The wealthiest country in the world
Dr. Juan José López Jiménez
Caritas Agent and Gestalt Art Therapist,
Geographer, Gerontologist and Social Researcher
I remember some time ago, my son Pablo invited me to give a lecture on the problem of coltan and the Congo to highly gifted children in a school in Madrid. Spontaneous inspiration led me to start the session by asking them which was the wealthiest country in the world. Voices came up talking about the United States, China, Russia, Germany, and Switzerland. I think I captured their attention when I showed them the Democratic Republic of Congo as the wealthiest country in the world.
A country five times the size of Spain, with more than 100 million inhabitants (13th in the world ranking) and with a growth potential that will double its population in 20 years. It is the largest producer of valuable minerals such as coltan, cobalt, copper, cadmium, oil, diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, magnesium, tin, germanium, uranium, radium, bauxite, iron, and coal. Its territory is covered by the second largest rainforest in the world, after the Amazon, and is crossed by the second largest river in the world, the Congo River (or Zaire River).
So… the students asked… why is it so unknown? why is it so impoverished, at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index (HDI)? Why does it have one of humanity’s longest and bloodiest forgotten war conflicts? The answer is not easy, and we cannot fall into simplistic thinking from our dulled Western mentality that judges and points to lousy governance as the culprit. Yet, surprisingly, a country that became independent in 1960 has its first democratic elections in 2018, six decades later.
Every year, an endemic disease like malaria mows the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in this thriving land. So when is that vaccine of humanity coming? AIDS affects more than a million people, but treatment reaches only 15%, and cholera epidemics continue to affect close to 50,000 people.
I am not an international analyst, but I can transmit an experience of the people of DR Congo that can perhaps offer a little light in this complex darkness.
I am not an aid worker with years of experience nor a missionary with decades of experience in DR Congo. Nevertheless, I feel sent by my Christian communities, CLIP, and CORINTO, to share with them one more year a slight connection with the African reality in 2022 – I was already there in 2009 and 2019. These trips allow us to renew our ties and commitments with the people there: small ties, but lasting and meaningful ones.
Every summer, I go to Africa and take advantage of the vacations. This time I combined work recuperations and days without salary, and I agreed with Caritas colleagues to free myself during this Holy Week. During this Easter time, I dropped by Kinshasa with the community of Claretian Fathers of DR Congo, full of welcome, accompaniment, and service.
On this last trip, I connected with something new (there is always something new), the displaced persons and refugees living in DR Congo. It is like talking about the poorest among the already poor. In Badara, I am left with the eyes of the refugee children from Brazaville, huddled in tiny metal shacks that occupy the land that the Claretian parish of Los Angeles Guardianes has given so that they could settle. Walking among the refugees in this country – already so battered by its natural riches – shows me the face of a risen Jesus. Their celebrations, full of so much life, make me think of the need we in the West have to detach ourselves materially to grow spiritually. In DR Congo, there are refugees from all the neighboring countries, including Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan.
Armed groups and inter-ethnic clashes have also provoked the movement of thousands of internally displaced persons within DR Congo. I saw them in Kasumbalesa, near the Zambian border, living precariously in shacks, uneducated, unemployed. They are the fragile faces of exodus and daily instability showing extreme vulnerability. A social project is necessary for the midst of such a diversity of displaced people (Kananga, Kasai, MbujiMai, and Balubakati), languages (Kikongo, Chiluba, Lingala, Swahili), of impoverishment (no training, no job, no future), as well as a couple of wells.
The bloodletting of Africa is well known to all. In contrast, in Kasumbalesa, we observe several kilometers of trucks lined up with heavy minerals leaving the border of DR Congo for Zambia. Thousands of tons per day leave their land of origin. Cobalt, coltan, uranium, copper, cassiterite, plus gold and diamonds. The greed of the most developed world for natural wealth to sustain a standard of living cannot be universalized. A flow of hypocrisy is thus traced where goods circulate freely, and people are retained, impoverished, relegated to a world without a future, and abandoned. These people are becoming increasingly aware of this structural and structured injustice so that the wealthiest country in the world does not raise its head.
I had the privilege of contemplating a sunset background. At the same time, the shared fire is lit in the Claretian parish of Marie Mère de la Foi in Badara, where refugees from the internal revolts of the Kasai region live. When I see myself dancing and singing with them, I feel part of that same humanity that contemplates a majestic sunset as the flame of resurrection is lit.
I saw the Pediatrie of Kinshasa again and remember my penultimate stay there with orphaned children abandoned with severe illnesses. Also, to be with the project for young women of Believing in Them, and enjoy the brave women volunteers who carry it out, almost all Argentines, with Luisina at the head and in the hearts of all. The families of Kindi welcomed us as if we were at home, and we shared their concerns and desires, the work of the men in the construction of motherhood, playing with the children, singing with the women, and walking through the rural land of all. A community project emerges in a place in the world where Franco, a Claretian missionary, leaves his life.
Once back, I continue and reactivate the commitment here, the possible co-financing of the projects, the sensitization of the members of the communities and beyond, the regular and constant economic donation… Humanitarian aid swallows everything in DR Congo, and what is it for? Despite the tragedy’s impotence and magnitude, it serves to save lives and stabilize critical situations. We don’t think it will bring about a significant change in the medium and long term, but it does serve as a sign of hope for another possible world. For them, it is a feeling of being looked at, even if that help last the fleetingness of the wind. Better than nothing… it is. Better than abandonment or defeatist excuses of “there is nothing to do” are short answers, not only of subsistence but also of development, in the face of significant problems that heal the wounded soul and threaten humanity.
They lack shoes and equipment in a world where electricity and water are cut off daily for many hours. They lack illusion, hope, entrepreneurial spirit, and perseverance. Yet, they can transform the world. They are the wealth of the world, the wealthiest country.
If I turn this sock over, I see that in the shell of the West, we have plenty of what they lack, and we lack what they have plenty of. May we someday achieve this transformation to walk together hand in hand from an enriching and growing interdependence.
There they taught me a simple song before leaving for Europe… :
Kumisama nkolo Jesu, kumisama nkolo (Thank you Lord Jesus).
Juan José López Jiménez
Our Father in Swahili