Never Mind the Mines. In Congo, There’s Cobalt Under the House – by William Clowes and Thomas Wilson (Bloomberg News – March 28, 2018)

The man was digging a toilet in his backyard when his shovel struck a shimmering blue vein of cobalt. At least that’s the legend in Kolwezi. Once a few locals discovered the metal underfoot five years ago, everyone grabbed hand shovels and pickaxes; they tunneled beneath homes, schools and churches.

And that’s how a working-class neighborhood, located on the edges of a densely populated city of half a million, became a hive of pits and tunnels.

“My neighbors started to dig in 2013 and I followed their lead,” said Edmond Kalenga, who went as deep as 20 meters (65 feet) under his home. “The minerals are like a snake moving through the village. You just followed the snake.”

All told, he made $12,000 selling the metal to local middlemen—a fortune in Congo where most people live on less than $1.90 a day. He built a five-room house in a new part of town. Others weren’t so lucky. Dozens were dying in the mines each week until officials banned the digging last April, according to local government estimates.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is by far the world’s biggest supplier of cobalt, the key ingredient in the rechargeable batteries needed to power everything from Apple Inc. gadgets to Tesla Inc. cars. For many in Lualaba province, where the richest deposits are found, digging for cobalt by hand isn’t a choice: it’s the surest way to earn a living.

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