DRC: land of commerce and controversy

Gregory Mthembu-Salter

Now that its complex internal conflicts are gradually ending, the Democratic Republic of Congo has become a target for mining companies offering development packages 

Mining output is steadily picking up in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and is generating progressively higher export earnings. The country’s exports, worth $2.9 billion in 2006, climbed to $8.3 billion last year and could reach $10.6 billion in 2011. In the copper and cobalt mines of Katanga Province, output has risen fivefold since 2006. 

Two of China’s largest engineering and construction firms, Sinohydro and CREC, have for some months been engaged in a range of major infrastructural projects, financed by an advance payment from China’s Exim Bank on a $6 billion loan. The loan is guaranteed by two Katangan copper and cobalt mines, to be developed by Sicomines, a joint venture between the DRC’s mining parastatal Gécamines and Chinese firms. 

The Exim Bank loan agreement has been strongly criticised by UK-based lobby group Global Witness for its alleged lack of transparency. Opposition presidential hopeful Etienne Tshisekedi has also spoken out against it, but Congolese and Chinese officials say it has done more for infrastructure than years of Western aid. 

In terms of output, the major performer in the copper and cobalt sector is Tenke Fungurume (TFM), in which the major shareholders are the US giant Freeport McMoRan and Canada’s Lundin. TFM has invested $2 billion and is the biggest taxpayer in the mining sector, although Gécamines wants to increase its 17.5 percent stake. But the local community at Tenke, who are now prevented from artisanally mining anywhere on TFM’s massive concession, are aggrieved that the company refuses to allow them “even one hill”, and there have been several violent protests. Still, TFM has made a number of helpful social and infrastructural investments, often at the behest of the provincial governor, Moise Katumbi. 

Another big investor is Katanga Mining, 75 percent controlled by Swiss commodities giant Glencore, with a minority held by Dan Gertler, a controversial Israeli mining mogul. Gertler has for years been on excellent terms with President Joseph Kabila and this year acquired stakes in two Gécamines mining assets, Mutanda Mining and Kansuki, which are valued at billions of dollars. Katumbi has called for all the relevant details to be published but neither Gertler nor Gécamines have yet responded. 

About the author:

Gregory Mthembu-Salter is a journalist specialising in DRC affairs


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