DR Congo’s mining industry hobbled by poor infrastructure

Workers stand on a muddy cliff as they work at a gold mine. (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2018
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DR Congo’s mining industry hobbled by poor infrastructure

  • DR Congo is Africa’s largest copper producer, and while it is the world’s leading source of cobalt, miners can only export concentrated forms of cobalt at 60-70 percent of the market price because of the energy problem.
  • A massive hydropower project on the River Congo, Inga 3, has the potential to power the entire country and even the continent, but it has been frequently delayed.

LUBUMBASHI: Feasting on a global demand for cobalt and copper, the mining industry in the Democratic Republic of Congo is flourishing — but two clouds loom over its sunny outlook.

First is the lack of power, which is holding back the development of the minerals processing sector and crimping the country’s ability to reap higher profits from the boom.

DR Congo is Africa’s largest copper producer, and while it is the world’s leading source of cobalt, miners can only export concentrated forms of cobalt at 60-70 percent of the market price because of the energy problem.

“We have an estimated potential of 100,000 MW/year but only produce 3,000 MW/year,” said Michael Shengo, chief of staff for the provincial mining minister for Haut-Katanga earlier this week, as he opened DRC Mining Week, an annual conference in the southeastern town of Lubumbashi.

A massive hydropower project on the River Congo, Inga 3, has the potential to power the entire country and even the continent, but it has been frequently delayed.

Now the project looks to be back on track, thanks to a joint bid by Spanish and Chinese companies: China Three Gorges Corp. and Actividades de Construccion y Servicios SA.

Bruno Kapandji, director of the Agency for the Development and Promotion of the Grand Inga Project, announced the project’s relaunch in front of miners and investors at the conference.

“Our objective is to start the Inga project this year. It could take five to seven years, maybe up to 11 years,” said Kapandji.

Another challenge for the mining industry, which represents 20 to 25 percent of the country’s GDP, is a new fiscal law to raise taxes.

Seven mining companies, known locally as “the G7,” have argued the new code violates terms of the previous version, which provided a 10-year stability clause after any fiscal change. Some of the companies could be preparing for legal action as a result.

One of its most vocal members, Mark Bristow, CEO of gold mining company Randgold Resources, had a warning for other industries operating in the country. “Attracting investment and developing a mining industry is about trust,” he said, “and I see the government is making guarantees to other industries (solar, electricity), and what do they think when they see our guarantees are being taken away?“

Discussing and signing deals is one thing, but implementing and developing them remains an immense challenge.

The World Bank has ranked DR Congo 182nd country out of 190 for doing business, and the French credit insurer Coface rates it at the same level as Libya, Venezuela, Afghanistan and Syria, due to the political uncertainties, corruption and poor governance.

There are glimmers of hope in other sectors in the troubled country, currently in the grips of an Ebola epidemic and a bloody internal conflict.

In the capital Kinshasa, French sports retailer Decathlon has just opened its first store — a gamble in a city of 10 million where many are struggling to pay for essentials such as food and shelter.

Richard Kalinda, a Franco-Congolese, who once said his dream was opening a shop in his home country, said: “I have to reach 0.1 percent of the population. We are marketing for the middle class, people who have a regular income.”

However, Kalinda added they will have to adapt their prices to the country’s average salary.

At the 5th edition of the “French week” organized by the Franco-Congolese Chamber of Commerce, the theme set the tone for those looking to invest in the country: “Securing business, a challenge and a necessity.”

For the chamber of commerce, opening and bringing international capital in DR Congo requires being very well informed.

“Companies often have to confront administrative and procedural challenges that could be called fiscal harassment,” said the French ambassador to DR Congo, Alain Remy in an interview with Mining and Business magazine.

Debt-ridden Gecamines, the state-mining company, announced this week it struck a recapitalization deal with its Anglo-Swiss partner Glencore who agreed on a $150 million payment.

Gecamines had started legal proceedings to dissolve the Kamoto Copper Mine, but Glencore has
reportedly agreed to write off the $5.6 billion debt to safeguard the joint venture.

“We are entering a period for the mining industry that will be profitable for all,” said Yuma, “but only if relations
between foreign investors and the DRC are more equitable. The new code will make that possible, and I call on everyone to conform to it.”


