Congo: A 'Bottomless Pit' of Turmoil

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KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo -- Many think of Africa as a poor continent, yet one African nation should be one of the richest in the world.

Instead, its economy is a disaster.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire, is home to some of the most valuable minerals in the world -- from cobalt to diamonds, gold, copper, and zinc.

Natural Riches, but Dirt Poor

The country's soil is so rich, it's estimated to contain a staggering $24 trillion worth of untapped resources -- the equivalent to the combined gross domestic product of the United States and Europe.

Yet for all its natural riches, the DRC remains a desperately poor nation. And many residents don't feel things will get better anytime soon.

"We are like the promised land, but flowing with death and destruction," said one frustrated resident of Kinshasa.

Celebration Among Hard Times

Before he died in 1961, Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba boasted that one day, his nation would be an example for the rest of the world.

"We are going to show the world what the black man can do when he works in freedom, and we are going to make Congo the center of the sun's radiance for all of Africa," Lumumba once said.

On June 30, 2010, some felt like his dream had become reality as the country celebrated 50 years of independence from Belgium. Scores of Congolese watched, along with several foreign heads of state and dignitaries from around the world, as thousands of soldiers paraded down the capital city's main boulevard.

DRC President Joseph Kabila called it a proud moment for the republic.

"We are recovering like a giant that wakes up after a long sleep," he said.

The images from the parade were meant to show the country was strong and united, and that Lumumba's dream was slowly being fulfilled. But after tremendous hardships, the DRC is still facing challenges economically and politically.

A Failed State

Many of those hardships are self-inflicted.

"We've never had peace in this country," one Congolese explained. "The political situation is very unstable. The corruption is bad at all levels. We don't even trust our politicians."

The economy also remains in shambles and people have little faith in the future.

"I have a college degree, but there are no jobs," one Congolese mother of two said. "My husband is in the same position. We worry about how we are going to raise our two children."

The situation is so bad, that Foreign Policy magazine declared the country one of the top five failed states in the world.

"The war-ravaged Democratic Republic of the Congo once again proved itself a country in little more than name," the magazine reported.

Wayne Turner has lived as an American missionary in the DRC for more than 35 years.

"That is a bottomless pit here," he said from his home in the capital city. "Medical, social, educational -- these are tremendous needs."

Mangled Hope

The country has also suffered decades of internal and cross-border conflicts. The International Red Cross reports that fighting has killed more than 5 million people and left thousands more homeless.

History doesn't offer the country much hope either. From the colonial Belgians who ruled the country for more than 50 years, to the corrupt dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko, many Congolese say they find it difficult to move past their brutal and tragic history.

"Every day we have reminders of where we've come from but not enough hope to carry us into the future," one resident said.

The Congolese government has signed multi-billion dollar deals with the Chinese to trade infrastructure development for access to minerals. But the deals have created suspicion among the locals. Many accuse China of having colonial ambitions.

The DRC is among 17 other African countries celebrating 50 years of independence this year from their former colonialists. Like so many of the countries, the DRC had high hopes when they gained their freedom.

Yet 50 years in, those hopes are dashed as the country remains mangled in war, corruption and poverty.

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