DRC: China Moly court ruling shows Tshisekedi still in charge, says mining expert

By Eric Olander
Posted on Tuesday, 8 March 2022 12:41

File image of the massive Chinese-owned Tenke Fungurume cobalt and copper mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The decision by a commercial court in the southern DR Congo city of Lubumbashi to temporarily suspend China Molybdenum’s (China Moly) management of the enormous Tenke Fungurume copper and cobalt mine (TFM) is the latest twist in an almost-year battle between the government and the Chinese mining giant.

For some perspective on the court’s ruling, CAP Editor in Chief Eric Olander spoke with CAP Francophone Editor Geraud Neema, who is also a well-known Congolese mining analyst.

The following is an English translation from French that was edited for clarity.

ERIC OLANDER: What’s really going on here? Nothing is as it seems in the DRC. Give us your take on the part of this story that we’re not seeing from this court ruling and is the timing significant?

GERAUD NEEMA: First and foremost, this is a significant setback for China Moly. Given its outsized role in the Congolese mining sector, the court’s ruling is a big deal, both symbolically and in practical terms. It sends the message that Chinese mining interests are not untouchable in the DRC and that Congolese authorities retain considerable power in this relationship.

In a country where the justice system is not always independent and is often politicized, this court’s decision could well be a new strategy to bend China Moly to the will of Congolese authorities.

It also shows that contrary to what many people have assumed, President Félix Tshisekedi may have a lot more room to maneuver against the Chinese mining giant than many had previously thought and that he isn’t shy to use that power when necessary.

It’s also notable that Gécamines took China Moly to court on the same day that China Moly CEO Su Ruiwen met with the President at his office in Kinshasa. Whether the court filing occurred before or after the meeting is hard to tell but at a certain level, it reveals frustration on the part of Congolese authorities who were apparently unsatisfied with the direction that negotiations with the mining company were headed.

The U.S. has been lobbying the Congolese government to take action against Chinese mining companies in the DRC. Do you think their lobbying has had any influence on this process?

GERAUD: Let’s just say that it’d be difficult to evaluate what’s going on here without seeing the American shadow.

The online skirmish between former Trump administration diplomat Peter Pham and China’s ambassador to the DRC, Zhu Jing, along with recent comments by Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh during his recent visit to Kinshasa when he proposed a different development model from that of China are no doubt still fresh in the minds of some Congolese policymakers.

Published in partnership with The China Africa Project

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