The precarious political economy of cobalt: Balancing prosperity, poverty, and brutality in artisanal and industrial mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

This study examines the political economy of cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There, a veritable mining boom for cobalt is underway, driven by rising global demand needed for batteries and other modern digital devices. Based on extensive and original field research—including expert interviews, community interviews with miners and traders, and naturalistic observation at 21 mines and 9 affiliated mining sites—this study asks: How is cobalt currently extracted? What benefits has cobalt mining brought communities? What risks has it created? And, critically, what policies need implemented to make mining there more equitable and sustainable? It documents six interrelated benefits to cobalt mining, including poverty reduction, community development, and regional stability, alongside six serious challenges, including accidents and occupational hazards, environmental pollution and degraded community health, and violent conflict and death. It then proposes seven policy recommendations for different stakeholder groups such as local and national government, industrial (and often foreign) mining companies, miners and their communities, and the manufacturers of electronic products using cobalt. The study primarily seeks to humanize the lived experiences of Congolese cobalt mining, and to reveal the tensions and tradeoffs associated with the recent mining boom.

Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool

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