China biggest player in Congo mineral rush

The Chinese Railway Engineering Company is rebuilding 2,050 miles of roads in the Democratic Republic of Congo, abandoned in the jungle after the Belgian colonialists pulled out 48 years ago and further shattered by years of war. The vast project, which will triple Congo’s current paved road network, is part of China’s largest investment in Africa, a $9 billion infrastructure-for-minerals deal signed in January. Beijing has also pledged to repair 2,000 miles of railways, build 32 hospitals and 145 clinics, expand the electrical grid, construct two hydropower dams and two new airports. In return, China wins the rights to five copper and cobalt mines in Congo’s southern mineral belt. (The Telegraph, July 14)

Voice of America May 15 of course touts the claims of Congolese opposition figures that the country is getting a raw deal:

Opposition leaders from the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo say the Congolese government’s contract with China is not a good deal.

The secretary-general for the opposition-party lawmaker Francois Mwamba says his party wants a mining deal with China, but it thinks the current revenue split that gives 32 percent to Congo’s national mining company Gecamines and 68 percent to the China Railway Group is unacceptable. Mwamba says the government must re-negotiate with China to receive more revenue.

But similar skepticism is being raised in Nigeria, where a legal scandal has thrown into question a contract former president Olusegun Obasanjo signed with the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC). Writes the Lagos Vanguard June 21:

The deal is described by Chinese as “win-win”- no aid with strings attached, unlike Western powers’… And yet, despite China’s pledge of openness, the deal has still not been published to the fury of human rights groups. “Our worry is that it is almost totally opaque,” said Katanga-based lawyer Georges Kapiamba, who eventually obtained a copy. “It permits a group of Chinese to get more than the Congolese – it’s not a win-win contract.”


Kapiamba said the deal amounts to a licensed plundering of DR Congo’s resources similar to that carried out under the country’s colonial ruler, King Leopold II of Belgium. A copy of the original DR Congolese-Chinese memorandum of understanding…appears to exonerate the Chinese side from all taxes and customs duties until the promised building work is completed… [T]he whole arithmetic of the deal unfairly favours the Chinese. At current world prices for copper and cobalt…the Chinese side of the joint venture will make a colossal overall profit of about $42bn after all the investment has been paid.

The World Socialist Web Site July 15 also sees a neocolonialist aspect to China’s new role:

China’s increased role in DRC has displaced the former colonial power Belgium, which has become highly critical of the [Joseph] Kabila government. Kabila has forced the Belgian government to close its consulates in Bukavu and Lubumbashi, withdrew DRC’s Ambassador to Brussels and closed the consulate in Antwerp earlier this year. The Belgium diamond industry are said to be in horror over the move.

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Guch complained that they were spending €200 million annually and had a moral duty to criticise the DRC government. He demanded that the DRC government should do more to fight corruption.

Kabila responded by denouncing the comments as “arrogant and provocative.” Belgium should stay out of Congo’s internal affairs, he insisted.

China will replace Belgium as the DRC’s most important trade partner, according to Kabila, because it is prepared to offer aid and trade without insisting on political reforms.

In an attempt to curry favour with the DRC government, Belgium has arrested Kabila’s opponent Jeanne Pierre Bemba on war crimes charges. The charges date back to his days of fighting in the Central African Republic, in support of its then president Ange-Felix Patasse in 2002-2003, against an attempted coup.

Bemba is a multi-millionaire businessman and was the leader of the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC). His militia, Army for the Liberation of the Congo, ALP, is accused of torture and rape, among other charges. He fled Congo to Portugal after Kabila’s presidential guard attacked his home, shortly after he had lost the controversial elections to Kabila at the end of 2006.

China is ironically reaping the benefit of a privatization program pushed through by the IMF:

The privatization program in the DRC, implemented by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank after the end of the war in 2003, opened the door for dividing up the nationalised mining industry. Contracts were drafted that gave mining concessions away for as little as $15 million when resources were valued at $60 billion.

But despite the “official” end of the war, fighting continues in Congo’s east, where (US-backed) Rwanda continues to sponsor guerilla groups fighting Kabila’s government…

See our last posts on Congo, Central Africa and China in Africa.