DRC: after poll; what next?

Now international attention has shifted beyond the incidences characterizing the election process to prospects of reconstruction and investment in the resource rich country as it negotiates a transition to civilian rule.

The country’s poll, which went ahead despite fierce opposition from some church groups and armed rebel militias has been hailed as successful, with arch-rivals former rebel leader Jean Pierre Bemba and incumbent president Joseph Kabila leading the race while more rebel leaders have expressed their willingness to disarm and join a civilian administration.

Partial results from the 33-candidate presidential race showed strong support for Movement for the Liberation of Congo leader, Jean Pierre Bemba, who mustered 42 per cent of the initial count as incumbent president Joseph Kabila followed closely. Kabila, who is running as an independent, said he would accept the outcome of the election.

“Of course, it would have been the verdict of the people, and we will accept the verdict of the people,” Kabila told journalists in Kinshasa last week just after the beginning of counting, adding, “I’m not at all concerned about the validity of the elections, they were well organized with the support of the UN.”

Former rebel leader Azarius Ruberwa threatened he would not accept the outcome of the election, alleging there were irregularities. The Independent Electoral Commission reported last week that the irregularities cited by some candidates would not affect the overall outcome of the poll and the UN and other international groups involved in the planning of the poll warned candidates against fomenting chaos after the election.

Jean-Pierre Bemba is reported to have mustered strong support in the four provinces of Kinshasa, Equateur, Bandundu, and Bakongo, while Kabila had most of the votes in the two provinces of Katanga and North Kivu. Attention has remained fixed on Kabila and Bemba, who command massive support in many parts of the DRC.

As the poll gained momentum last week, Congolese Revolutionary Movement (MRC) leader Mathieu Ngudjolo said he was ready to surrender after the country’s historic polls, on condition that he would be made a general in the army and pardon was granted to his militia for their role in the DRC war. Many rebel groups seem to have been holding on to their arms for fear of prosecution, and a general amnesty is likely stem further conflict.

While events in the DRC are still fixed on the counting and other procedures in the election, the country’s prospects after the election have been a major preoccupation for international investors, who had been waiting for a transition that would ensure stability in the region.

Before the conflicts that punctuated much of the peace process at the beginning of the year, the DRC had generated great opportunities for foreign investment and several deals had been lined up before fighting in the eastern Ituri region scuttled hopes of stability and scared investors.

The election, which follows closely behind the signing of economic co-operation and investment protection agreements between the DRC and regional economic giant, South Africa, seems to have opened the DRC up to potential investors.

South Africa and the DRC brokered major deals just before the election at an investment forum hosted by the South African Department of Trade and Industry and Chambers of Commerce South Africa (Chamsa) in Sandton, Johannesburg. Businessmen from South Africa are scheduled to tour the DRC in a few months following signing of a co-operation agreement between Chamsa and its Congolese counterpart.

South African investors, who are looking for investment opportunities in the region as the country’s economy continues to grow, have been eyeing projects in the DRC, and the end of the election might herald a new beginning for regional economic growth. The two countries are expected to finalise investment protection and double taxation agreements to make it easier for South African countries to enter the DRC.

The DRC government introduced the Investment Code, and the Mining Code which will allow companies to invest in the country with duty free imports on equipment, expatriate labour concessions, repatriation of earnings to their home countries and other incentives. Under the code, foreign countries will be allowed to invest without involving Congolese nationals in their shareholding and to own mining concessions.

The DRC has vast mineral deposits, with minerals such as copper, cobalt and diamonds, iron ore, manganese and coltan. The country has been encouraging investors to assist in the development of value added activities and establish processing of raw materials in the DRC, which currently saves only as a source of raw material processed in other countries.

While the country holds great potential, its infrastructure has deteriorated from over 40 years of regression,

and it will focus on developing infrastructure such as airports, rail, ports, and building a strong human resource base for skills and expertise to kick start its economy.

The country is reported to have received US$4 million from the World Bank and IMF for infrastructure related development programmes, and a lack of expertise on how to utilize the funding has seen it turning to South African companies for assistance.

Meanwhile, the DRC remains southern Africa’s biggest hope in the area of power generation, with the much awaited Inga III power generation project currently under construction. The refurbishment of the Inga plant is currently under way, and the DRC government is expediting it in preparation of Inga III expected to assist the region evade the 2007 power outage.

At least five SADC countries, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Angola and the DRC, have teamed up to form Westcorp, which will fund the construction of Inga III and engage international engineering companies and chart the way to an ambitious power plant expected to produce power for many countries in the region.

In spite of the flare-up that characterized much of the DRC during the elections, the country is expected to manage a steady transition to democratic civilian rule with the support of the international community, which has shown its commitment to seeing this process through. The majority of the Congolese people have shown a willingness to choose their leaders, and it now remains with the leaders to show their tolerance in victory and defeat.

August 2006
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