|This feature on the Democratic Republic of Congo is the first in a monthly feature on countries with diplomatic representation in South Africa. We hope that through these features you will learn more about relations countries have with South Africa.|
FOREIGN RELATIONS SPOTLIGHT
The Democratic Republic of the Congo
By Anneke Clarke
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) sits in the heart of Africa. It is home to approximately 70 million people described by the Congolese Ambassador to South Africa, H.E. Bene M’Poko as “vibrant and warm.”
Ambassador Bene M'Poko
The Congo is very rich in natural resources with excellent biodiversity and one of the largest forest reserves in Africa. “Name it, we have it; from diamonds to gold to copper to cobalt to coltan. We have 80% of the world’s reserves of coltan. We have oil, we have everything,” Ambassador M’Poko emphasised.
But this abundance of natural resources has been a source of much pain and anguish for the country. In reference to the Berlin Conference of 1885, Ambassador M’Poko notes that immediately thereafter the Congo was run as the personal property of King Leopold II through the Association Internationale Africaine, whereby Leopold was the sole shareholder and chairman. With international pressure mounting on the atrocities that were taking place, Leopold was forced to annex the Congo as the Belgian Congo colony in 1908. It remained a colony of Belgium until 1958, when the late Patrice Lumumba, president of the Congolese National Movement, chanting down imperialism and colonialism, led the DRC to independence which was attained in 1960.
“Immediately after independence the turmoil started. Lumumba was killed and so forth. So Congo from 1885 up to about now has never had lasting peace mainly because of its resources,” Ambassador M’Poko
Ambassador M’Poko affirms that the challenge now facing the DRC is threefold. “The divide and conquer policy continues up to today. Our challenge now is that we need peace and stability; we need to consolidate democracy and develop our resources so that the people of the Congo can be the first beneficiary.”
So for these and other reasons, South Africa is a strategic partner for the DRC. “We consider South Africa our best partner. We consult and discuss everything; first within the context of SADC and also on the bilateral basis. We have a very good working relationship with the South Africa,” Ambassador M’Poko said. Both countries formally established diplomatic ties 30 September 1992.
In underscoring the importance of relations with South Africa, the Ambassador noted that it was in this country that peace talks were held that resulted in the signing of the Pretoria Peace Agreement in December 2002. This in turn paved the way for the DRC’s first democratic elections in 2006. “This is the most rewarding experience to date as the Ambassador of the DRC,” says Ambassador M’Poko who is also Dean of the Diplomatic Corps.
As a post conflict society, relations between South Africa and the DRC are aimed at assisting the latter to develop its capacity to effectively manage its programmes within the framework of its own Post Conflict Reconstruction and Development (PCRD) programme. South Africa, therefore, supports the DRC Government in its approach to issues related to the integration of the army into normal civilian life especially in rural areas, the promotion of small scale development projects that would assist local communities to facilitate the reintegration of demobilized soldiers, and the issue of women and children in armed groups.
Ambassador M’Poko reiterates that it collaborates with South Africa on all levels – bilaterally, regionally within the framework of the Southern African Development Community and the African Union, and at the multilateral level through the United Nations. He notes that this is important to confront the challenges, such as terrorism, that face not just DRC and SA but the wider continent. “Africa is not going to go very far in terms of development if we don’t have peace and stability,” he asserts.
In 2004, a Bi-National Commission was established between DRC and South Africa as a strategic mechanism to facilitate bilateral cooperation and partnership between the two countries.
Recently they signed a treaty for the development of the third phase of the Grand Inga hydroelectric project - Inga III. This phase will produce some 4,800 megawatts of electricity of which 2,500 megawatts will come to South Africa. According to Ambassador M’Poko Inga I and II have already been built and are operational “and as we speak we are supplying some energy to Eskom.”
The project is being built on the Congo River which has the second largest flow in the world – after the Amazon – with an average of 41,000 cubic metres per second. “So just before the river goes into the ocean that is where the dam is going to be built. The flow of water is ideal for hydrological dam. When the dam is completed, it is expected that it will produce 40,000 megawatts of electricity - clean, cheap energy…this could service the entire continent and beyond, but we have to build it in stages,” he points out.
When the Inga project is completed it will overtake the Three Gorges Dam in China as the largest hydroelectric dam in world. “It will cost about US$12 billion to build it. SA is a strategic partner because it has a better balance sheet and is a member of BRICS. Therefore, it is an ideal partner in the eyes of the lenders and so forth. So we have signed a treaty to develop Inga together and then we will go together to identify funding,” Ambassador M’Poko observed.
Trade relations between the South Africa and the DRC show bilateral trade heavily skewed in South Africa’s favour. South Africa is the DRC’s largest supplier of foreign goods and services.
|YEAR||IMPORTS FROM DRC||EXPORTS TO DRC||TRADE BALANCE|
|2009||72 354 386||4 829 931 726||4 757 577 340|
|2010||100 511 011||6 318 722 965||6 218 211 954|
|2011||106 500 768||8 040 664 774||7 934 164 006|
|2012||67 436 251||12 141 678 103||12 074 241 853|
Source: SA Government
“The only way I can describe it, is like you have a five lane highway linking South Africa and the Congo. Four of those lanes are coming from SA to Congo and one coming back. There is a significant trade imbalance. So within the SADC economic integration programme we are trying to balance that out,” Ambassador M’Poko observed.
He, however, believes that the future of trade with SA is in agricultural products. “South Africa can hardly increase the amount of land allocated to agriculture. As the population grows, SA will need to consume more agricultural products. We have 80 million hectares of arable land and it is sitting there because we are not farmers. In Congo if you eat a mango or an orange and you throw the seed, next week you see it is growing so the incentive is not there.” In this regard, he notes that the DRC is seeking to develop a “cooperation agreement with South Africa within the agricultural sector so we can get some of the technologies from SA to develop big commercial farms.”
In addition there is a formal arrangement in place with the South African Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) whereby trade missions are undertaken to the DRC to explore trade and investment opportunities. There is also the South Africa - Democratic Republic of Congo Trade & Investment Chamber (SA-DRC-T&I) a partnership platform which focuses on developing and promoting business partnerships between its members in both countries.
Ambassador M’Poko says he is pleased with the development of bilateral agreements with South Africa which now stand at 34 covering areas such as defence, economic development and social and cultural cooperation. Nevertheless, he hopes to see more investment from South African businesses in the areas of mining, telecommunications, transportation, construction and agriculture.
The Congolese Diaspora in South Africa
South Africa has the largest diaspora of Congolese worldwide estimated to be over 300,000. Ambassador M’Poko notes that they include doctors, academics, geologists and engineers, students as well as economic refugees (those in search of work). Ambassador M’Poko notes that it is the work of the Congolese embassy to harness the positives of its people in South Africa as he believes “South Africa is a country of the future that it is basically on the right course. As a young country, just 20 years of democracy SA has come a long way. I have seen the progress and so I am very very optimistic about this country.”