Thursday, December 27, 2012

Congo and Cobalt

Many of the fastest-growing countries in the world are in Africa, the poorest continent on the planet. World Bank statistics indicate that the world's heaviest concentration of malnutrition remains in Africa, afflicting as many as 15 percent of all children under 5 in some countries in the southern and eastern regions. And in June, the U.N. Children's Fund reported that 1.5 million children were at imminent risk of starvation in the western half of the continent. Nevertheless, some African countries preparing to cash in on mineral wealth in East Africa include Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique and Ethiopia, based on recent discoveries of oil and gas.

"I don't believe that African nations are even close to understanding the enormous wealth that is their natural resource endowment,"
David Doepel, chair of the Africa Research Group at Australia's Murdoch University.

In 2010, Guinea alone represented over eight percent of total world bauxite production, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo have a combined share of 6.7 percent of the total world copper production, and Ghana and Mali together account for 5.8 percent of the total world gold production, while Ethiopia also accounts for one-sixth of the world's tantalum production.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) holds two major distinctions. First, it is the richest country in the world in terms of mineral wealth, at an estimated $24 trillion, and it is the country in which the highest number of people – estimates go as high as ten million -  have died due to war since World War II. The wars in that country have claimed nearly the same number of lives as having a 9/11 every single day for 360 days, the genocide that struck Rwanda in 1994, the ethnic cleansing that overwhelmed Bosnia in the mid-1990s, the genocide that took place in Darfur, the number of people killed in the great tsunami that struck Asia in 2004, and the number of people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- all combined and then doubled. The Congo’s staggering economic potential. The DRC contains 5% of the world’s copper and 50% of its cobalt.

Cobalt holds a critical role in the future green energy economy for its use in solar panels and in the blades and magnets for wind turbines and for its use in the rechargeable batteries used in electric vehicles and consumer electronics. Cobalt is also used in the high-speed, high-strength wear-resistant alloys that are used in aerospace and military technologies. Cobalt also has many industrial uses such as a catalyst in desulfurizing crude oil and in hydrogen generation oxidation. It is used in natural gas-to-liquid technology, orthopedics and life sciences. Even though cobalt is one of the thirty most abundant elements in the earth's crust, it has an extremely low concentration, just 0.002 percent so it is rare to find it in economical standalone deposits. Identified world cobalt resources are about 15 million tons. The vast majority of these resources are in nickel-bearing laterite deposits, with most of the rest occurring in nickel-copper sulfide deposits hosted in mafic and ultramafic rocks in Australia, Canada, and Russia, and in the sedimentary copper deposits of Congo (Kinshasa) and Zambia. 48% of the world's 2007 mined cobalt was a byproduct of nickel mining from sulfide and laterite deposits. An additional 37% was produced as a byproduct of copper operations, mainly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Zambia. The copper deposits in the Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the world’s top producers of cobalt and the political situation in the Congo influences the price of cobalt significantly.

Life expectancy in the Democratic Republic of Congo is less than 48 years, one of five children will die before age five and almost 60% of the country’s 71 million people live on less than $1.25 per day. The DRC ranks as one of the least equitable countries in the 2011 Gender Inequality Index (GII), which shows rankings of gender equality based on a composite index of reproductive health, years of schooling, parliamentary representation, and participation in the labour market. Transparency International’s 2011 corruption perception index ranked the DRC 168th. The UN believes over 50% of the region’s 200 mines are controlled by armed forces which employ illegal taxation, extortion, forced labor, and violence to ensure the flow of mineral wealth. According to one CNN report eastern Congo’s armed groups generate some $180 million through the illicit trade of tin, coltan, tungsten, and gold which are easily traded across the porous eastern frontier and funneled into the international market.


Anonymous said...

The armed groups are not alone in making a killing...

Many of the government’s deals with Gertler deprive Congo’s 68 million people of badly needed funds, according to the London-based anticorruption group Global Witness and lawmakers from Congo and Britain, the country’s second-biggest aid donor after the United States. “Dan Gertler is essentially looting Congo at the expense of its people,” said Jean Pierre Muteba, the head of a group of nongovernmental organizations that monitor the mining sector in Katanga province, with most of Congo’s copper. “He has political connections, so state companies sell him mines for low prices and he sells them on for huge profits. That’s how he’s become a billionaire.”

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