Business leaders from East Africa say that the Democratic Republic of Congo is ripe for business following commitments by Kinshasa that it is reviewing regulations to ease doing business in the country.
Executives who spoke at the inaugural Nation Media Group East African Business Conference and Trade Fair in Kinshasa at the end of the week expressed optimism with the reforms that the Felix Tshisekedi administration has instituted to facilitate investment in the country that has suffered decades of political uncertainty.
In his keynote address at the event, Congolese Government Spokesman Patrick Muyaya assured investors of the changing investment climate in the country, noting that the time had come for Congo to be defined by other issues than violence.
“There are enormous opportunities in DRC, we have a president who is changing the story of the country. We’ve changed laws to capture the aspirations of our citizens,” said Mr Muyaya, who is also the Communications minister.
“The war must be considered as one of the challenges to be overcome. We have problems in the east of the country and we have a problem with Rwanda, but we have to coexist and all these shall pass,” the minister said.
“We acknowledge the problem and that’s where we will start.”
These sentiments were reiterated by Nation Media Group board chairman Dr Wilfred Kiboro, who challenged East African businesses to conquer their fears about insecurity, language barriers and red tape and invest in the DRC to help develop the continent.
He said regional trading blocs such as the East African Community (EAC) are crucial in promoting economic growth by enabling countries to work together to create economies of scale, attract investment and promote trade.
To conquer Africa will require first the EAC to integrate and elevate investments within the bloc, Dr Kiboro added.
Saying that the DRC has the largest resource portfolio in the world and a population of close to 100 million people, he challenged businesses to avail themselves of the enormous opportunities, pointing out that the Chinese had already ventured where Africans had feared to tread.
Decolonise African mind
“Our job is to decolonise the African mind. It is essential for African countries to look inward for solutions and to work together to address common challenges. This is where regional trading blocs come in,” he said.
“It is with this objective in mind that we, in collaboration with other stakeholders, including the Government of DRC, organised this conference — the first East African Business and Trade Fair — which aims to explore investment opportunities in the Democratic Republic of Congo for East African Community member states. It is part of a broader effort to promote regional integration and trade.”
He recognised the DRC’s young and growing population, who offer significant potential for labour, investment and growth in mining, agriculture, energy, infrastructure, telecommunications, tourism and manufacturing.
He noted that the country’s potential for economic development and growth is enormous and, with the right investments, the DRC – and by extension the EAC – will become a major player in the global economy.
“I encourage you to explore the opportunities that exist in the region and to consider the potential benefits of investing in this exciting and rapidly developing market. Nation Media Group believes in sharing ideas, opportunities, and knowledge as one of the critical paths for accelerated progress in Africa and the flat world that we operate in,” Dr Kiboro said.
Kenya’s ambassador to the DRC, Dr George Masafu, also sought to allay fears about the investment environment while acknowledging the bottlenecks that might emerge.
“East Africa is a huge economic bloc raging from the Indian ocean to the Atlantic. Every society must pass through a transition. The DRC has stabilised politically. But we must all participate in creating stability to pave the way for business,” he said.
Reviewing land laws
Mr Muyaya said they were reviewing land laws to regularise land use by investors, especially those in agriculture and manufacturing.
His Hydrocarbons counterpart Didier Budimbu Ntubuanga also spoke at the conference, making a strong pitch to investors to venture into the energy-related sectors in the country.
Other speakers included Kenya’s trade attaché in DRC Eric Nabwana, who said the Congo market only needs the right triggers – especially capital – to take off; and Benjamin Mirindi, Vice-President of TDBK Group and a member of the DRC Chamber of Commerce, who advised individual investors to venture into the market and savour the opportunities there.
“If it’s not agriculture or mining, a foreigner can easily register a company here and do business,” he said.
Paty-Paterne Mushagalusa, the director in charge of Commercial Projects at EquityBCDC, said the banking sector was supporting agriculture and industrialisation.
“We have 18 banks in DRC looking to serve corporates. The country is wide and the market is right. We want to focus on industrialisation and agriculture,” he said.
He said that most of the goods in Congolese supermarkets are imported “but they can be produced in DRC, Kenya or Tanzania.”
Tanzanian bank CRDB is in the process of establishing in Kinshasa, said Arnaud Rugema, head of business development at CRDB Bank Burundi.
About 14 percent of the Congolese population is banked, making a case for more lenders to get into the market.
Other regional businesses looking to establish in Congo include East Africa Portland Cement, whose CEO Oliver Kirubai said the building and construction industry offered huge opportunities for cement makers.
Dr Nicholas Letting, CEO of the Kenya Accountants and Secretaries National Examination Board said they were going to train the Congolese in accounting and administer examinations while also seeking jobs for Kenyan accountants.
In the past few years, NMG has embarked on a journey to realise the aspiration of being the ‘Media of Africa for Africa’ by shaping Africa’s agenda by leveraging its convening power.
In 2019, NMG established Kusi Ideas Festival as a pan-African knowledge-based platform. The festival seeks to build a “pan-African ideas transaction market” to capitalise on opportunities and innovations available to Africa to help her win in the 21st Century. Other forums are the Nation Leadership Forum, the Digital Summit, the SME Conference and Expo, and the Career Fair, which involve the youth.