The Congo. Haiti. Think lost revenue. Think links

Katanga, DRC

A Katanga cross, also called a handa, is a cast copper cross which was once used as a form of currency in parts of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The name derives from Katanga, a rich copper mining region in the south-eastern portion of the DRC

The Democratic Republic of Congo lost out on about $1.4 billion in revenue by selling undervalued copper and cobalt deposits according to a report by the Africa Progress Panel led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Listening to Mr Annan this morning on the BBC World Service – his sober, well-modulated summing-up of what ails the DRC (and by extension, the African continent) – and then journalist and author Tim Butcher (who has written extensively on Africa), I could not but think of Haiti.

“Africa loses twice as much money through these loopholes as it gets from donors,” Mr Annan told the BBC. It was like taking food off the tables of the poor, he said.

He meant the sweetheart privatisation deals that allow the DRC’s minerals sector to be sold off for private profit rather than public benefit. He meant that millions in the DRC still don’t get to eat, don’t get adequate healthcare or have any certainties in life because their national wealth is plundered.

It is a scandal, a crime, an enormous insult to the intelligence of every right-thinking person anywhere in the world.

“Concessions have been sold on terms that appear to generate large profits for foreign investors, most of them registered in offshore centres, with commensurate losses for public finance,” said the 119-page Africa Progress Report, which is released every May. It is produced by a panel of 10 prominent figures, including former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Graca Machel, the wife of South African ex-President Nelson Mandela.

What the panel meant was concessions had been sold on terms that appeared to generate large profits for foreign investors. As the report said, most of the foreign investors were “registered in offshore centres (and that the DRC deals meant) commensurate losses for public finance.”

The DRC’s losses point to a continent-wide ailment in which a resources boom is widening inequality and growth in joblessness, rather than spreading dividends amongst the population, the report added.

Fast forward to Tim Butcher’s perspicacious comment about the DRC. “Nothing works here. You’re talking about a country you can’t drive from end to end. There’s a UN force here, putting spine into the Army. Nothing works. It is a beyond-failed country.”