Mining in the Congo: Is Erik Prince up to the task?

Graphic of Erik Prince.

Erik Prince, best known as the founder of controversial security company Blackwater, plans to invest half a billion dollars in the development of natural resources for electric vehicle batteries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other conflict zones, according to a recent Foreign Policy article. The area is certainly ripe for investment given the expected boom in the electric vehicle market. Indeed, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that by 2040, 55% of all new car sales and 33% of the global fleet will be electric. Cobalt is a critical material in EV batteries and the DRC produces more than half of the global supply.

Yet mining in the DRC is fraught with issues, including child labor and dangerous conditions. A 2016 report from Amnesty International found that cobalt mined by child laborers in the DRC was used in products from companies including Apple, Samsung and Sony. Not only is the country’s mining industry corrupt, but it has failed to turn income from its vast mineral resources into higher living standards. The DRC has one of the lowest GDP’s per capita in Africa, according to the World Bank. Alongside these ongoing issues, the DRC is dealing with a disputed December presidential election and an Ebola outbreak.

Despite the turmoil, Prince believes that he can develop an “ethical mine” and help professionalize artisanal mining. Prince has grand ideas, but his work is cut out for him if he’s looking to reinvent the mining sector in the DRC and profit off of its resources. His checkered past, including his ties to Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, also raises questions about his dependability and principles. 

Illustration By: Sarah Wasko