Diamonds and Decline: Post-Boom Extraction in Mbujimayi, Democratic Republic of Congo
Posted: 18 Apr 2013
Date Written: April 18, 2013
People in the Democratic Republic of Congo¹s (DRC) diamond mining city of Mbujimayi often remember words attributed to former President Laurent Kabila at the height of the 1998-2003 conflict: ³If Mbujimayi falls, the Congo falls too. Thanks largely to assistance from foreign troops, Mbujimayi never fell into rebel hands. Today, however, the city is a shadow of its former self, no longer considered to have the same strategic importance it did during the conflict. The parastatal Société Minière de Bakwanga (MIBA) declared bankruptcy in 2008, and slowly started production again in 2010. The city¹s artisanal diamond mining economy, which experienced a boom beginning in the early 1980s, has been in steep decline for at least 10 years. Yet diamonds still animate local imaginaries of wealth, and artisanal mining continues to undergird the city¹s struggling economy. This paper asks how and why artisanal diamond mining continues in the midst of decline. Through ethnographic analysis I examine the ways in which the artisanal mining economy continues to function, and how it produces imaginaries, lifeworlds, and notions of value. In so doing, I also address the question of what the case of Mbujimayi a definitively post-boom mining town can teach us about lifecycles of extraction in the DRC more generally.
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