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Cobalt Killing The Congo Poster of the Week

Day of Solidarity with the Congo

Organización de Solidaridad de los Pueblos de Africa, Asia y América Latina

(OSPAAAL), Alfredo Rostgaard

Offset, 1972

Havana, Cuba


Patrice Émery Lumumba was the first democratically elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo after the nation achieved full independence from Belgium in 1960. He was assassinated the following year, upon orders of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and carried out by CIA-backed Congolese leaders and Belgian officers. The poster expresses solidarity with the people of Congo, and honors Lumumba, whose face fills the African continent. Lumumba’s anti-capitalist and anti colonial politics made him a symbol and hero for liberation movements throughout Africa.

With Lumumba’s assassination, the new democratic government was overthrown, and foreign corporations had a free hand to exploit the mineral riches of the eastern Congo, especially cobalt and other valuable minerals. Cobalt is the “blood diamond” of the Congo. It is used in every lithium, rechargeable battery produced in the world, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo has 75% of the world’s supply. The current war in the Congo has its roots in this history.

The demand for cobalt has tripled since 2010 due to clean energy technologies, such as electric vehicles, which rely on lithium-ion batteries. This demand has exacerbated the abuse and exploitation of miners. Much of the cobalt comes from artisanal mines where miners work in subhuman, grinding, and degrading conditions, using pickaxes, shovels, and rebar to extract cobalt, earning pennies a day to feed their families.

Villages were bulldozed for mining concessions, displacing hundreds of thousands of people, leaving them with no alternative for earning an income. Militias abduct and recruit children to mine cobalt. Many have suffered horrific injuries from digging in open-air pits or carving out unsupported, unventilated tunnels, which collapse and bury people (including children) alive.

Some tech companies claim to have ceased purchasing cobalt from small-scale mining operations to avoid intensifying the mistreatment of the workers. In practice, there is no guarantee that cobalt was humanely and ethically extracted. To change this, the entire cobalt and mining industry must be regulated and standardized to ensure safer conditions.

Despite efforts to change the mining industry, the global demand for cobalt will continue to have adverse environmental effects in the Democratic Republic of Congo and around the world. Cobalt extraction often requires deforestation, pollutes water sources, and generates high levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. While cobalt was once seen as a miracle mineral in combating climate change, its extraction is now a major contributor to global warming and exploits the Congolese people.

We cannot make the transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources without addressing the human and environmental costs of mining. There is much work to be done, and we can start by raising awareness, and understanding the past to change the future.



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