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DRC: Tshisekedi wants to mend relationship with Chinese mining companies

By Eric Olander
Posted on Wednesday, 20 October 2021 07:37

France Congo
DRC's President Felix Tshisekedi delivers a speech at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

On Friday 15 October, DRC President Félix Tshisekedi hinted during a meeting of the Council of Ministers (the DRC's cabinet) that he wants to bring an end to the ongoing dispute with Chinese mining companies over unfair contracts.

The President ordered a technical and financial audit of the Sicomines contract, in particular, and called for the “revision of certain mining clauses between the DRC and the Chinese business group.”

He made no mention of the other major mining contract involving China Molybdenum Co.’s ownership stake in the massive Tenke Fungurume copper and cobalt mine.

The audit of the Sicomines contract is consistent with his policy of restructuring the country’s major mining deals with foreign companies to make them more equitable. However, the directive he gave to Foreign Affairs Minister Christophe Lutundula could indicate that he’s ready to put an end to this process.

Lutundula will now work with his Chinese stakeholders to set up a “joint Sino-Congolese commission that will look at areas of common interest” with the desired objective that “the implementation of contracts be win-win.”

The President’s comments mark a dramatic change in tone from his previous attacks on Sicomines, China Moly, and other Chinese companies, whom he accused of grossly profiting from unfair contracts signed under the previous administration of Joseph Kabila.

Three reasons why Tshisekedi may be ready to move on from the dispute:

  • Money: We know that negotiations have been underway for weeks to settle this issue. What we saw on Friday may be a sign that a deal is progressing. This new joint commission could provide cover for the likely outcome that key figures in the President’s inner circle will profit handsomely from the restructuring deal.
  • Elections: When the joint commission invariably announces a set of revisions to the Sicomines and other mining contracts, the President will be able to tell voters in the run-up to the 2023 elections that he brought the Chinese companies to heel, set a precedent for future deals and forced them to live up to their infrastructure development commitments. Plus, his campaign will likely be flush with cash from those same mining companies.
  • It’s time to move on: The DRC is now the top destination in Africa for Chinese FDI and there’s no doubt that this ongoing dispute has cast a chill over some of those investments. Both the Chinese embassy in Kinshasa and the President are probably keen to put this behind them so they can focus on other initiatives that will likely emerge after the FOCAC summit that’s expected to take place in late November.

However, there’s one important variable that may present challenges for the President and the Chinese mining companies. The Congolese office of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative is expected to release (in the next two weeks) what will likely be a scathing report about the Sicomines deal.

While China’s critics will no doubt pounce on EITI’s findings, it’s questionable whether it will have much impact within the DRC. A similar report on Sicomines published by another Congolese NGO, Afrewatch, generated a bit of buzz for a few days, sparked the usual denunciations by the accused parties and things just moved on.

This article was published in partnership with The China-Africa Project. 

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