Cobalt plays a critical role in the global low-carbon transition to combat climate change, and in the diffusion of information technology. It is an essential element in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and consumer electronics.
Over the past decade, there has been a boom in cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Two thirds of the global supply of cobalt comes from the DRC, and a considerable portion of this supply is mined by an informal workforce of artisanal miners, called “creuseurs”, who face dangerous working conditions, human rights abuses and are paid poverty wages. They are the ‘invisible face’ of a multi-billion dollar industry supporting our demand for the electric vehicles that we rely on to meet Net Zero Carbon targets.
The panel discussion will zoom in on how Europe struggles with the dilemma to secure its raw material supply chain for the sake of its green transition and energy sovereignty, at the cost of human rights abuses, more pollution, ecosystem destruction and handshakes with undemocratic resource-rich countries.
The evening starts with screening of the award-winning and University of Antwerp-linked documentary Cobalt Rush (21 minutes), followed by a debriefing by two of the makers of the film. The issues they raise will be taken to a panel with a Member of the European Parliament, an international development professional and a post-doctoral researcher. The event will close with an open Q&A with the audience.
This event is an initiative of the USOS student representatives Hanne De Boe (Social and Economic Sciences) and Céline Vanden Abbeele (International Relations and Diplomacy). USOS chairwoman prof. Sara Geenen will be moderating the panel talk.
All of this is made possible by financial support from the VLIR-UOS Global Minds Programme, which is part of the Belgian Development Cooperation.
March is University of Antwerp's ethnic-cultural inclusion and global engagement month. Find more about it
You can optionally submit a question to the panel beforehand on registration.
About the documentary Cobalt Rush (2023)
‘Cobalt Rush’ is a portrait of three individuals working in the Southern Congolese cobalt mining town of Kolwezi. It explores the universal themes of resilience, hope, and the obligation to make ends meet, as we see our protagonists hunt meaning and opportunity out of their dismal circumstances. Their stories are fraught with danger, and set amidst a context of corporate greed, exploitation and neo-colonialism. Ultimately, our own complicated relationship with “green” technologies and climate change is revealed, as we are confronted by the invisible side of the insatiable global demand for cobalt.
Cobalt Rush won the ‘Best Educational Film Award’ and the prestigious ‘Premier Award’ at the 2023 British Universities Film and Video Council (BUFVC)
Sara Matthieu is a Belgian member of the European Parliament and city councillor in Ghent for Groen, the Flemish green party. She aims to speed up the just transition to a circular and climate neutral economy in the environment, social affairs and international trade committees.
Guillaume de Brier is a researcher at International Peace Information Service (IPIS) since 2015. He has led field work and publications on the mining sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic. In the last years, Guillaume has researched and written on the EU policies regarding the mineral supply chain strategies implemented for the energy transition.
Sarah Katz-Lavigne is a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute of Development Policy (IOB), University of Antwerp. She has a interdisciplinary background, including International Relations, African resource governance, and political science. Her current research focuses on the interconnections between mineral supply chains, the “green energy” boom, and local participation and knowledge, particularly when it comes to cobalt mines in south-eastern DRC. She also critically examines knowledge production in the context of "critical minerals" for the "green transition."
Bossissi Nkuba is a professor at the Institute of Development Policy (IOB - University of Antwerp), Africa Museum (department of Earth Science) and U.C.Bukavu in DR Congo (Centre on Mining Governance). His recent works include the effects of cobalt mining on access, quality, and governance of water. He directed the documentary “Cobalt rush” portraying struggles and hopes of cobalt miners.
Roy Maconachie is an award-winning filmmaker and Professor of Natural Resources and Development in the Department of Social and Policy Sciences, at the University of Bath, UK. His research in sub-Saharan Africa explores the social, political and economic impacts of food production and natural resource management, and their relationships to wider social and environmental change. He has produced several documentaries about unequal labour relationships in Africa. His films include: Cobalt Rush (2023), which chronicles the perilous working conditions of artisanal cobalt miners at the bottom of the supply chain in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Sara Geenen is professor in International Development, Globalization and Poverty at the Institute of Development Policy. She codirects he Centre d’Expertise en Gestion Minière (CEGEMI) at the Université Catholique de Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Her current research interests lie in the global and local development dimensions of extractivist projects, addressing questions about more socially responsible and inclusive forms of globalization. As chairwoman of USOS, she takes responsibility for the university association that facilitates partnerships with the Global South and encourages global citizenship.