The President of the DRC, Félix Tshsiekedi, is on a 4-day visit to Beijing. This is his first visit to the country since taking office in 2019.
The visit aims to re-examine relations between China and the Democratic Republic of Congo and, starting this Friday, to renegotiate the “contract of the century” signed 15 years ago. This is a “mines for infrastructure” contract that has gone badly wrong, with the DRC and the Congolese people the big losers.
This mega-contract involves Sicomones, the Sino-Congolaise des Mines, a joint venture set up in the former Katanga region with the Congolese state-owned company Gécamines and the GEC, the group of Chinese companies, under which the DRC is to supply cobalt and copper mines in exchange for roads, railways and so on.
Jean-Pierre Okenda, Director of Extractive Industries at Resource Matters, described the deal as the scam of the century, explaining that China had agreed to provide a credit line of US$6 billion, which was halved after the IMF intervened, and on the other hand, China needed access to minerals, given that the DRC has very large reserves.
Several projects were to be carried out, including roads, the Kakobola and Katende hydroelectric dams, social housing, 145 health centers, and others. However, 15 years on, the amount invested by the Chinese side has remained minimal, according to Jean-Pierre Okenda, who points out that China has only disbursed 30% or 822 million dollars in infrastructure.
Congolese Authorities Seek to Rebalance Power
An official Congolese report by the Inspectorate General of Finance estimates that for Sicomines, the Katangese mines have been a cash machine: $10 billion, referring to what they call “sell-off” and “economic colonialism”.
An ad hoc task force made up of ministers, the presidential cabinet, and members of civil society produced a document a week ago, which will surely be the subject of negotiations during the Congolese president’s visit to Beijing.
Kinshasa is seeking to reverse the balance of power between shareholders in Sicomines, from the 32% currently held by Gécamines to 70% for the state-owned company and the Congolese authorities.
The pressure on the Congolese authorities is immense. Congolese society, which has been denouncing this Chinese contract for over ten years, Westerners, Americans, and Europeans, and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) are all pushing for Kinshasa to remain within the negotiating framework.