13 years after Kinshasa and Beijing signed their cooperation agreement, “the DRC’s infrastructure deficit is still hindering its development,” President Félix Tshisekedi said on 10 September 2021. The head of state has asked his ministers in charge of mines and infrastructure to take stock of the technical and financial execution of various construction projects – within the framework of the agreement that was signed during his predecessor’s term in office.
In 2008, Joseph Kabila opened negotiations with China. He bartered Congolese copper and cobalt – notably extracted by the Chinese-Congolese company Sicomines in Katanga – for the construction of infrastructure worth $9bn, which was renegotiated to $6bn in 2009 after some pressure from the IMF. Two Chinese companies, Sinohydro and CREC (China Railway Engineering Corporation), were assigned to carry out this infrastructure work.
More than 3,500km of roads, as many kilometres of railways, road infrastructure in Kinshasa, 31 hospitals with 150 beds and 145 health centres were planned. No less than 2,000 social housing units in the capital and 3,000 in the provinces, as well as two modern universities, were also in the pipeline.
However, according to a technical note from the Agence Congolaise des Grands Travaux (ACGT) – which we were able to consult – the projects that the Chinese groups carried out do not fulfill their commitments.
“Given the delay in implementing the mining project (intended to reimburse infrastructure works through copper and cobalt mining), the Sino-Congolese programme’s overall budgetary envelope has now been reduced to $1.05bn,” the document states.
Contrary to what was promised, no modern university has been built nor has a single hospital been erected. Only 356km of paved roads and 854km of dirt roads have been completed. Several stadiums and buildings are still being rehabilitated, but the construction sites are not finished – notably those in Bukavu, Goma, Bunia and Kalemie.
According to the ACGT, almost $900m (an amount that is 10 times less than what was promised in 2008) has been spent on these completed and ongoing projects.
Tshisekedi, with support from the US, has decided to revisit all the contracts that were signed under his predecessor Kabila, including those with the Chinese. Although Beijing has not officially reacted to the recent statements that the Congolese head of state made against Chinese groups, its diplomats are currently working to resume communication with the authorities and restore collaboration.
Zhu Jing, China’s ambassador to Kinshasa, has met with mines minister Antoinette N’Samba Kalambayi and senate president Modeste Bahati Lukwebo.
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