Here’s an important excerpt from David Van Reybrouck’s new book, Congo: The Epic History of a People:
“Beneath its surface, Congo turned out to conceal a true “geological scandal,” as Cornet put it. It was almost too good to be true. Until then, the economic exploitation of the area had been aimed exclusively at its biological riches – ivory and rubber – but now a far greater wealth was found to be lying a few meters under the ground. Katanga, the rather unpromising region that Leopold had annexed almost by accident in 1884, suddenly turned out to contain an improbably vast treasure trove. In addition to copper and uranium there were major deposits of zinc, cobalt, tin, gold, wolfram, manganese, tantalum, and anthracite coal. …”
Congo’s mineral wealth is a “geological scandal.”
When Europeans first arrived in Katanga in the late 19th century (this is a province in the far south of the Democratic Republic of Congo), they found a sparsely populated savanna. There was no indigenous mining industry. Just a few tribes living in mud huts on top of the world’s greatest concentration of mineral wealth.
It is worth noting here that Katanga was never involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Congo’s famous “red rubber” was also harvested under King Leopold II far to the north in the rain forest.
“There is no other country in the world as fortunate as Congo in terms of its natural wealth. During the last century and a half, whenever acute demand has risen on the international market for a given raw material – ivory in the Victorian era; rubber after the invention of the inflatable tire; copper during full-out industrial and military expansion; uranium during the Cold War; alternative electrical energy during the oil crisis of the 1970s; coltan in the age of portable telephonics – Congo has turned out to contain huge supplies of the coveted commodity.”
Few Americans realize the potential of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Aside from its people, Congo has everything going for it: over a quarter of the world’s hydroelectric potential, the greatest bounty of minerals of any nation in the world, and enough arable land to feed all of Africa several times over.