St. Louis, Mo., Feb 2, 2023 / 15:15 pm
As part of his visit to Africa this week, Pope Francis met Tuesday with civil leaders of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of the largest and poorest countries on the continent. Speaking with authorities including President Félix Tshisekedi, the pope denounced the practice of child labor in the country’s many mines, a widespread problem exacerbated by an ever-increasing global demand for cobalt, a vital component of rechargeable batteries.
“It is a tragedy that these lands, and more generally the whole African continent, continue to endure various forms of exploitation,” Pope Francis said.
“Situated in the heart of Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is host to one of the great green lungs of the world, which must be preserved,” he continued. “As with peace and development, also in this area there needs to be an ample and fruitful cooperation that can permit an effective intervention without imposing external models” that are more useful to those who are helping than to those who are being helped.
The rich natural resources of the DRC, including diamonds, have been exploited for centuries, particularly while the Congo was a Belgian colony from 1908 to 1960. In the past few decades, however, the resource in the spotlight has been cobalt, an element that has risen from relative obscurity to global necessity as a vital component of lithium-ion batteries, which today power devices as small as smartphones and as large as electric cars.