Angola battles to revive oil exploration as output declines

Updated 16 November 2018
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Angola battles to revive oil exploration as output declines

  • Without another mega-project like Total’s Kaombo on the horizon and fields getting old, Africa’s second-largest crude producer is facing a steep decline
  • Sonangol, the state oil company, is negotiating contracts for new blocks with oil majors and Angola plans to hold an auction next year

LUANDA: On Saturday, nearly two decades after securing the initial rights, Total’s CEO, Patrick Pouyanne, was in Luanda to snip the ribbon on a $16 billion oil project. It is not clear when he, or his peers, will be celebrating in Angola again.

Without another mega-project like Total’s Kaombo on the horizon and fields getting old, Africa’s second-largest crude producer is facing a steep decline unless it can revive exploration in what was once one of the world’s most exciting offshore prospects.
Sonangol, the state oil company, is negotiating contracts for new blocks with oil majors and Angola plans to hold an auction next year, the first tender for exploration rights since 2011.
It is a race against time for a country where oil accounts for 95 percent of exports and around 70 percent of government revenues. Luck will also play a part, as it always does in exploration where finding oil can never be guaranteed.
But without new projects, output could fall to 1 million barrels per day by 2023, according to the oil ministry. That is down from 1.5 million today and nearly half of what Angola was producing a decade ago. The country risks having its OPEC quota cut and is struggling to ensure the long-term feed for its $10 billion liquid natural gas plant.
President Joao Lourenco won an August 2017 election promising an “economic miracle” in Angola, which despite its oil wealth struggles to provide basic services to a mostly impoverished population that is growing at 3 percent a year. But falling oil production means a third consecutive contraction is expected in 2018, even while annual inflation runs at 18 percent.
To turn things around, Angola has asked international oil companies to the table, offering better fiscal terms and more collaboration.
With the time from exploration to first oil on new areas anything from five to 10 years, Angola is also offering tax breaks to encourage companies to link existing marginal discoveries to operating production platforms.
There are signs the measures are working, though some oil experts wonder at what cost for the southwest African country.
“The level of exploration activity in Angola is beginning to change,” Sonangol’s chairman, Carlos Saturnino, said at Saturday’s inauguration.
He expects between five and 10 new concessions to be signed next year.
Exxon, he said, had shown interest in some blocks in southern Angola’s unexplored Namib basin, while advanced discussions are being held with BP, Equinor and ENI for the rights to the ultra-deep offshore blocks 46 and 47.
BP and ENI declined to comment. Equinor and Exxon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Total, which operates 40 percent of Angola’s production, plans to drill its first exploration well in four years. Beneath 3,630m of water on block 48, it will be one of the world’s deepest.
“We hope it will be a play-opener for the ultra-deep in Angola,” said Andre Goffart, senior vice president for development. “We are seeing a new wave of exploration in Angola.”
These signs of fresh exploration come after a period of near-paralysis due to a lack of drilling success, a slump in oil prices and a deteriorating relationship between Sonangol and the oil majors.
Angola’s offshore reserves are expensive to explore and develop, making it a hard sell for shareholders when oil is at $40. The number of rigs operating off Angola’s shores dropped from 18 in early 2014 to just two in 2017, according to oil services company Baker Hughes.
The steep drop in prices from 2014 came just as companies were smarting from the failure to discover Brazil-like oil
reservoirs beneath a layer of salt on the African side of the Atlantic. The search for the “Angolan pre-salt” resulted in some of the most expensive dry wells ever drilled and sapped exploration appetite.
Critics say the situation was exacerbated by Isabel dos Santos, the former president’s daughter and previous chair of Sonangol, under whose leadership new projects ground to a halt. Dos Santos denies allegations of mismanagement, saying she helped turn around an almost bankrupt company.
“There are few places in the world right now where the oil majors are in as good a negotiating position as here,” said one international oil executive in Luanda on condition of anonymity.
Some local experts fear the deals Angola is striking are too beneficial for the companies, although details remain private.
“If Angola gives away too much it could create problems further down the line,” said Jose Oliveira, an oil specialist at the Catholic University in Luanda.
But the country has little choice given its imminent production decline and a lack of money or expertise to lead the drilling campaigns itself.