Power Shift in Congo: Tshisekedi’s Landslide Victory and Its Impact on Global Environmental and Economic Fronts

In a decisive victory, Felix Tshisekedi, the newly appointed president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, clinched a second term with a commanding 73% vote in the December 20th presidential election. His win is significant in global climate initiatives, leveraging Congo’s extensive forests and mineral wealth.

Congo, comparable in size to Western Europe, dominates the global cobalt market, producing about 70% of this crucial component for lithium-ion batteries, pivotal in electric vehicles (EVs). This dominance extends to other minerals like tantalum and copper. The recent U.S. and Saudi efforts to diversify their mineral sources, particularly in Africa, spotlight the strategic importance of Congo’s resources in the burgeoning EV market and broader energy transition.

Chinese influence is palpable in Congo’s mining sector, controlling a significant portion of cobalt production and refining. This dominance in the global supply chain is countered by U.S. efforts to streamline Congo’s mining practices for better access to these strategic minerals.

While Congol has faced pressure from the U.S to clean up its informal mining sector, which would make it easier for American companies to access the country’s minerals, the Congolese government officials say the country’s priority is to generate revenue to grow the economy and create jobs, including from oil and gas reserves lie below its forests and peatlands.

Amidst this backdrop of economic and environmental significance, Congo grapples with severe humanitarian challenges. A staggering quarter of its population faces food scarcity, compounded by displacement affecting nearly seven million of Congo’s citizens. Climate change exacerbates these woes, with recent torrential rains triggering deadly floods and landslides.Despite Congo’s pivotal role in the fight against climate change, “there was virtually no discussion of climate change during the recent election campaign, a reflection of how little political traction this issue has within the DRC,” said Joshua Walker, the director of programs at New York University’s Congo Research Group.

Felix Tshisekedi’s leadership faces the challenge of navigating the intricate dynamics of regional stability and peacekeeping, especially in the conflict-ridden eastern regions. Moreover, there is an impending task of addressing human rights concerns, particularly in the mining sector, where exploitation and child labor have drawn international scrutiny. A significant concern is the informal mining of cobalt in Congo, which is vital for supplying lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles. In these unregulated mines, workers, including children, face hazardous conditions, often laboring without any safety equipment in hand-dug pits. Congo is the source of about 70% of the world’s cobalt, and these artisanal miners extract roughly a third. President Tshisekedi’s administration faces the task of reforming these mining practices, balancing the need for economic development while ensuring safe and ethical working conditions for mine workers. Education and infrastructure development are also key areas that require attention to uplift the living standards of the Congolese population. Tshisekedi’s tenure will be marked by his administration’s ability to balance these internal and external pressures while steering Congo towards sustainable development and inclusive growth.