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.