In DepthColumnsWho will pull DRC's trigger?


Posted on Tuesday, 29 October 2013 16:20

Who will pull DRC's trigger?

Frantz Fanon's evocation of Africa as shaped like a revolver with Congo as its trigger is as apposite today as when the Martinique-born philosopher coined it half a century ago.

Unquestionably, Congo's natural-resource wealth could reinforce Africa's impressive gross domestic product (GDP) growth of recent years.

Yet Congo's internal tensions and troubled eastern borders could spark another wave of instability across Africa's midriff. Whether Congo's resources serve the interests of its people depends on whose fingers are on the trigger.

The state mining company Gécamines, pillaged by politicians and foreign firms for years, launched a $900m investment plan in 2011

Not only does the country have one-fifth of the world's copper and cobalt reserves, along with copious quantities of gold and diamonds, but the Congo River has the power to generate more than 40,000MW of electric power, enough to light up half of Africa.

Credible plans are in train to exploit those phenomenal mineral reserves and to build the hydroelectric plants that will generate the power that Africa needs.

So is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on the mend after the ousting of the kleptocratic Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 and the regional wars that followed it?

There are positive signs. Reform-minded prime minister Augustin Matata Ponyo is having some success with his understated campaign against corruption.

Initially, he targeted public-sector payroll fraud. The state mining company Gécamines, pillaged by politicians and foreign firms for years, launched a $900m investment plan in 2011.

The economy's performance under Matata Ponyo – a GDP growth rate of 8.3% in 2012 and low inflation during the first half of this year – is improving.

But some context is necessary. The DRC's per capita income of $280 today is less than what it was at independence in 1960. About 20% of the DRC's children die of preventable illnesses before they reach their fifth birthdays.

Educational and health provision remain among Africa's poorest.

The joint visit to Kinshasa in May of UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and World Bank president Jim Yong Kim underlined the critical importance of the DRC.

The credibility of the UN's peacekeeping efforts is on the line again as it tries to work with the new border security force, under Tanzanian and South African command, to stabilise eastern DRC.

The World Bank offered $1bn in soft loans to the Great Lakes region, but some of the credits are premised on cutting corruption in the mining business.

This follows a report from former UN secretary general Kofi Annan's Africa Progress Panel that calculated that opaque sales of state mining assets to Israeli mining magnate Dan Gertler, London-listed Glencore and Eurasian Natural Resource Corporation (ENRC, whose Congolese operations are under investigation by Britain's Serious Fraud Office) cost the national treasury at least $1.4bn.

Tough political choices lie ahead. Will Matata Ponyo and his reform efforts survive? Will President Kabila and his Alliance pour la Majorité Presidentielle put most of their energy into changing the constitution so he can run for a third term in 2016?

Kinshasa insiders say Kabila is yet to make up his mind. The president's business friends may favour a continuation of Kabila's rule. Their opaque deals with his officials would be scrutinised under a new order.

But a new order is just what many heavy-weight politicians – even in Kabila's bailiwick of northern Katanga – seem to be planning for 2016. ●

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report. He has edited the political and economic insider newsletter Africa Confidential since 1992 and was associate producer on a documentary about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television.


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