Demand for Congo’s cobalt is on the rise. So is the scrutiny of mining practices. – by Sarah Katz-Lavigne (Washington Post – February 21, 2019)

Congo’s contested elections in December resulted in the country’s first electoral transfer of power, 59 years after independence. The outcome — with Félix Tshisekedi defeating the candidate backed by departing president Joseph Kabila — has been much in the news.

Cobalt is making headlines, too, along with questions about how the new president will manage resource governance in the mineral-rich country. Congo accounts for at least 60 percent of worldwide cobalt production and has about 50 percent of known global cobalt reserves.

My research in southeastern Congo suggests cobalt mining will prove an increasingly complex policy hurdle for the new president. Many Congolese rely on artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) for their incomes.

Since the mid-2000s, Kabila’s government strongly favored large-scale mining (LSM), granting many contracts to multinational corporations. What will be the impact on ASM miners of cobalt if the new regime embraces business as usual?

The mineral, used in a wide range of products, is an essential component in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for electric cars. Demand for cobalt has risen quickly in recent years, and in 2017 rose above 100,000 metric tons for the first time.

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