Particularly active in supporting French companies, His Excellency Alain Remy, French Ambassador in the DRC, introduces the fifth edition of the Kinshasa French Week to M&B.
The annual business meeting, whose structure has been thoroughly renewed for this 2018 edition (see p.34) will have as a theme ‘Securing business in the Democratic Republic of Congo’ and will be partnering with the now famous Jazz-Kif Festival, which will take place during the same week.
Ambassador, could you tell us more about the theme chosen this year?
What was wanted by the Franco-Congolese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, supported by the Embassy, by choosing as the theme of this week the security of business, corresponds to several concerns of French companies in the DRC :
- First, it is about securing their financial capacities: too often in recent years, French companies have had difficulties accessing financing, particularly bank credit, which has disrupted their development. It is, therefore, necessary to reflect widely, with the banking sector, on how to secure their cash flow, to enable them to work towards their ambitions.
- All too often, companies come up against administrative and procedural red tape that can amount to harassment, particularly of a fiscal nature: an increase in unannounced and unjustified checks, convictions for fines that are not always substantiated or justified, and appeals whose outcome is too often uncertain and far removed in time. These findings are widely shared, and these practices are regularly denounced by the Congolese authorities themselves as a brake on foreign investment. Companies need to be able to work in a stable and predictable environment, in a word, secure.
- The obligation for expatriate company directors, including general managers of Congolese subsidiaries of global groups, to respond to summonses ad hominem before the courts under conditions that too often go beyond ordinary law. These practices have tended to increase in recent months, raising concerns, including their safety, that officials should not have to answer personally to criminal charges related to the operation of the business they run.
It is clear that these various observations are primarily due to a lack of knowledge about procedures, which lead some protagonists to act in a way that does not always comply with international standards. It is precisely the interest of the transversal theme chosen this year, to promote proper dissemination of knowledge and practices, through contacts between investors, entrepreneurs and various public institutions, in a calm and constructive climate. If a company knows and masters its legal, tax and banking environment, it can develop more efficiently.
Could you tell us about the French influence in the DRC at an economic level?
Many French companies are present in the DRC and have been for a very long time. These are often global companies as well as SMEs. Almost all sectors are represented. I am struck by the fact that each year more companies ask us for information on the business climate in the DRC and the conditions for setting up.
The Foreign Trade Advisors present in the country and representing some of these companies answer these questions as far as possible. The Franco-Congolese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has multiplied in recent years, also responds to these requests on a case-by-case basis; it also houses offices in its premises that can accommodate companies wishing to test the local markets for the first time: judging by the occupancy rate of these offices, it appears that this is an appropriate initiative.
To broaden this picture, I would add that the Chamber of Commerce has also opened offices in Lubumbashi and Goma, both within the French Institutes in both these cities, 18 months ago. This ‘meshing’ of the territory represents for our companies a considerable asset in their search for partners and markets.
Can we have an estimation of the volume of trade between France and the DRC as well as the prospects?
While the promotion of private investment is crucial for the country’s development, the development of trade is as important. However, the level of these exchanges is insufficient, and we must work with our Congolese partners to strengthen trade flows. The potential on both sides is considerable.
Bilateral trade is negatively impacted in recent years by the fall in commodity prices, the devaluation of the Congolese franc and the slowdown in the activities of those sectors that usually drive the Congolese economy, particularly the mining sector. This heavy trend of the years 2015 and 2016, however, experienced an upturn in the second half of 2017, which seems to be confirmed in the first quarter of 2018.
France remains the DRC’s sixth largest trading partner, with a trading volume of $90 million in 2017 and $24 million in the first quarter of 2018.
Given the potential and national needs, as well as the high dependence of economic agents on imports, French companies have essential opportunities before them.
What is France doing to support French companies established in the DRC?
This support is intended both to respond to the concerns expressed in my first answer, in particular through interventions with the country’s administrative and economic authorities and also to promote France economic interests. Every week I receive French business leaders, both from the DRC and from headquarters in France, who are eager to learn more about the country’s economic potential, to better understand the political situation and to forge partnerships with local financial players.
We also support the Congolese initiatives which seem promising: there are in this country a vast number of young people, qualified and motivated, who either wish to create their own company or to deepen their experience in large companies. These young people are sometimes grouped in networks, for example, the Makutano network in Kinshasa, and we are committed, whenever we can, to supporting its expansion, in particular by facilitating their access to the international sphere.
It is also in this spirit that, a few months ago, we launched start-up incubators in our Institutes in Goma and Bukavu. Thanks to Congolese ‘young shoots’, they have become two places where digital culture and technological innovation have spread.
At the origin of these projects, the creation of a robotic Hackathon, organized for the inauguration of our Institute in Goma last October: more than 90 young people participated in the event, in fields as varied as the computerization and digitization of school management, the optimization of solar energy on the basis of recycled materials, or the fight against infant mortality for pregnant women.
Today, some of these entrepreneurs are already on the market, developing their prototypes and first marketable versions. Did you know hand prostheses are now manufactured in 3D printing via Bukavu’s French Institute, thanks to a partnership between the hospital of Chiriri and the Heri Kwetu Centre to equip young amputees in need?
Still, in the same spirit, we work with the National Institute of Vocational Training, which trains young people in manual jobs. As the President of the Republic said in Ouagadougou a few months ago, we must support vocational training for young people in Africa. Along with education, it is a priority for action to develop the country sustainably. In April 2016, I participated in the laying of the foundation stones of a new training centre in Bukavu and inaugurated it in October 2017. We also laid the foundations of equivalent Institutes in Goma, Mbandaka and Kisangani.
All these projects benefit from funding from the French Development Agency, which devotes a lot of resources and expertise to education in the DRC. These projects also advocate an approach that aims to give young people who are now idle and without reference points the key competencies to unlock a professional life that protects them from drifting towards delinquency or participating in armed groups (especially around the Great Lakes region).