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A digger with bags of cobalt in Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of Congo. Congo abounds in cobalt, crucial for electronic devices. Credit Sebastian Meyer/Corbis News, via Getty Images

One evening in 2014, a police officer in Kolwezi, a dusty mining city of a half-million people in the southern Democratic Republic of Congo, decided that his family needed a new latrine. He picked up a shovel and started digging a pit in his yard and soon stood transfixed at the shimmering black dirt he’d unearthed: Before him was a pile of cobalt, one of the world’s most important minerals.

Cobalt is an essential component of rechargeable batteries in cars and mobile phones, and Congo is by far the world’s largest producer, with about half of all known reserves. In Kolwezi, the cobalt is often found with vast deposits of copper: After a rainstorm, some of the ground in the city turns as green as the Statue of Liberty.…  Seguir leyendo »