Kabila heads to South Korea for deals


Congo’s President Joseph Kabila will lead a delegation to South Korea this weekend to discuss deals in infrastructure, health and mining, Korean and Congolese officials said.

The talks come as the Central African nation, shaken by years of corruption and violence, increasingly seeks to strengthen ties with Asian partners viewed as less critical than the West on human rights and governance issues.

The president, who will spend three days in the country, will be accompanied by seven ministers, including those from infrastructure, minerals, energy, health and education, as well as the head of the country’s business federation.

Among the deals at stake is the development of Democratic Republic of Congo’s first deepwater port on the tiny coast, according to an official at South Korea’s embassy in Kinshasa.
“We are deeply engaged in discussions over the port at Banana,” said the embassy official. Congo only has a river port at Matadi, some 150 km from the western strip of coastline.

Estimates suggest building a deepwater port at Banana, which has been slated since the 1980s and would give access to container ships carrying imports and mineral exports, would cost $300-400 million.
“We’ve built things that people never thought possible before,” said the embassy official, rejecting concerns that Banana offers too technically complex a prospect.

Kabila will visit South Korea’s largest port city Busan, the official said.

No deal on the port is likely to be finalised during the visit, but bilateral accords will be signed on health and higher education in the central African nation.
“They want to invest in infrastructure and energy, and we can sell their cars here,” said an official in Congo’s ministry of foreign affairs, whose minister forms part of the delegation. “But we’ve not yet negotiated over mines.”

Looking to Asia

The Congolese official said the government would not agree minerals-for-infrastructure along the lines of a controversial deal signed last year with China, however.
“It’s not going to be like with the Chinese. We have to respect the agreement with the World Bank and IMF in order to reach completion point for debt relief. Even the Koreans know that,” said the official.

China last year signed a deal worth an initial $9 billion to build infrastructure in exchange for some of Congo’s vast copper reserves in the south of the country.

The deal was reduced to $6 billion and the debt component reduced after the IMF, which is trying to relieve the bulk of Congo’s $11 billion debt by the end of June, intervened.

Congo has asked the world’s largest peacekeeping force, comprising close to 22 000 UN troops, to leave the country in 2011, during which presidential elections are due to be held.
“It’s clear that the president is getting fed up with the Western donors and looking to Asia,” said a Western diplomat. “China is much less critical of government and on human rights, but South Korea is more attached to macroeconomic stability.”

South Korea is keen to build a long-term relationship with Congo, promoting cultural exchange as well as private business deals to be discussed next week, the embassy official said.
“We really feel like we have something to offer to a country like Congo from our own experience, having been a much poorer country than Congo 50 years ago. And now we are chairman of this year’s G20,” the official added.

Pic: President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Source: www.af.reuters.com