometimes I'm crazy, but thank God I have World Pulse and through World Pulse, you, and the rest of my sisters. I have to believe we are making a small difference now, at least in one another, that will one day make a huge difference in the big picture.

Thanks again cousin Stella. Best to you.

Ruth Beedle's picture

You are, never have been, nor

You are, never have been, nor ever will be powerless. Know that now and forever. Your voice is your power, your heart is your guide.

BlueSky's picture


Thank you Gran Sister. The story is so big, the facts so fantastic, and our need so great in contrast, that it is hard not to feel small up against it all. But as always, I appreciate your unwavering encouragement and support.

With special regard for you,


ikirimat's picture

Sisters, Uganda is one of

Sisters, Uganda is one of those African countries whose hopes where recently raised that we would have no more poverty once the recently discovered numerous oils wells discovered is exploited. What is shocking is that Big oil exploration companies (from the western world) have already entered into contracts with Government to do the exploration and yet the terms are not very clear to Ugandans yet.

We are afraid that the oil curse may hit Ugandans if issues are not put right. So I get the concerns you are raising and they are genuine.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."

BlueSky's picture


These are grave concerns, Grace. We are coming of age my sister, and in this enlightened mind, we find it unconscionable that in this age it is possible for our nation's authorities to take and treat these national treasures as their own possessions. There are many stories I could have shared, for which there are no statistics to support their inclusion. But they are true stories; things that the world can't believe, or doesn't want to believe take place, involving world players.

For now we hold our tongue, but we are looking for our moment. And I believe it's just on the horizon. One day, WE WILL BE THE ONES BEING QUOTED, because we know the truth, and are speaking the truth!

Thank you for your comments Grace. We are together my sister.

Ruth Beedle's picture

This is a wonderful, factual,

This is a wonderful, factual, HOPEFUL article that I hope everyone reads and takes to heart. Not just about the Congo but about their countries, who is responsible for their future and how to make it happen. When we constantly are looking outside of ourselves for answers to problems, the answers might come, but the solutions might now always be for the best of all.

It is time to solve our problems for the good of all.

Love you and your creative energy and your positive force in the world, my sweet sister!

BlueSky's picture

This is a wonderful, factual...

Thank you Gran Sister. It is time for the solutions to our problems to be tailored for the good of all. And yes,we need to take these problems into our own hands. But right now, the thing is bigger than us. We really need a World Authority to give our situation a hard look. More than likely, no authority from my country will read my article, but they will read what the G-8 or the G-20 are saying. They will feel the impact of what they are doing, or intend to do, especially if it is directed at them.

Why is that we have been embroiled in conflict since 1996? Why are the Interahamwe still wearing brand new uniforms and carrying new weapons with fresh ammunition after all these years? There are no boot manufacturers here; no weapons manufactures or munitions factories. These things are not coming from third world countries, but developed countries. And in exchange, illicit minerals are going out, and conflict continues.

Right now, if may say, Congo is being treated by the World Authority as if they were ignorant savages. But we are becoming educated regarding our situation. A real danger is our reaction to this abuse. We may react to our detriment. Indignation may overwhelm us, as it did in 1960, and we revolted and kicked the Colonizers out, but had no plan and no capacity, and find ourselves in a worse state now than before on many fronts.

We realize that we need a mentor, for lack of a better term; someone to take us in hand and help us get established. Unfortunately, our authorities are not very worthy of such investment. We're in a spot, and need someone (nation or nations) bigger than all that to step in; someone able to see the big picture, and how it affects all of us. And so we pray.

Thank you so much dear Ruth, for your continual encouragement and support. I love you.

Ruth Beedle's picture

Mentoring the Congo

What a brilliant solution. Not some other nation to come in and take over and solve problems, but someone that has ideas and is willing to share and collaborate and encourage and support, knowing that the Congolese people truly have the most at stake and, for that reason, are the true stakeholders!

You are amazing and I love you!


Valéria Barbosa da Silva's picture

Renewed hope.

Sometimes sister I wonder. I get news in my house of the brothers of Africa and because it reaches a decent standard of living for these people?

