By Moïse Katumbi, former governor of Katanga province, DRC
With the world’s attention fixed on the war in Ukraine, another conflict, potentially with equally deadly implications, is raging in the heart of Africa.
In my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo — a land the size of Western Europe — a decades-long conflict has been resurrected over the past year.
In an earlier iteration in the late 1990s, known as Africa’s World War, due to the involvement of at least seven other countries, over five million people were killed.
Last year, the M23 rebel group restarted their attacks against us, causing hundreds of deaths and forcing almost a million people to flee their homes.
Again the hand of neighbouring countries can be seen, and again, we call on all nations to respect the United Nations charter and refrain from interfering in our sovereign affairs without invitation.
This conflict might be far away, but it should still matter to Europe
It is not difficult to understand why an audience in Europe or the US might be unaware of this conflict.
With war raging close to home, this is a conflict taking place a long way away with limited media coverage.
But while it may be out of sight and out of mind for many, it is something that should concern us all, both for its tragic human consequences and its global economic implications.
Eastern Congo — including the region where the fighting is happening — is home to around two-thirds of the world’s cobalt reserves, making the DRC the key country in the global supply chain of the batteries used in electric vehicles, tablets and smartphones.
It will become as central to the second half of the 21st-century economy as Middle Eastern oil was in the 20th century.
The pivot to a green economy, and the global economy in general, will increasingly rely on a functioning and stable DRC.
A byword for chaos and suffering no more?
This goes beyond economics. Situated in the heart of Africa, Congo is a land of rich potential, a land that can be the driving force of Africa’s economic development.
It is home to over one hundred million people who would prefer not to migrate to Europe but to build a better life here.
It can go from being a byword for chaos and suffering to a source of inspiration for the people of our continent.
What is lacking, though, is sound economic management. While those in government claim that our economy is suffering because of the conflict, the reality is often the opposite.
The conflict is raging because our economy is too weak to sustain the unity, security and prosperity of a large country.
Just look at a map. There is no way our small neighbours should be able to disrupt or even paralyse a behemoth such as the DRC.
But as long as our economy is weak and underdeveloped and tens of millions live in poverty, those seeking our resources will continue exploiting our weaknesses. As long as our economy is broken, true peace, security and stability will prove elusive.
The DRC has to find a way avoid the ‘resource curse’
What is required therefore is twofold. First, we need to invest in a modern, professional army with well-trained, well-equipped, and fairly paid soldiers. An army that is given the tools to do its job.
For a nation long at war, it is shameful that this government has left us so woefully unprepared to defend ourselves and our resources. This must be immediately remedied.
Second, and crucially, we must address the root causes of the instability through the economic transformation of the DRC.
We must improve the business climate, fight corruption and improve governance, assuring investors that the DRC is a safe and secure place to do business.
We must work on downstreaming so that the DRC not only mines our resources but that we are also present further down the value chain.
It is imperative that the jobs and innate value from our natural wealth are shared among our people. And with the profits from our resources, we must invest in infrastructure, education and in healthcare.
That way, we could avoid the resource curse which has plagued so many other African nations, and our young people would have all the opportunities they need to prosper here in the DRC.
The stakes could not be higher
My vision for Congo is that of economic peace. One in which peace might be secured by a strong army and preserved and fostered over time by the existence of a strong economy.
The stakes here could not be higher. The fate of the DRC, of Central Africa, and much of the global economy lies in the balance.
If things continue along the current trajectory, the situation could deteriorate rapidly, spreading further instability and greater suffering across the region while negatively impacting the global green transition.
However, with vision, leadership and sound management, Congo can become a success story and a force for stability and prosperity across the region and beyond.
Moïse Katumbi is a former Governor of Katanga Province and the leading opposition presidential candidate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
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