Congo-Kinshasa: Long Road for DRC As it Renegotiates Minerals Deal With China

A massive “resource for infrastructure” deal between China and the Democratic Republic of Congo has been criticised by Kinshasa as immensely favourable to its Chinese partners. President Felix Tschisekedi was in Beijing in May to rebalance the contract. Three months later, Congolese civil society groups are upset over what they call a lack of transparency over the ongoing negotiations.

“It is unacceptable that we should have given that many advantages while the country is getting nothing in return,” said Jules Alingete Key, the state auditor of the Congolese finance inspection.

He is referring to an agreement signed between China and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in 2008, which is being re-negotiated upon the Congolese government’s request to reflect a fairer re-balancing of profits.

The Sino-Congolais des Mines (Sicomines) agreement, a resource for infrastructure deal, is a sort of barter deal struck between the DRC and China where the latter is allowed to mine cobalt, copper and other minerals in exchange for infrastructure investments in the country.

Labelled the “deal of the century”, it is the largest contract China has undertaken with an African partner. In return for infrastructure development – from hospitals to roads – to the tune of 3 billion dollars, the Chinese partners were granted mining access to deposits of cobalt and copper, valued at some 93 billion dollars, around Kolwezi in the south-eastern DRC.

The DRC has the world’s largest reserves of cobalt, an essential component used for electric cars.

Sicomines consists of a 68 percent stake for the Group of Chinese Enterprises (GEC) and 32 percent for Gécamines, the Congolese national mining company.

The deal was signed under Joseph Kabila‘s presidency and raised concerns among civil society organisations and international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Kabila’s intention was to bring investment into DRC without increasing its foreign debt.

After President Etienne Tshisekedi was elected, he decided in May 2021 to completely reassess the Sicomines Agreement.

Damning state audit

On 15 February 2023, Jules Alingete Key, the head of the Congolese Inspection générale des finances (IGF), published an audit report showing that over the past 15 years only 822 million dollars was actually spent in investment development as opposed to the 3 billion dollars promised.

“The way this accord has been crafted is akin to an unacceptable economic colonisation. So, reparations are in order,” Key said.

“We demand of Sicomines that it gives, in 2023, at least one billion dollars to its Congolese partners to settle the delays in infrastructure investments agreed in the contract.”

China’s embassy in Kinshasa dismissed the audit report, claiming that it did not correspond to reality. It added that the joint-venture is a win-win partnership. Sicomines also voiced objections to the contents of the report.For his first official visit to China in May 2023, Tshisekedi tabled reviewing the Sicomines accord to be more favourable to Congo’s interests.

For DRC, renegotiating the contract involves boosting its Sicomines shares from 32 percent to 70 percent and reducing China’s from 68 percent to 30 percent.

“We demand that the infrastructure works be undertaken equally by both Congolese and Chinese companies. It is unacceptable that all the works are given to Chinese companies which overcharge and pocket significant profits,” said Key.

DRC intends to ask for compensation.

“The minerals extracted by Sicomines are sold at half-price to Chinese companies which are also Sicomines shareholders. So, that resulted in a loss of 7 billion dollars for Gécamines, the Congolese partner of the deal,” Key added.

Opaque negotiations

But the Congolese civil society is not satisfied with the progress made so far.

“They [the government] is in this commission with their Chinese counterparts, negotiating for the past three months. But, the Congolese people has no idea what is being discussed, nor what will come out of it,” said Florimond Muteba, the head of Odep, a Congolese NGO which investigates public finance.

Muteba told RFI’s Pascal Mulegwa in Kinshasa that the politicians who negotiated the contract in 2008 bear a responsibility towards its disastrous outcome.

“There was a president involved, a prime minister, ministers as well. They should be sued and pay for the wrongs done to the Congolese people,” he said.

How much done

In its audit, Key pointed out that the 822 million dollars attributed to infrastructure development by Sicomines has been largely inflated and does not reflect what has been accomplished on the ground.He gives as example Kinshasa’s Cinquentenaire hospital and the 114 million dollars spent for its renovation. But that would mean an investment of 200 thousand dollars per bed, said the Asadho human rights association.

Ten million dollars was earmarked to build the Bukavu stadium in Nyatende. The state audit said that, in effect, 3 million dollars was spent on the stadium which, today, is still under construction when it should have been ready in 2019.

The airports of Goma and Bukavu have never been renovated. The hydro-electric dams of Kakobola and Ketende were never built. And of the 3,656 kilometres of roads promised, only 536 kilometres were constructed.

An adviser to Congolese ministry of Finance told the Global Witness advocacy organisation in 2011 that DRC was in a very weak bargaining position when the deal was negotiated, “like a sick man”.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *