As some 30 million votes are counted in the wake of elections this month in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), another contest is shaping up in the Congo between those who would build systems of fair governance and those who would ransack Central Africa for its natural resources.

These are the best of times and the worst of times in the Congo Basin. On the one hand is real progress towards democracy, better governance, and more sustainable management of the region’s vast natural resource wealth. On the other are foreign investors and their local allies bent on exploiting those resources: oil, timber, wildlife, minerals, and land. The future of the world’s second largest and most intact tropical rainforest, as well as the 100 million people (and 100,000 elephants and 200,000 gorillas) who depend on it for their livelihoods, rests on which trend becomes dominant.

Read more in James Deutsch’s editorial on National Geographic NewsWatch.