Cobalt Red: a regressive, deeply flawed account of Congo’s mining industry – by Sarah Katz-Lavigne and Espérant Mwishamali Lukobo (Open Democracy – July 3, 2023)

Billed as an exposé, Cobalt Red simply rehashes old stereotypes and colonial perceptions of the DRC

Cobalt Red: how the blood of the Congo powers our lives, by Siddharth Kara, has been making waves. Released in April and tailored for a non-specialist audience, it has quickly become a New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller, as well as a bestseller in Amazon’s African Politics category.

The book centres on the mineral cobalt, currently sought after the world over for the production of high-end batteries. More than 70% of the world’s supply originates from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Kara’s project, he says, is to expose the trade’s dirty secrets for all of us to see.

Unfortunately, in doing so Kara has engaged in many unsavoury practices of his own. This book can teach us at least as much about how to not write a critical book on ‘modern-day slavery’ in Africa as it can about the artisanal mining industry. Its indulgent use of dehumanising rhetoric, lack of research ethics, and ignorance and/or erasure of local knowledge undermines Kara’s purported mission at every turn.

Cobalt Red is not a ground-breaking exposé, as it has been billed. It is the latest in a long series of White saviour adventure books that the DRC could sorely do without.

A colonial gaze

The colonial mindset of Cobalt Red makes for a disturbing read. While Kara accurately identifies many of the issues and actors at play, he greatly oversimplifies the analysis into binaries of victims and villains.

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