Unpopular opinion: DR Congo should federate with US or China

Sunday September 24 2023

A cartoon illustration. PHOTO | POOL


My simple head gets confused when an appeal from a prestigious foundation comes to my mail asking for a few dollars’ contribution to help save Libyans who are facing death in a city that was recently swept into the Stone Age by a storm, with climate change being incoherently blamed somewhere in the mix.

This is a Libya that owns huge deposits in European banks, including a reported 143 tonnes of gold worth €8 billion ($8.57 billion), an equal weight of silver, plus cash reportedly many times more than the gold, and whose interest earned over the years has not been protected by international laws and is instead being re-invested but not in the interest of Libyan people. It is a Libya to which African leaders could rush for a quick cash bailout only 12 years ago before it was bombed into destitution.

The abject destitution of the once-rich Libyans is running contemporarily with the shameful, man-made suffering of the people of Democratic Republic of Congo, on which Amnesty International has published a report of unfolding disaster as people are evicted from their land that contains cobalt, which rich countries want for powering their electric cars in the energy transition.

Read: BUWEMBO: Minerals, tech, all of us and Nile basin: What a new world!

The suffering of the Congolese must be making them envy wild animals, which enjoy protection from the international community.

Elephants are saved because “only elephants should wear ivory”, and rhinos protected because of the “My Horn is My Dilemma” cry. Can the international community launch a “My Cobalt is My Destruction” campaign to save 100 million Congolese?


My modest suggestion for saving the lives and human dignity of the endangered 100 million Congolese is simple: Make a trial federation of the country with another that is strong enough to protect it. No amount of PhD-level arguments over sovereignty will save the Congolese faster that DRC temporarily federating with US or China. Either of the two would save the 100 million people by making them full American or Chinese citizens for an agreed period — say a decade. Though it is not clear how fast the US can get around the laws and bureaucracies to pull this off, China could do it in a couple of weeks.

This is how it would work: Let the leading presidential candidates in the coming DRC elections pledge to enter a strategic, temporary federation of ten years with a strong country once elected, so the election would constitute a referendum on this matter. Once elected, the president-elect invites US and China to bid for the deal at a reserve price of $2 trillion. This is about the amount former president Donald Trump signed away to Americans individually, to just spend during Covid, right?

The winning bidder (US or China) — to become the “parent country” during the duration of the decadelong deal — would immediately start investing the $2 trillion-plus in infrastructure and social services DRC over a five-year period. Any corruption in the execution of the deal would lead to disqualification or nullification of the deal.

Read: BUWEMBO: Fight for Africa; it will end in tears

The $2 trillion-plus must not include managerial costs, which must be borne separately by the “parent country” so that all the trillions are for real hardware, software, on-the-ground labour and consumables, at verified cost prices.

Needless to say, the “parent country” would in return have exclusive rights over DRC’s minerals and exercise oversight over the country’s macroeconomic management, since they would be one country for a decade.

The “parent country” would be the one to award mining concessions to foreign companies at any fees of its choice. It would ensure that processing of the cobalt, copper and other minerals related to powering electric vehicles is done on DRC soil, and only exported in finished form like batteries.

Of course many people would say that DRC would get an even better deal if the “parent country” were Norway or Japan. But it is unlikely that such “humane” states would have the required brute force to enforce the deal and protect it from other economic powers.

Then there is the little matter of membership to the East African Community. DRC’s membership to the EAC can remain. After all, with its “Americanness” or “Chineseness,” DRC would stand to benefit from the regional market arrangements and also to offer technology and economic assistance to the other six partner states.