DRC demands $17bn for infrastructure from China

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is demanding an additional $17bn in investment from China under the terms of a 2008 infrastructure-for-minerals deal, Reuters reports.

The original agreement was reached between the government of Joseph Kabila, who left office in 2019, and contractors Sinohydro and China Railway Group.

According to its terms, the state-owned Chinese companies would build roads, railways, schools, hospitals and dams in exchange for a 68% stake in Sino Congolaise des Mines (Sicomines), a joint venture with Congo’s state mining company, Gecamines.

Now, the government of Felix Tshisekedi is renegotiating the deal on the grounds that the value of the mineral rights obtained by Chinese companies greatly outweighs the $3bn that China is committed to spending on infrastructure.

An impassable road during the rainy season in North Kivu Province, DR Congo. The country wants to upgrade its infrastructure in return for a share of its estimated $24 trillion of mineral deposits (Courtesy of UN stabilisation force, Monusco/CC BY-SA 2.0)

According to the Delhi-based Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), China controls almost 70% of the DRC’s mining portfolio.

Research by the Inspection Generale des Finances, the DRC state auditor, has led to a demand that investment be increased to $20bn. So far, Sicomines has invested only $822m.

Commitment on workforce

The auditor is also calling for an immediate $1bn investment from Sicomines, and a commitment to ensure that at least half the workforce on infrastructure projects will be Congolese.

The ICS comments that the “deal of the century” has improved the Congo’s macroeconomic performance and bolstered infrastructure. But it still has “a lot to live up to”, and its ultimate success will depend on whether the DRC can hold the Chinese side to its promises.

Kinshasa is now seeking to do that by means of 16 demands, including the renegotiation of the terms of the agreement to “bring them into line with the value of the parties’ respective contributions”.

The auditor also demanded that Gecamines’ 32% in Sicomines be increased.

Congo’s finance minister Nicolas Kazadi told Reuters last month that the government expects to reach a revised agreement sometime this year.

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