Opinion / The Nation and the World

Let’s pay attention to the exploitation of Congo

One year ago, Pope Francis said, “Hands off the Democratic Republic of Congo! Stop choking Africa: It is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered. What is happening here needs to be known.” Yet, the media and US Congress still hasn’t given a lot of attention to the ongoing exploitation of Congo’s resources and humans. 

Today, even after independence from Belgium in 1960, Congo experiences mistreatment. Cobalt, tin, and other materials used for cellphones and other devices are being illegally mined by big companies and neighboring countries. Siddharth Kara, a researcher at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Kennedy School, said, “People are working in subhuman, grinding, degrading conditions. They use pickaxes, shovels, stretches of rebar to hack and scrounge at the earth in trenches and pits and tunnels to gather cobalt and feed it up the formal supply chain.” 

Because of the excessive mining, the water has been contaminated with toxic sewage, millions of trees have been cut down, and the air around mines is clouded with grime. Kara also said, “Cobalt is toxic to touch and breathe — and there are hundreds of thousands of poor Congolese people touching and breathing it day in and day out. Young mothers with babies strapped to their backs, all breathing in toxic cobalt dust.” 

While these resources and minerals play a vital role in tech devices and sustainable energy sources, the US Congress and press needs to help Congo and its citizens by providing humanitarian aid, fixing human rights policies, and making the public aware. 

Unfortunately, this problem dates back to the 6th century. During the Transatlantic Slave Trade (1526-1867), the Portuguese sailed down the West coast of Africa to present-day Congo along the Congo River. They began to capture people to be sold into the slave trade. Then, they would make alliances with the local rulers, who supplied their fellow Congolese people as slaves. During the colonial period, King Leopold II of Belgium became the ruler of the Congo region. He sent an explorer, Henry Morton Stanley, into the Congo and made contracts with the local tribal leaders. However, these contracts were all in French, so the Congolese couldn’t understand it and, therefore, unknowingly signed over their rights to their own land. 

At first, ivory, made from the tusks of elephants, was a big commodity at the time. It was used to make piano keys, ornaments, figurines, chess sets, and even jewelry. Ivory became one of the big cash grabs of the Congo. Then, rubber began to gain popularity because of bikes and cars. Congo had lots of natural rubber. Leopold II set up different trading routes in the Congo and forced the local people to harvest these resources. He captured wives and children and told the Congolese locals that if they brought a certain amount of rubber, they would release their family. Leopold’s special police force, the Force Publique, had numerous guns and weaponry. If someone didn’t harvest enough pounds of rubber, they would chop off their arms, including those of children. 

The Congolese people have been suffering for hundreds of years at the hands of countries in power, including the US. The exploitation should be stopped. 

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