China’s $9bn Drive to Buy Africa’s Mineral Wealth

The Telegraph reports on a recent deal between China and the Democratic Republic of that confirms China as ’s largest foreign investor and cements its control over more and more of ’s natural resources.

Full scale work by the Chinese begins to rebuild 2,050 miles of roads in the Democratic Republic of Congo, left to rot in the rainforest after the Belgian colonialists pulled out 48 years ago and further shattered by seven years of war.

The vast project, which will triple Congo’s current paved road network, is part of China’s largest investment in Africa, a £4.5 billion ($8.9bn) -for-minerals deal signed in January.

As well as the roads, Beijing has promised to repair 2,000 miles of largely defunct railways, build 32 hospitals and 145 health centres, install two electricity distribution networks, construct two hydropower dams and two new airports.

In return, China has won the rights to five copper and cobalt mines in Congo’s southern minerals belt which boasts some of the world’s richest ore deposits.

Yet, as part of the deal, Congo’s government was forced to guarantee parts of the loans in case mineral deposits do not yield estimated amounts.

This threatens International Monetary Fund programmes to scrap Congo’s outstanding £4bn of debt owed to the West.

The country is also politically fragile, still stumbling after seven years of war which has killed more than 5.4 million people, mostly from hunger and disease, in the deadliest conflict since the Second World War.

From a separate article in the Telegraph today:

China’s deal in the Democratic Republic of Congo signals a move away from its heavily criticised engagements in pariah states such as Sudan and Zimbabwe.

The infrastructure projects, which will benefit millions of poor Congolese, are in stark contrast to its arms deals to Khartoum and Harare, which have provoked demonstrations around the world in the run-up to next month’s Olympic Games. […]

“It is very simple,” said Wu Zexian, China’s ambassdor to Congo. “We need the raw materials and these countries need access to capital. It is just business. I do not know why the West is so afraid.”

And in related news from Reuters:

China Harbour Engineering Co. (CHEC) has signed an agreement to build a $1 billion road around ’s main oil hub of Port Harcourt, the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) development bank said on Sunday. […] The Niger Delta is home to ’s 2.1 million barrels per day (bpd) oil industry but is plagued by unrest due to attacks by militant groups on oil pipelines and the kidnapping of foreign workers and local politicians by criminal gangs. […]

The Nigerian government has made developing infrastructure in the region one of the planks of its campaign to bring peace to the delta, where impoverished local communities complain they are seeing none of the benefits of oil wealth.