Tshisekedi in China to Renegotiate ‘Deal of the Century’

From 24 to 29 May 2023, the Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi was on an official tour in China. In preparation for the visit, Congolese Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula was in China from 21 to 24 May 2023. President Tshisekedi has publicly declared that he intends to renegotiate the resources-for-infrastructure swap deal signed by his predecessor Kabila back in 2008.

No new terms of agreement has yet been made public. However, China has proposed to upgrade the bilateral relationship from “Strategic Cooperative Partnership” to “Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership.”

“China-DR Congo relations will surely achieve greater development for the benefit of both nations.”

Chinese Premier LI Qiang

An official privy to the talks indicated that the talks were going on “wonderfully well” and he is confident that a new agreement could be reached by the end of 2023. He further revealed that the talks are moving in the direction of elevating the current B2B agreement to a new G2G one.

Indeed, the original agreement was between Gecamines and a consortium of Chinese firms, regrouped under the GEC, which then formed a joint venture. Currently, 80% of the Cobalt and Copper exports from DRC is destined for China.

Tshisekedi and Xi Hold Discussions in Beijing

DRC possesses some of the richest reserves of Cobalt, Copper, Uranium and Tantalum in the world but remains miserably near the bottom of the global league of countries in terms of development index. President Tshisekedi has made it his mission to improve the living conditions of his people through promoting Local Value Addition (#LVA). In a recent interview, he even proclaimed his aspiration to develop DRC into a powerhouse in the #EV global value chain.

Prior to the visit, President Tshisekedi commissioned a report from IGF which provided a severe criticism of the 2008 deal. The Chinese failed by a gross margin to deliver on their promises while profiteering voraciously from it. Whereas, the Chinese side has accumulated nearly USD 10 billion in mining revenue, the Congolese only received USD 800 million worth in infrastructure. Thus, IGF went so far as to qualify the deal as a new form of “economic colonialism.”

Huawei Smart Mining Conference

In order to redress the imbalance, both sides are investigating the possibility of reviving the Inga hydropower complex mega-project. The low-cost and green power generated will be a necessary first step in localizing smelting operations in DRC. However, negotiations have proven to be rocky as multiple stakeholders vie for a larger piece of the pie.

President Tshisekedi also visited the HQ of Huawei while in China. Huawei executives expressed their willingness to support DRC in its #digitalization drive and highlighted the Smart Mining solution suite enabled by #IoT and #5G to the Congolese delegation.