Congo President Supports Predecessor's Mining Policies

(Bloomberg) -- The Democratic Republic of Congo’s new president appeared to offer support to his predecessor’s defining mining policies, which are opposed by international investors active in the country.

“We will clean up the business climate through the popularization of the new mining code and the conclusion of the win-win contracts,” Felix Tshisekedi said Saturday in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa. “I will be attentive to the grievances of the mining operators through a permanent dialogue.”

Former opposition leader Tshisekedi was sworn in on Jan. 24, ending Joseph Kabila’s 18-year rule. The ex-president last year backed an overhaul of Congo’s mining code that increased royalties and imposed new taxes. State-owned mining company Gecamines, under the leadership of Kabila ally Albert Yuma, is also intent on renegotiating all its copper and cobalt joint ventures.

Yuma has already revised partnerships with Glencore Plc and Eurasian Resources Group Sarl, claiming they previously yielded minimal benefits to the government and Gecamines. The heads of Glencore and Barrick Gold Corp. have already met with Tshisekedi or his chief of staff. Congo is the world’s biggest source of cobalt, which is used to make batteries that power electric vehicles, and one of the top producers of copper.

Peace Efforts

Kabila’s coalition secured the most seats in the National Assembly and Tshisekedi’s prime minister must be selected from the ranks of the parliamentary majority, meaning the former head of state’s political supporters will retain influence over the legislative agenda.

Tshisekedi also pledged to kickstart initiatives to bring peace to the parts of Congo long plagued by violence and insecurity perpetrated by armed groups, as well as to improve infrastructure. Congo’s sole crude producer, France’s Perenco SA, announced it will start constructing a 100-megawatt, gas-fired power plant on the Atlantic coast.

Tshisekedi said political prisoners incarcerated under Kabila will be released -- a demand of his supporters and civil-society organizations. “Within 10 days I will grant a presidential pardon,” he said. The president also promised to “work actively to create the conditions for the quick return of compatriots who are currently outside the country for political reasons.”

Congo’s best known political exile is Moise Katumbi, the former governor of copper- and cobalt-rick Katanga who parted ways with Kabila in 2015. He left the country almost three years ago before being convicted in absentia on charges he claims are politically motivated.

Blocked from running for the presidency himself, Katumbi supported rival opposition leader Martin Fayulu, who finished second in the Dec. 30 election, but his political coalition this week called on Tshisekedi to allow exiles including their leader to come back to Congo.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.