The $6 Billion Congo and China Accord: Deal of the Century or Africa’s “Great Chinese Takeout”?

March 2, 2011  |  


By Steven Barboza

While Washington is preoccupied with war in Afghanistan and Arab liberation movements, Beijing is feeding its insatiable “Made in China” machine by cranking out mega-deals to develop Africa’s infrastructure in return for rights to grab resources, such as minerals and oil.

Some African leaders compare these resource-for-infrastructure swaps to Marshall Plans — deals big enough to jumpstart economies. But critics in the West say the swaps amount to a “Great Chinese Takeout” or a series of sweetheart deals for the Asian colossus.

China’s biggest bet on the continent is a $6 billion accord with Congo, a country buried in debt but rich in virtually every known mineral, from gold and diamonds to coltan, a key element in cell phones, computer chips, nuclear reactors, and PlayStations. Congo has 80% of the world’s coltan reserves.

In return for rights to extract more than 11 million tons of copper and 620,000 tons of cobalt from Congo mines over 25 years, China has agreed to build 2,000 miles of roads and 1,800 miles of railway tracks, hundreds of schools and health clinics, and two airports.

Though the U.S. already operates huge miningprojects in the Congo, Westerners gripe about the so-called “bonanza” from which China stands to profit $42 billion on its initial investment.

“I don’t see the Congress of the United States allocating money for building the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Faida Mitifu, Congo’s ambassador to the U.S., told the Atlanta Post.  “So the Congolese have decided for the first time to rightfully trade their mineral resources in exchange for developing infrastructure in different areas.  I don’t see anything negative about a country wanting to improve its infrastructure.”

By global business standards, this deal may not be the biggest.  Still, it is roughly the equivalent of Congo’s annual national budget: a mere $5.69 billion for one of Africa’s most populous countries, with 68 million people.

Joseph Kabila, Congo’s president, said his ministers identified several infrastructure needs, then he shopped around for help.  Now Chinese-led crews are filling potholes, laying asphalt over dirt roads and generally helping to bring the nation one step closer to the 21st century so Congolese farmers and merchants can deliver their goods to market.

“We are still at the very beginning, but it’s opening jobs for Congolese.  We hope [the deal] will open up greater opportunities in terms of jobs and infrastructure. That will eventually change greatly the lives of the Congolese,” said Mitifu. “Little by little we are eliminating our dependency on imported food.”

She estimated that 70% of workers in new projects will be Congolese, and 30% will be Chinese.

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