President Felix Tshisekedi has announced that he wants to renegotiate DR Congo’s mining contracts, reportedly including those with China, lamenting that the Congolese are still “languishing in misery” despite vast mineral resources.
The large central African country is a major exporter of copper, uranium and cobalt — a key ingredient in batteries for consumer gadgets — but remains one of the world’s poorest states.
Visiting the southern mining town of Kolwezi on Thursday, Tshisekedi made comments that local media predicted could spark a stand-off with China over deals sealed under his predecessor.
“It’s not normal that those with whom the country has signed mining contracts get richer while our population remains poor,” Tshisekedi told thousands of residents in the city centre.
“It is time for the country to readjust its contracts with miners to seal win-win partnerships,” he said.
“I have really had enough! I am very severe with these investors who come to enrich themselves alone. They come with empty pockets and leave billionaires.
“It is also our fault. Some of our compatriots badly negotiated the mining contract. Worse, the little which returns to the state, they put in their own pockets,” he added, referring to corruption that has plagued the nation.
He promised to make the Democratic Republic of Congo “the world capital of strategic minerals”.
The day before he had arrived in Lubumbashi, capital of Haut-Katanga province and heart of the country’s mining region, saying that investors who “stole from us” were “getting richer and richer” while the Congolese “continue to languish in misery”.
Around 40 mining companies operate in Katanga — around 30 of them are Chinese or predominantly Chinese.
The newspaper Le Potentiel said there was no doubt the president’s remarks were targeted at the Chinese firms, predicting that he had begun “a standoff with China” over contracts signed by his predecessor Joseph Kabila, who ruled for nearly two decades after taking over from his father.
Elected in 2018, Tshisekedi broke free from a coalition with Kabila’s camp late last year.
The DR Congo, “once a major ally” of China, “has now moved closer to the United States,” the newspaper said.
A source in the presidency who did not want to be named said “there is no anti-Chinese plan”.
“We are not in the optics of a stand-off with our partners,” the source said.
“This concerns all mining companies, but the fact is that today China has a dominant place in the sector,” he added.
“We can expect discussions with all the miners in the coming months.”
by Bienvenu-Marie BAKUMANYA