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Congo thrives under Chinese 'invasion'

'Kinshasa from 15th floor' Flickr image by Irene2005I recently visited Kinhasa to help review advocacy policies and propose new ones to be followed in Africa by Jesuit institutions. It was three years since I was last in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

These few years of peace seemed to have increased levels of confidence among the population. Development too is taking place. There was clearly greater hope and an awareness that something new is happening.

On my way to visit the offices of Centre d'Etudes pour l'Action Social (CEPAS), a social centre engaged in advocacy issues and peace efforts, I began to understand one of the reasons. I saw at the other side of the compound two huge and well-designed buildings under construction.

'I did not know that your new extension was going to be so grand,' I said jokingly to Father Ferdinand Muhigirwa. He replied: 'I wish they were our buildings. One of the buildings is the new Chinese business and commercial centre, and the other one that looks like a palace is the house of its future Chinese Director.'

Listening to Fr Ferdinand talk about the work CEPAS is doing with the large foreign mining companies was like a class in international geopolitics.

In collaboration with the advocacy officer from the US Jesuit Conference, John Kleiderer, and the new representative of OCIPE-Brussels, Emmanuelle Devuyst, they are dealing with a US mining company whose copper concession extends over 18,000 square kilometres. The concession holds the largest copper reserves in the world.

Operations have not started yet, but the site already has a private international airport, a new highway connecting it to Lubumbashi, new excavating machines as high as a ten-storey building, a private security army of 800 people, and a fully equipped hospital. The infrastructure is massive.

The Congolese government is now renegotiating the contracts of all mining companies. Companies will be classified by a very strict set of criteria covering environmental, labour, tax protocols, social and other issues. Those grouped in Class A will have met all the criteria laid out by the government. They will have their contracts renegotiated.

Companies that do not fulfill all the criteria are placed in Class B. They must commit themselves within a specified time to fulfil all the conditions for reclassification into Class A. Otherwise they will be asked to leave. Companies placed in category C have to leave the country.

The US copper company I mentioned earlier has been placed at present in category B. It is fighting tooth and nail to be included in category A.

This pressure brought on foreign multinationals 'to take it or leave it' is a new phenomenon. 'Where does the new bargaining power of the Congolese government come from?' I asked Fr Ferdinand. He smiled and replied quickly: 'From the new Chinese and, sometimes, Indian enterprises.'

This is a totally new phenomenon. Unlike the contracts of Western multinationals that have been made public, their contracts are not open to public scrutiny. They are ready to move anywhere.

For example, if the US copper giant decides to leave because it does not want to fulfil the government conditions, a Chinese consortium will take over the concession next day. European and US corporations are facing the onslaught of Chinese and Indian companies. It is remarked that Europe is on the retreat in Africa.

The evidence of Chinese invasion is seen everywhere in Kinshasa. In front of the national parliament building a large site has been given to the Chinese for constructing a huge modern hospital. An abandoned construction site, which was supposed to house a medical college, and a large tract of land occupied by military barracks close to Parliament, will make way for a large housing complex with all modern amenities. And so the stories continue.

The perspective from Kinshasa is that something spectacular is taking place in DRC and other parts of Africa. The 'development' promised to people after independence 30 and 40 years ago has remained a dream of the past. Europe has clearly failed to achieve anything close to success.

The Asian way is already showing results. When the infrastructure projects in Africa start functioning the change is going to be huge. Few have realised the magnitude of its impact. Jesuit and other agencies will need to evaluate it.

Fernando Franco SJFernando Franco SJ is director of the international Jesuit Social Justice Secretariat in Rome. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on the SJS blog.

Topic tags: fernando franco sj, democratic republic of the congo, kinshasa, independence from Belgium, africa, china



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Existing comments

Let us hope taht the Chinese and the Indians will make better job of reforming the Congo than did the Belgians.

Ray O'Donoghue | 07 August 2008  

It is a shame that the West, after the Cold War, has totally abandoned the DR Congo and its people. It is ironical that COMMUNISM, which the Congo fought back with the help of Western powers, is now "back"(China)without any resistance. The West can say whatever they want against China and call it a communist state, the Chinese don't give a damn. Mao once said,"whoever will control the Congo, will control the world". Did I say the world? With all the strategic minerals in huge quantity found in the Congo, including uranium and petrol, I can see how. The Chinese are about to make their dream come true, thanks to the Congo, once the heart of darkness, but today the hope of Africa and the World.

Godfrey Kisela, International Affairs | 16 August 2008  

How ironic. The capitalism of competition is being applied by Communist China to the benefit of the DR Congo.

Kevin | 20 August 2008  

Our world is split in two spirit, there is the spirit of lightness & the spirit of darkness, Us as congolese we will follow the spirit of the light that Asian is providindg to africa, Speciallly Chinese & Indian. We are are totally confident that those are the only brothers who can help our huge DRC to go to a further step in the development world. Thank u China, the congolese people is behind you...

Christian | 06 September 2008  

I now that this time mr kabila well do same think that the congolese well see the change that they what to see. So if this massage can get to the president joseph kabila if can get to him it will be best think my life and people off congo. this one is for the chinese please do same work for this will can help if you need it will have group off youth that you my need we would like to be part of the change. will have organisation technique off youth, so this is the force de la jeuness pour la reconstrution du congo and allso th rdc youth union. thank to my president joseph kabila letter J the man off god. and thanks to the chinese do your work well ok.

paulincha odjoma | 14 June 2009  

The lack of a legitimate leadership and a certain passive attitude of Congolose people may play a role in all this. I had close contact with some of the current leaders of DRC while in opposition in Tanzania. Their goal is not to develop the country but to loot it for their benefit. Some are known as Congolese but they are not I assure you and are not acting as concerned by the progress of that country

Walter Ndjibu | 02 January 2012  

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