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Mbeki Travel to Congo for 2 Day Economic Visit - 2004-01-13


South African President Thabo Mbeki traveled to Congo Tuesday with a large government and business delegation for a two-day visit to promote his vision for a New Economic Partnership for African Development, known as NEPAD.

The South African President was greeted by his counterpart, Joseph Kabila, at Kinshasa's airport. After meeting Congolese ministers on the tarmac, Mr. Mbeki was whisked into the city for meetings with Congo's four vice presidents, who are part of the new power-sharing government.

Mr. Mbeki brought seven of his government ministers with him, including the ministers of foreign trade and security, as well as a delegation of more than 20 of South Africa's top business executives.

Congo is one of the key countries in Mr. Mbeki's vision for NEPAD, an initiative designed to promote sustainable development throughout sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa played a key role in brokering Congo's peace agreement, reached seven months ago.

Congolese and South African officials are expected to sign a cooperation agreement on Wednesday that will establish a Joint Bilateral Commission. The Commission is to manage the flow of South African business interests and reconstruction efforts in Congo, which has been devastated by seven years of war.

South African businessmen from the mining, telecommunications, banking, transport, finance, energy and agricultural sectors have come to Kinshasa hoping to get lucrative contracts. In December, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank proposed a $3.9 billion donor program for Congo, which would provide the money for such contracts aimed at rebuilding the country's infrastructure.

Major projects are to include a new airport terminal, roads and rail links across the country, and a revitalization and expansion of the Inga Dam, on the Congo river. South African electricity company Eskom says the dam could eventually produce 44,000 Megawatts of electricity and could become a major provider of power throughout the region. Top delegates from the de Beers and Anglo American mining companies have also expressed interest in making potentially huge investments in the mineral rich country. Congo's mineral resources were one of the prime catalysts for the war.

But analysts say despite such plans and the support of the South African government, the results will take some years to show because the war has left Congo so devastated.

In addition, the peace agreement has not completely ended the conflict. While there is relative stability in the east of Congo, where most of the war was fought, armed groups still maraud over mineral rich territory in the north, and neighboring countries are still involved.

In addition, the U.N. peacekeeping force has only about 11,000 members for a country the size of Western Europe. The South African government has indicated it is willing to increase the number of troops it currently provides for Congo, but according to South African officials, only if the United Nations agrees.

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