How we made it in Africa interviews Leny Ilondo about the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) business and investment environment
What are some of the common misconceptions about the DRC held by foreign business people?
The misconceptions about the DRC held by prospective foreign investors are based on several factors. Most of them erroneously perceive the country as a lawless state. They fear the lack of equal justice, the protection of private properties and patents, and the long processing times to obtain official decrees to start their operations. The truth of the matter is that the DRC is a post-conflict country in a rebuilding process. Most of the infrastructure is destroyed due to war and lack of maintenance. The public administration is changing to serve and meet the people’s claim for public services. The judiciary system is still dragging behind, but measures have been taken to change it. I would advise business people to believe in the DRC. Nevertheless, I would also advise them to do their homework to capture the reality on the ground with the help of locally based experts.
Give us a brief overview of the current political situation in the DRC. Should prospective investors be concerned?
The current political situation of the DRC is like in any other post-conflict country. The DRC is mostly at peace despite a few locations where militias are still very active. The government is determined to overcoming those elusive militias located mainly in the eastern part of the country. The militias focus on extracting minerals illegally. For the rest of the country, the three branches of the government strive to settle. They are working hard but haven’t met the population’s high expectations.
The people of the DRC want jobs and are tired of war. Foreign investors are welcome to invest in DRC without fearing to be expropriated or dispossessed of their assets. DRC has adhered to several international treaties and conventions that warrant the security of investments for local and foreign investors. Nevertheless, one must behave not to break the law through corruption.
How welcoming are the people of the DRC to foreign investors?
As I stated above, foreign investors are welcome. However, they must read and understand our laws; they have to respect our culture; and they have to respect our people. Beyond those prerequisites, business in DRC is the same as in US or Europe. I do believe that DRC is moving fast to embrace globalisation. It can’t be possible if we do not offer enough security to both foreign and local investors.
Which areas of the DRC’s economy hold the most potential for further investment?
Each and every province is open for business. This is the land of opportunities. Only the sky is the limit. One can invest in industries such as mining, oil, energy, fishery, timber, education, infrastructure, railroads and telecoms all over the country.
The DRC’s official language is French; is this a barrier to entry for English speaking investors?
US dollars are accepted in all languages of this planet. Therefore, where money talks, business is done. French does not constitute a barrier for doing business. Look at countries such as Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, they speak Arabic and French. English is almost never used in business but you still find US, Chinese and British investors in there. Profit gained in a fair and transparent manner is a universally understood language. In DRC there are many people very well educated at foreign universities and fluent in English.
Leny Ilondo was formerly director of the DRC Central Bank, chief of staff of ministers and CEO of the National Insurance Corporation (SONAS). He is now a consultant in Kinshasa and involved with research and strategy-consulting bureau Access Congo.