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DRC – After Kabila: Who stands to lose?

By Patrick Smith
Posted on Tuesday, 13 November 2018 12:17

The Oligarchs:

Ivan Glasenberg

Glencore and its investors have a Congo dilemma. If it was not for its buccaneering style and wheeler-dealing in Congo’s copper and cobalt industry, Glencore would not have evolved from a secretive Switerland-based commodity trader to a global minerals producer. Now, it’s payback time.

First, Glencore and its fellow foreign mining houses are doing battle with the government’s resource-nationalist policies. Despite their hard-bargaining reputations, firms such as Glencore and Randgold have made heavy concessions over the new mining code.

Glencore’s second front is its battle with the US regulators, both for its ties to Dan Gertler (a business partner of President Kabila now under US sanctions), and in its own right as an operator in DRC, Nigeria and Venezuela. The US wants to see a decade of Glencore’s accounts and records of its operations in Congo to check it has complied with anti-corruption and money laundering statutes. CEO Ivan Glasenberg announced in October that he would be stepping down within three years.

The Chinese:

Li Chaochun

Richard Muyej, governor of the copper-rich Lualaba province, put it best at a regional mining conference in June: “Everything has become Chinese.” Since the turn of the century Chinese companies have built up a dominant position in Congo’s copper industry. The key moment was in January 2017, when China Molybdenum, which is chaired by Li Chaochun, bought the majority stake in Tenke Fungurume, which controls the country’s biggest mine.

Symbolic of this rise is the formation of a 35-strong Union of Mining Companies with Chinese Capital, whose members include China Moly and Sicomines, the joint venture between Synohydro, China Railway and Congo state equity.

Yet Chinese companies are not immune from the pressures other companies face in Congo. So China Moly and Zijin Mining joined forces with the Western-dominated ‘G7’ companies trying to secure a better deal from the reforms of the mining code. Together those firms claim to produce 80% of Congo’s copper, cobalt and gold. Yet so far they have extracted few conc-essions from Kinshasa.

The Kabila faction:

Joseph Kabila

Politologues in Kinshasa gave Kabila at most a year at the helm when he took over. He had no support base, no political or administrative experience, his elevation to the presidency was little more than an accident of birth. But Kabila built a team of capable allies and outplayed political rivals. Kabila’s top adviser, Augustin Katumba Mwanke, orchestrated the rival factions within Kabila’s clan and negotiated all mining deals, before his death in 2012.

In the early days Kabila was befriended by Israeli mining magnate Dan Gertler. Global Witness has called Gertler ‘the gatekeeper’. Companies linked to Gertler cost the DRC $1.3bn in lost revenues according to the Africa Progress Panel.

The cosy relationships with companies may be shaken up. The head of Gécamines, Albert Yuma Mulimbi, and mines minister Martin Kabwelulu, called the bluff of the international mining companies with a tough new mining code. As the companies mull legal action, the message from poker-playing Kabila is: “I’ll see you.”

This article first appeared in the November 2018 print edition of The Africa Report magazine