It is a people I love, my great-grandmother came in a slave ship to Brazil, and Brazil as well as Africa was and is a country rich in environmental conditions for their children develop.

The development process in Brazil is slow, more is better. A man Northeast, poor, was elected Brazil's president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. He also spent his childhood in need, has created several programs of government forms to commit resources to the neediest.

People receive a monthly contribution for children studying, among other government projects, but bothers to power. The economic division is very unequal.

Those responsible for the country has an obligation to create government projects to improve the lives of his countrymen. Unlock the wealth in stocks and prepare his country to embrace the future.
I hope that the 99% able to lower this percentage.

Honey, that God give you strength enough to give a voice and be heard by the power, sensitizing it to the actions of national citizenship.

Love in the heart.

BlueSky's picture

Renewed hope

Yes, we watch Brazil, and it gives us much hope. We see the big changes and read of the impact Brazil is beginning to have on the world stage.

I think we are a long ways from a woman president, but maybe not as far as it seems. Thank you for sharing your country's emerging as an example.

And thank you so much for sharing your heritage with me - we are blood sisters. :)

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture


Your article was incredibly engrossing and far-sighted. I had never known that DRC had so much of the world's minerals that are fueling the current electronics boom. I commend you for bringing this to light. It never seems to work out for the worlds poor though, when natural riches are discovered in their region. That has so far been the plight of the DRC. I hope for everyone's sake, that attention will continue to be brought to the human rights abuses going on there, and that companies will come under pressure from governments to act ethically. However, the one thing I do have to say is that I think transparency and accountability rarely come from the top--it seems like something that has to be demanded by the people. Of course, it helps to have leaders at the top who are committed to transparency, but absolute power corrupts absolutely, so I don't think we can look to those at the top to really hold the public's interest at heart 100%.

Keep up the great work,


"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

BlueSky's picture


Thank you for the compliments, Rachael. We will work for transparency. We came along way in the last elections held in December. The population rose up very strong in that regard, and it was very encouraging to see our nation react so strongly, and without violence. I'm not saying that there was complete transparency, but there were great strides made.

And thank you for expressing your concern regarding the continual human right's abuses going on here. We will continue to do what we can to join our voice to yours on that front.

With regard for you,


Celine's picture

It boils down to Corruption

I think impact of blessings of so much natural resources in Africa is in disguise to living standards of majority of the citizens. Our leaders collaborate with outside world to exploit us and subject us to perpetual suffering. No wonder leaders will stick on to power as if ruling the country is their birth-right, so as to perfect their 'deals' and 'businesses.' They accumulate wealth in primitive ways to the shame of their families and embarrassment of the whole nation.They tussle for power simply because of personal interest and not for the interest of the nation. The tussle leads to anarchy and wars, which effect tell more on women and children. It baffles me that even in situations where there is relative peace, they fuel crisis because they thrive in destabilization-- it offers them opportunities to primitively accumulate more wealth and treat citizens as savages.

Thank you dear sister for raising your voice in the midst of tumult.

Wishing you the best as always!


BlueSky's picture

It boils down to Corruption

I agree with everything you said dear sister Celine. And it does trouble the mind to no end, "that even in situations where there is relative peace, they fuel crisis because they thrive in destabilization-- it offers them opportunities to primitively accumulate more wealth and treat citizens as savages."

Thank you so much for punctuating this article with your powerful voice, my precious sister.


Lparshley's picture

Great job!

Really nice work. The one thing I'd like to see more of is a little bit of your voice in between the excellent facts that you quote.

This is a great paragraph: The Congolese people, therefore, don’t really expect much from their authorities. As an example, it takes an average of 65 days to get a business license in DR Congo, compared to just 24 hours in neighboring Rwanda. I was at the end of the process and had been at the Registrar’s office for three days waiting for my final document to be printed and officially notarized. The problem was that the electricity had been off for those three days, so the notary couldn’t print the document. Obviously I wasn’t the only one waiting, and so when the mayor happened through the crowded office I confronted him, pleading with him on behalf of all to get the power back on. His reply? “It’s not just here; it’s all over town!”

and it really illustrates what you are talking about well -- I'd consider using it to start your piece, and then going into what is currently your first paragraph.

