Congo: A gift and a curse

Artisanal mining in DRC

The natural resources that the Democratic Republic of the Congo possesses potentially makes it the wealthiest country on earth. Unfortunately, in 2019, a research has found that DRC has one of the poorest population in the world with an estimated GDP per capita of $545.2 in 2019 according to the world bank.

Why is it? This has not happened overnight. There are a series of events that have led to this. Belgian colonialism cannot entirely be blamed for the problems of today’s Congo. We have the hero-worship of political leaders, who’s politics is solely a matter of enriching themselves and their extended family.

Now, I would like to look at two facts of history which have led to the impoverishment of Congolese people and the enrichment of everybody else.

In 1888, a Scottish veterinarian, John Boyd Dunlop, had come up with an invention that will not only considerably improve the comfort of thousands of travellers in Europe and America, but also rule, or even end, the lives of millions of Congolese – the inflatable rubber tyre. In 1901, rubber had accounted for 87% of Congo’s exports.


In 1999 and 2000, Ugandan gold export rose to between $90 and $95 million annually. At the time, Rwanda was exporting 29 million US dollars worth of gold each year. This is a great deal especially when one realises that neither country has any significant domestic gold deposit.

There is no other country in the world as fortunate as Congo in terms of his natural wealth. During the last century and a half, whenever acute demand has risen on the international market for a given raw material, Congo has turned out to contain huge reserves of the coveted commodity.

  • Ivory in the Victorian era
  • Rubber after the Invention of the inflatable tire
  • Copper during full-out industrial and military expansion
  • Uranium during the Cold War;
  • Alternative electrical energy during the oil crisis of the 1970s
  • Coltan in the age of portable telephones

The economic history of Congo is one of lucky breaks but also of great misery. As a rule, most of the fabulous profit doesn’t trickle down to the large part of the population. That dichotomy that is what we call tragedy, a gift and a curse.

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