The Democratic Republic of the Congo
Africa’s copper champion tackles another pandemic
The DRC’s economy was hit hard in 2020, as copper prices fell 63% and exports decreased immensely. The mining industry, which represents over 90% of the nation’s export revenue, suffered the effect of the slowdown in China, which consumes 90% of copper and cobalt produced in DRC, as well as the drop in metal prices and lockdowns in Southern Africa. “Due to widespread panic and uncertainty during the outbreak, general mining activity declined. Construction and development works of some mining projects were put on hold as there was a fall in global commodity prices for metals such as copper that affected the industry,” explained Ikoli Yombo Y'Apeke, general secretary of the Congolese Ministry of Mines. “Supply chains were also disrupted due to border closures in China. On the industrial side, production activities resumed after the necessary measures were taken to protect the workers. On the artisanal mining side, the mining cooperatives experienced difficulties due to the slowdown and the halt in buying and selling counters of some entities. Overall, the DRC’s mining industry was able to withstand the pandemic,” he continued.
“The DRC is an enormous dynamic market with immense opportunities across industries such as construction, mining, energy, transport, agriculture, tourism, communications and many more. The need in public infrastructures and the foreseeable increase in battery metal prices offers us opportunities for growth.”
Jerome Steisel, Country Manager DRC, BIA Group
The pandemic will trigger an increase in public debt as the government borrows to meet the shortfall and support the healthcare system as the nation is fighting the spread of measles, Ebola and Covid-19 simultaneously. Due to forced lockdowns and social distancing measures, an increase in unemployment is inevitable, which only aggravates the already pervasive poverty challenges in the country.
The Congolese government must also fight another disease that has plagued the nation for decades; an infrastructural deficit continues to dampen economic development significantly. The flawed nature of the Sicomines minerals-for-infrastructure pact with China must be addressed, as it has failed to live up to expectations since 2008 to the extent that it serves as a lesson to other emerging economies to ensure benefits are of guaranteed value before exchanging their main source of wealth. The government has yet to address the current malfunctioning roads, failing rail networks and power shortages. The DRC has yet to utilise its full hydropower potential. According to the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the country is only using 2.5% of its hydroelectric resources. Hydropower offers a great alternative to power mines considering its lower cost and environmentally friendly nature. Barrick already benefits from hydroelectricity at its Kibali gold mine.
Regardless of its mineral and agricultural resources that include 1 million mt of lithium, 70 million mt of copper, and the largest reserve of arable land in Africa, the DRC serves as a classic example of the paradox of the plenty since, despite these resources, it is one of the world’s poorest countries with approximately two thirds of its population living below the poverty threshold, according to the African Development Bank. Faced with considerable constraints including an infrastructural deficit, lack of market access and instability due to armed non-state groups, development has been thwarted. Prolonged political instability has led to weak institutions and consequently, the country has failed to build a resilient economy and provide adequate power generation, roads and general infrastructure.