Friday 5 August 2016

Congo’s natural resource development hostage to electoral politics

It won’t be a surprise to anyone if the presidential elections slated to take place the end of this year don’t take place. Not a surprise but certainly a disappointment; especially to opposition politicians, ordinary Congolese and some Western partners who have stuck their necks out voicing the importance of rule of law and democratic process.

President Joseph Kabila doesn’t care what the Constitution says about two mandates and will cling to power as long as he can. Some analysts consider he will more likely be assassinated than walk away from power voluntarily. Why? Because he controls access to substantial natural resources; so the incentive to remain at the top of the pyramid is strong.

Legal instruments relating to the mining and oil sectors (designed with international advisory – mainly World Bank) put him at the top of the decision-making process. His signature is needed in the awarding of exploitation concessions in these sectors. 

Oil is the country’s third most important export earner (after copper and cobalt). Global Witness has reported frightening stories involving Kabila, Dan Gertler and the Congolese oil business.

Mineral exports may have slumped in the past year, negatively impacting export earnings. But Congo’s resource base is resilient and will bounce back. One indicator is China’s increasing control of cobalt supply chains and investments in DRC. About half of the world’s cobalt comes from Katanga and demand is going to increase as automotive manufacturers from Teslar to General Motors increase production of electric batteries. Cobalt is necessary to build them.

Some natural resource sectors are more sensitive to the political context than others. Last month the World Bank suspended financing to an Inga 3 technical assistance project. The underdevelopment of energy capacity is a major driver of deforestation.

The Belgian Federal Parliament, also last month, adopted a resolution to freeze direct aid to Kinshasa if elections aren’t held. Belgian projects in the agriculture, conservation and infrastructure sectors would consequently be put on hold.

US Senators Richard Durbin, Edward Markey and Christopher Murphy introduced a Senate resolution calling on Kabila's government to fulfil its constitutional mandate for a democratic transition while calling for targeted sanctions such as visa bans and asset freezes.

Opposition candidates/Kabila rivals like Etienne Tshisekedi and Moise Katumbi are preoccupied with getting into the Presidential palace but have been relatively silent about their macro-economic and social programs. 

They should be called upon to outline their strategies for regaining sovereignty over the Congo’s natural resource base.

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