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Clamor for Cobalt in Congo

January 06, 2022

Congo in this reference is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), aka Kinshasa, Congo and not Brazzaville, Congo.  On the awful scale, they are not in the same category.  The French may not have been the best colonizers, but the food and customs left behind in their former colonies (Brazzaville, Congo as one) were most enjoyable. The British left boredom and good roads in most of their colonies, whereas King Leopold of Belgium took everything and left nothing behind but corruption and the plague in all categories in Kinshasa, Congo. I have talked about Kinshasa in the past, but it was the first time I spent a night in a “proper” hotel suite that had a bullet hole in my window with the bullet lodged in the wall, as shown below. Had I been in the Memling hotel the week before, I would not be writing this bit fourteen years later.  

We went to DRC looking for oil as we did in Brazzaville, Congo as well as the enclave of Cabinda in Angola. Therefore, three sketchy places with no takeaway oil success stories speaks volumes about our shepherds but, perhaps, we should just consider ourselves fortunate not to lose any of our “troops” along the way. If you ever saw the film, Blood Diamond, perhaps you will recall the villager’s comment who said “Save us if they ever find oil.”  

No matter what the commodity may be, the excitement level for anything that might help these impoverished people who are victims of continuous corrupt regimes is contagious and you cannot help getting in the groove as shown below.  However, this time the excitement has been diverted from future oil discoveries that were illusory to a wonderful future of cobalt. 

The New York Times recently published an article entitled On the Banks of the Furious Congo River, A 5-Star Emporium of Ambition. As clean energy has pushed fossil fuels to the back burner, a new get-rich-quick movement has focused on Kinshasa, Congo and specifically declared the Fleuve Congo Hotel as “ground zero.” In an alleged “world class” hotel without bullet holes, government officials, get-rich-quick specialists, lawyers, sports figures, promoters, and mercenary leaders meet to make cobalt mining deals and eat $29 hamburgers.  The economic driver is that the DRC soil is chocker-block full of cobalt and other minerals that form the underpinning of electric car batteries, wind turbines and much of the “green energy” future to replace fossil fuels. The image below may not conjure up a 5-Star hotel, but it has a swimming pool for the brave hearts and at this juncture no visible bullet holes, but one window seems to be without glass which is a bad sign of either violence or an air-conditioner failure. 

Now, we can contrast the view above with an existing cobalt mine below which is something less than pleasing in the eyes of an environmentalist who would be a rabid supporter of the death knell of nasty petroleum production.  

The deal-seekers cover a broad expanse of players including Gentry Beach, a Texas hedge fund manager and Dikente Mutombo, a former NBA all-star who was born in DRC and now planning a $1 billion mining project. Although, Mutomobo has not identified his investors, he says he has met with “all the billionaires” in the United States. Then, low and behold, down the stairs walks the founder of Blackwater and America’s best-known mercenary, according to The Intercept, Erik Prince who is shown below at the Fleuve Congo Hotel.  He is well-connected to billionaires as it runs in his family. In Texas, we would say that most of these people appear to be “all hat and no cattle” as it might concern natural resource extraction and management of large organizations in hostile places which means that DRC may not be the best place for them to invest. 

On the other hand, I stayed in a small hotel filled with Blackwater mercenaries shortly after the invasion of Baghdad.  I felt quite safe despite all the shooting outside if I went to bed before my mercenary fellow occupants became drunk and disorderly.  Nonetheless, Blackwater’s reputation hit a speed bump when they killed 17 civilians in Baghdad in 2007. Ultimately, four of the mercenaries received sentences ranging from thirty years of imprisonment to life. They were all pardoned by President Donald Trump on December 20, 2020.  However, long before this time, Prince had moved on to other security matters.  

All I can say is that Kinshasa, Congo has not and probably will never capture the inherent natural resource potential wealth of the country and distribute any of the rewards to it citizens. Should any of these “wannabe” investors find wealth in the earth, it will be siphoned off by a revolving door of corrupt politicians and most likely never find its way to the people. In the eastern portion of DRC, there is very little government control of the many militias that illegally mine and export rare earth metals.  In fact, the Virunga National Park has several airstrips that support the illegal export of many local products to safer parts of the world. On the other hand, as the United Nation forces cannot provide any meaningful security to the villagers, maybe the famous mercenary leader can lend a hand though it did not work out so well back in Baghdad.

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