The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Paradox of Plenty

by ACT

  • Posted on June 28, 2019

  • Comments Off on The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Paradox of Plenty

  • Uncategorized

Children at Lighthouse School, near Lubumbashi

The paradox of plenty, or the resource curse, refers to the paradox that countries with an abundance of natural resources tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than those with fewer natural resources. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a prime example of a country which falls foul of this paradox. It is seemingly blessed with natural riches such as gold, diamonds, oil, tin, copper, cobalt and many more, yet is consistently rated lowest on the UN Human Development Index.

Tragically, the history of the DRC has been extremely turbulent, making it difficult for the country to prosper. The DRC has been plagued by a bloody and chaotic history, a history which has ‘delved it into the hands of unimaginable violence and anarchy’ (Snow, 2013). Indeed, DR Congo at present, marred by conflict and poverty, is a direct product of the decisions and actions taken over the past five centuries.

On Sunday, the DRC celebrates 59 years since independence; here’s a brief look at the country’s history.

In the late 15th century an empire known as the Kingdom of Kongo dominated the western portion of the Congo. The kingdom was sophisticated, with its own aristocracy and extensive civil service. However, when the Portuguese traders arrived in the 1480s and realised the vast natural wealth of the land, they did their utmost to destroy any indigenous political force capable of curtailing their slaving or trading interests. Through European backed soldiers, Kongolese armies were defeated, and by the 1600s, the once-mighty kingdom had disintegrated into a leaderless, anarchy of mini-states locked in endemic civil war. This cataclysmic first encounter with Europeans was to set the tone for the rest of the Congo’s history.

Congo Free State

In 1885 the ironically named ‘Congo Free State’ was formally recognized. King Leopold II of Belgium ruled over the empire. But for almost 30 years rather than being a regular colony, Congo became his private property, exploited for his own personal enrichment.

The Congo Free State set a new precedent for cruelty. Leopold II imposed quotas on every man for production of raw materials. Those who failed to meet their quota faced mutilation, including of wives or children. By the 1924 census, the population fell to 10 million, half of what it was before colonisation.  In 1908, due to international pressure, Leopold II had no choice but to cede his land to the Belgian government. However, the cruelty continued for years and profit from the extractions of natural resources was siphoned out until independence, which was declared on 30th of June 1960.


Sadly independence was not going to be the answer to all of the Congo’s problems – its early years were stricken with political and social instability. In 1961 a US-backed coup led by Colonel Mobutu took over power from the much-loved president Lumumba, who was then tortured and killed. Mobutu and his family and friends bled the country of billions of dollars. He renamed the country Zaire Republic.

The DRC’s strife continues today; developments’ stifled, the government’s weak and the rule of law’s non-existent. Natural wealth has been the only thing those in power care about. In this way the Congo’s resources have been a real curse.


At ACT, we believe that human potential is one of Africa’s greatest resources, and we want to invest in this valuable resource. We strongly believe the best way to do this is through educating children. Almost half of the population of the DR Congo (86.79 million) are under 15 years old, meaning that the furthering of education for these young people will be an investment in the future leaders of the DR Congo.

We have been supporting children in the DRC since 2016 in partnership with the Lighthouse School in Lubumbashi, south-eastern DRC. We pay their school fees, purchase uniforms and feed the children. Already 2 of our children, Anastasie and Kerene, have passed on to secondary school.

Currently, the DRC is the country where ACT has the smallest presence. We want this to change.

For only £15 a month, the price of one coffee a week, you can help support a disadvantaged child. ACT now to help the future of the Democratic Republic of Congo. To sponsor a child or to donate click here

Your donations always make a difference.

About the Author