October has been a busy month for the Democratic Republic of Congo’s high-level diplomacy. The government has made efforts to present the country as open for business, as a reliable partner, and as a crucial solution country for the climate crisis. The beginning of the month saw pre-COP27 hosted in Kinshasa, with ministerial delegations flying in from across the world to hone their messaging for November’s COP27 climate talks in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt. President Félix Tshisekedi and four ministers then travelled to London to attend the Financial Times Africa Summit and an investor roundtable convened by Africa Matters Limited. The President became the one of the first international leaders to have an official audience with the newly appointed King Charles.
The Minister of Finance, Nicolas Kazadi, also attended the annual assemblies of the World Bank andIMF, as part of continued efforts to maintain critical funding streams. The President has also been busy on intra-African diplomacy, putting his influence behind positive political change and maintaining key partnerships. Then the President hosted the heads of state of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS/CEEAC) to encourage political transition in Chad and visited the presidents of Ghana and Tanzania in their capitals.
Despite the busy schedule, many in the DRC’s intended audience to this external-facing push continue to have concerns about governance. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey-listed the DRC for poor anti-money laundering controls. Allegations of corruption at the heart of government, high profile political battles, and major commercial disputes have raised hackles, undermining government efforts to change international perceptions.
This tension will be increasingly in the spotlight, as the DRC faces a challenging year ahead. To stay on its intended path, the DRC government must simultaneously maintain the progress it has made in improving the investment environment and continue to attempt to support its existing investors – while crowding in more.
The race is on to achieve final investment decisions before 2023 election
But the country of an estimated 120 million is also due to go to the polls in December 2023. The government therefore also needs to raise funds and manage a vast administrative and logistical challenge to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on time, while showing tangible economic and development results to a demanding electorate. As a result, the 2023 budget has grown by 32.7 percent on its 2022 figures. As such, an election year has the potential to derail the country’s ambitious investment agenda. Businesses are concerned about slowdowns and delays in an already cumbersome permitting process. Equally, a perceived lack of transparency undercuts investor confidence. Ultimately, a larger budget for 2023 worries existing operators, who fear predatory tax demands to service electoral costs.
The government understands this challenge, though often struggles to follow through. Actions are undercut or convoluted by vested interests who can offer shortcuts for political interests. Companies will continue to need robust stakeholder engagement strategies, as well as a sound, holistic understanding of the operating environment.
Persistent challenges often undermine positive messaging
During the President’s visit to London, AML and Citi held an investor roundtable for key decisionmakers from the Congolese government. As well as the Ministers of Finance, Industry, Hydraulic Energy, and Communications, we were joined by Rock Bashala, the Coordinator of the Business Climate Cell in the Presidency. For the first time in London for the Tshisekedi administration, four ministers and a key technical advisor took the stage to meet a group of investors.
During the roundtable, the Minister of Finance Nicolas Kazadi spoke eloquently about the DRC’s ambitious growth targets, and substantial reforms being implemented under the IMF programme. He highlighted that DRC also stands at the threshold of becoming a crucial player in the global economy. The protection and growth of carbon stores – of which the Congo rainforest and its peat bogs are vital examples – continues to grow in value. Demand for critical battery minerals – of which the DRC can boast of some of the richest deposits in the world – is due to sky-rocket. As a result, the DRC sees itself as a “pays solution”, or solution country, in the struggle against climate change.
In this same vein, AML’s client the Cobalt Institute held a roundtable as a side event to pre-COP27 in Kinshasa. Discussions were held on the role of the DRC in a green, equitable, and just transition, and to helped initiate a dialogue on how to capitalise on this potential. As the Minister of Industry, Julien Paluku, noted during that event, “we are the transition”. Both he and André Wameso, Deputy Chief of Staff to the President, foregrounded the DRC’s ambitions to enhance the country’s value addition to its minerals, in order to hold a greater share of the blossoming electric vehicle battery market.
Yet these ambitions are hampered by tough challenges. In order to improve the business climate and crowd in investors for the President and government’s flagship projects, the country is fighting multiple fires to maintain investor interest.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recently placed the DRC on its grey list. The DRC will now be subject to increased scrutiny of its anti-money laundering and financial crime governance frameworks. Investors with less exposure to the country are now more likely to think twice before engaging, and those with a presence may experience more difficulties with their financiers. Though not existential – unless the DRC fails its observation period – the grey listing adds further friction to a complex business climate.
Major disputes are also increasingly foregrounded. Mobile network operators complain of heavy tax burdens, while the government – including the President and finance minister – have levelled accusations of tax fraud against them in recent weeks. Hong Kong-listed mining firm MMG has said it will launch arbitration against state mining firm Gécamines after its sites were occupied by Congolese armed forces.
With the future of the global energy transition to a substantial degree in its hands, and major efforts at capitalising on that opportunity, the world’s eyes are on the DRC. The Congolese government and its private sector and diplomatic partners all have plenty of work to do to avoid missing this window of opportunity. The next year will be pivotal to maintaining the DRC’s positive momentum.