Cobalt blues: In Congo the little guys are jailed for stealing minerals (The Economist – October 17, 2020)

https://www.economist.com/

When cobalt prices soared from 2016, young men from all over Congo flocked to the south of the country to dig the stuff up. Demand for the metal, used in smartphones and electric cars, was driven by carmakers needing around 10kg of it per vehicle.

(Phone batteries, by contrast, require just a few grams each.) Some of these young men set up camp in the village of Kawama, cobbling together their huts with planks and sheets of tarpaulin.

The village feels less hopeful nowadays. Barefoot children in rags chase each other around piles of smouldering wood, which residents burn to make charcoal. Cobalt prices plummeted in 2018 after the market was flooded and companies dawdled over electric-car designs.

About 60% of the world’s cobalt is found in Congo, scattered across the copperbelt that stretches east into Zambia. The people of Kawama grumble that too much land has been sold to mining firms. “We used to dig freely,” says Gerard Kaumba, a miner.

“But now the government has sold all the hills.” There are still some sites where miners can turn up and dig, but they have to sell to whoever owns the concession.

For the rest of this article: https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2020/10/17/in-congo-the-little-guys-are-jailed-for-stealing-minerals

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