The quest for Congo’s cobalt, which is vital for electric vehicles and the worldwide push against climate change, is caught in an international cycle of exploitation, greed and gamesmanship.
KISANFU, Democratic Republic of Congo — Just up a red dirt road, across an expanse of tall, dew-soaked weeds, bulldozers are hollowing out a yawning new canyon that is central to the world’s urgent race against global warming.
For more than a decade, the vast expanse of untouched land was controlled by an American company. Now a Chinese mining conglomerate has bought it, and is racing to retrieve its buried treasure: millions of tons of cobalt.
At 73, Kyahile Mangi has lived here long enough to predict the path ahead. Once the blasting starts, the walls of mud-brick homes will crack. Chemicals will seep into the river where women do laundry and dishes while worrying about hippo attacks. Soon a manager from the mine will announce that everyone needs to be relocated.
“We know our ground is rich,” said Mr. Mangi, a village chief who also knows residents will share little of the mine’s wealth. This wooded stretch of southeast Democratic Republic of Congo, called Kisanfu, holds one of the largest and purest untapped reserves of cobalt in the world.
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