BlueSky's picture

Great Job!

Thank you so much for that news. I really struggled with that very thing; actually thinking that the story you cited was over the top. I thought this was more of a "hard news" story, where we are told in our material: "a writer keeps herself out of the news."

It is good to know that what comes natural - to include my voice in between the lines - is acceptable. I will keep this in mind for the next Feature Story.



valerie.bagley's picture

In love all over again!

Dear BlueSky,

I am always inspired when I read your words: first when I sit back and take in the story, and then again when I come back and read how many people you've touched, informed, and inspired through your hard work. Your voice continues to offer hope to everyone within its reach.

I love you, sister!


BlueSky's picture

In love all over again!

Through World Pulse, we are touching one another. If I am touching anyone, it is because others have touched me so profoundly. And you are one of those, Valerie. Thank you so much for your help in honing my voice to give forth a more resonate sound. You are like a laser, and have done some very intricate trimming, with a most professional touch. I have learned so much through our limited interaction, and will be forever grateful.

Your sister-friend,


jbaljko's picture

Changing the perception of the DRC

Thanks for sharing this insightful story. I knew Congo has been "a conflict nation for conflict materials," but didn't quite understand all the context around it. You're story provides an important, in-depth perspective.

I wonder, though, what needs to happen globally to change the perception of the DRC. Now that it has this reputation as a conflict nation, it will be difficult to switch that point of view.Perhaps, part of the solution comes in the shape of forging new international alliances and adopting best practices to curb corruption and increase accountability. Have you heard of any new strategies being implemented to attract the kind of business partnerships that would propel the country forward?

Really enjoyed your story. Has my head thinking about options,

"The secret of happiness is freedom,
and the secret of freedom, courage."
-Thucydides, ancient Greek historian & author

You are so right Jenn, All the stories about Congo put us in the most horrible light. The Rape Capital of the World, A Conflict Nation with Conflict Minerals, A nation in the basement of the world's Failed States Index. We are a terribly stigmatized nation. Not that we haven't brought a lot of that on ourselves, but the world isn't helping either. I don't know that it does much good to continue calling a kettle black, rather than taking steps to give it a good cleaning.

And no, our government authorities wouldn't know how to do what you're suggesting. No, the responsibility to change the world's perception of Congo, is on us, its people. It's out of the heart of Congo that a change in perception will come, and we are that beating heart. Not its leadership. Once our heart is strong, we will demand good leadership. And we are starting to beat stronger, my sister; slowly perhaps, but surely.

Best to you,


MaDube's picture


A friend of mine from the DRC but living in the US wrote on his wall on facebook a few weeks back that maybe his iPHONE was a product of the conflict minerals in his homeland. I could not understand what he meant until I read your explanation of the abundance of Coltan and the role it plays in the development of modern technology. Thank you for educating me! This is an excellent piece and the different parts are just so interwoven and well written I was captivated from beginning to end.

You are talented my sister, in telling stories that move the world to a better understanding of any of the issues you choose to explore. And I will be sure to tell Bukeni ( my friend) that he should remember each time he uses his iPhone that yes in all probability, someone in the DRC died to make way for miners of Coltan.



BlueSky's picture


MaDube, thank you so much for always making time to give comment and encourage us all. You are a true friend. And thank you for always making such relevant comments. I appreciate you, sister,


Vega Tom's picture

Conflict Minerals

Thank you BlueSky for such a sharp, insightful and multifaceted look at Congo's rank as a "basement" nation even as it sits atop a mountain of wealth in natural resources. One would hope beyond courting mineral extracting suitors that the Congo can invest in more growth and transparency. I appreciate the shout out to international support being largely limited to classifying "conflict minerals" and "conflict diamonds," and what a double edged sword that really is for those citizens residing amid conflict and in countires with limited economic development....
Thanks for your incredible voice. I look forward to hearing more solutions and successes and challenges to the status quo!

BlueSky's picture

Conflict Minerals

It feels so good when somebody really gets you. Thank you for letting me hear from you - it's a blessing. Now you will hear from me again. :)

Best to you my sister,


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