The University of Maryland’s geographical sciences department’s diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism committee held a seminar Tuesday exploring the history of colonization in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The seminar featured speaker Maurice Carney, a co-founder of Friends of the Congo, an organization working to increase global understanding of the country’s challenges. The discussion touched on the impact of resource extraction from the region and dug into its colonial exploitation.

Carney emphasized the country’s struggle for justice, peace and human dignity and told stories of Congolese miners.

Core minerals, which are used in laptops, cellphones and electric cars, are mined by Congolese people for about $3 a day, according to research institute International Peace Information Service. The Congo produces 70 percent of the world’s cobalt, Carney said.

The miners, which include children, receive poor compensation and are exposed to unsafe working conditions, Carney said.

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“They’re digging tunnels deep into the ground, to get to the copper, to get to the cobalt, to get to the nickel and they’re being exposed,” Carney said. “They don’t have the equipment to protect them, and all this is radioactive.”

In 1885, King Leopold II of Belgium began to possess the Congo for colonial extraction and allowed European powers to peruse, commerce and travel within the country.

China currently owns the majority of mining companies in the Congo, The New York Times reported in 2021.

Abena Asare-Ansah, a geographical sciences doctoral student, was glad to hear Carney’s perspectives on colonial exploitation.

“I could really, really relate to him, especially when he talked about exploitation of resources [by] the Western part of the world,” Asare-Ansah said. “Similar things happen in my country, Ghana, where there’s exploitation in gold mining.”

The world cannot combat the climate crisis without discussing the environmental impacts of the Congo’s exploitation, Carney said. The Congo Basin, which spans six countries, is the second largest rainforest in the world and sequesters higher amounts of carbon than the Amazon, he said.

Carney also discussed the recent release of Oppenheimer. The film, Carney said, skipped over a major point in history. Uranium, a major ingredient in atomic bombs, had to be extracted from the Congo and shipped to New York, he said. Most high quality uranium for the project came from the Congo, Carney said.

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“Congo was indispensable to the development of the atomic weapons by the United States that were unfortunately dropped on Japan,” Carney said. “When you talk about the Manhattan Project, you really can’t talk about it without talking about the Congo.”

Carney hopes the public recognizes the centrality of the Congo and its everlasting role in conversations about climate and the environment. The Congo’s dangerous living and working conditions should never be normalized, he said.

Carney concluded his seminar by urging the audience at this university to spread awareness, get involved and work to liberate the Congo from further exploitation.

Yue Ma, a geographical sciences doctoral student, resonated with Carney’s words and was impressed by the presentation.

“In the future, I will definitely pay more attention to Congo,” Ma said.