The Democratic Republic of Congo is preparing for its first free elections since independence in 1960. On Sunday, 33 candidates will be vying for the presidency and another 9,000 for the 500-seat parliament.
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DAVID JACOBSON, Missionary Pilot:
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, Correspondent, Twin Cities Public Television:
David Jacobson spends much of his job for a missionary air service flying over Congo, in landmass, Africa's third-largest country. In natural wealth, he says, it's likely first.
Just where we're flying now, there's some places you fly that it even messes up your compass in the airplane, there's so much gold and other minerals in the ground, believe it or not.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO:
Amid its vast timber forests, Congo has some of the world's richest deposits of gold, copper, diamonds and coltan, a substance essential in cell phones. But most Congolese can barely afford food, let alone a cell phone.
The picture in this cell phone ad — a miner calling in his big find — could not be farther from the real lives that thousands of people lead. The more realistic scene is played out daily, as scores of freelance miners work from small holes more than 50 feet below ground.
Clay-like soil is hauled up in small bags, then down to the river bank. The soil is sifted. The yield, if any, is tiny industrial-quality diamonds. Theodore Bechmanga leads a team of miners.
THEODORE BECHMANGA, Miner (through translator):
You can see I've been working from morning until now. I don't have any money. I don't know how my kids are going to eat today. I've been working four months now and have earned less than $100 — less than $100.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO:
The diamonds they do find are sold through a chain of middlemen that begins in a market near the mines. Eventually, some stones reach bigger dealers, like Alphonse Kassanji, one of far too few Congolese playing in the big leagues, he says. Kassanji says most miners, even the lucky ones, are vulnerable to being cheated.
ALPHONSE KASSANJI, Diamond Dealer (through translator):
They can have a stone valued at $100,000, for example, but they'll end up selling it to whites or Lebanese dealers for $30,000. Those people take that money to their countries. They don't contribute to building roads here, and it doesn't benefit the local population.