(Poverty) Trapped: The DRC

The students in my global econ class this semester have been a real wealth of information!  Here’s another student guest post, this one discussing the political economic challenges of the DRC.


What is a poverty trap? According to one definition, it “is a spiralling mechanism which forces people to remain poor. It is so binding in itself that it doesn’t allow the poor people to escape it.” Five commonly observed poverty traps include the conflict trap, poor governance and corruption, poor geography, health crises, and the resource curse (Collier 2007). A combination of these is detrimental to a nation, but even just one of these makes overcoming poverty a challenge.

No country exemplifies the “poverty trap” quite as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire).  It is continually ranked number one on the lists of poorest countries in the world, and it is almost easier to list the poverty traps it lacks than the ones it has!  Here are three of the major poverty traps that continually drive the DRC into poverty:

  • The Conflict Trap: When discussing the conflict trap, Paul Collier (2007) mainly focuses on civil wars and coup d’etats. The Democratic Republic of Congo has been plagued by armed conflict for years; most recently, it was hit with two civil wars from 1996-2003. These wars often revolve around the economic benefits of controlling the country’s vast resources.
  • The Poor Governance Trap: Although one of these civil wars caused Mobutu – who became extremely wealthy while also bankrupting the country – to flee the DRC, the governance has not improved.  Transparency International ranked them as 154 out of 177 in their 2013 Corruption Index – placing them in the top 3% of most corrupt countries in the world.
  • The Resource Curse: The Democratic Republic of Congo is “blessed” (read: cursed) with an abundance of natural resources – perhaps one of the most resource rich countries in the world.  However, the battle over control of the resources has driven the Democratic Republic of Congo further into poverty. Countries whose economies rely exclusively on natural resources tend to have economies that are not diversified. This can occur from the value of a nation’s currency rising in relation with the resource exportation (the “Dutch Disease”), making other (manufactured) goods from that country more expensive in international trade, causing those industries in the country to fail. The control of resources also leads to conflict in a society over who gets to control the resources and therefore gain the wealth from them. The Democratic Republic of Congo has faced both of these issues surrounding natural resources.

    A map of the DRC’s extensive mineral resources. Original map from the UN

Although the resource curse and the conflict trap are major contributors to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s descent further into poverty, many other poverty traps plague the country. While it is not impossible to overcome these poverty traps and start transforming into a wealthier, more developed society, the Democratic Republic of Congo still has a long way to go before it will have surpassed these issues.

From Foreign Policy's 2013 "Postcards from Hell" gallery, the DRC. In this image, miners near the city of Goma dig for minerals used in consumer electronics.
From Foreign Policy’s 2013 “Postcards from Hell” gallery, the DRC.
In this image, miners near the city of Goma dig for minerals commonly used in consumer electronics.

References

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