China to Rehabilitate Major Port in the DRC: Reviving Trade Hub, Enhancing Mineral Export Infrastructure and Renovating Military Outpost

On April 1, state-owned China Gezhouba Group Company (CGGCsigned a $127 million contract with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to rehabilitate and modernize the Port of Kalemie.  Situated on Lake Tanganyika, the port city also serves as the Tanganyika province’s capital and connects to other economic centers in the DRC, such as Lubumbashi and Bukavu, via road and rail networks.

Per the contract, CGGC will increase tenfold the port’s export capacity from its current 1,500 tons per year to an annual 15,000 tons.  The project is considered crucial to the viability of the DRC’s planned special economic zones in Katanga and Kasai.  Kalemie has also been cited as a distribution center for critical minerals extracted in the DRC, such as copper, cobalt, zinc, tin, and coal, however, the significance of these commodities to current cargo flows at the port remains unclear.  Foreseeably, Chinese influence over the port’s expansion could be a precursor to its elevated role as a mineral export center serving Chinese supply chain interests.  Chinese investors control approximately 70% of the DRC’s mining sector overall, with a particular concentration of the investment and extraction of copper and cobalt minerals in Katanga province.

The final contract builds on a preliminary memorandum of understanding signed in June 2019.  It stipulates three primary components for implementation:  rehabilitation and modernization of the Port of Kalemie; the construction of an administrative building for the Provincial Directorate of FPI Tanganyika; and the rehabilitation of a military annex at the port.

The Port of Kalemie is one of two DRC ports situated on Lake Tanganyika.  It was a former British-Belgian military outpost, but more recently has served as a base for the Congolese Navy.  The port has also been a critical entry point for importing goods into the DRC.  Dilapidated infrastructure and increased competition from other trade corridors have diminished the port’s value to trade in recent years.  It would appear that the CGGC contract is seeking to revive the port’s former status as a major trade and – also potentially military outpost – in east Africa.

Lake Tanganyika is among the Africa Great Lakes that stretches north to south along a 700 km shoreline divided between Burundi, Zambia, the DRC, and Tanzania. The lake is widely used for transport and trade between these countries.  In the colonial period, the lake played a critical role in linking eastern Congo and Burundi to seaports in east and southern Africa.