THE BLOG

Steady Growth Will Spell Lasting Change In The DRC

When success looks as though it can be created overnight, every setback, delay or disappointment is interpreted as a harbinger of future obstacles.

13/04/2017 03:59 SAST | Updated 13/04/2017 10:06 SAST
Stringer/ Reuters

Success, it is said, has many fathers. And nowhere is that more true than in emerging markets. A flurry of investment in a developing country will often obscure the hard work done and the risks taken to create a stable environment that supports investment in the first place. Opportunity is made to look easy, triumph made to look accidental. And all the while, the reality of readying new markets is overlooked. In my experience, this attitude only breeds impatience, and impatience has no place in economic development at the frontier. When success looks as though it can be created overnight, every setback, delay or disappointment is interpreted as a harbinger of future obstacles.

Enthusiasm wanes, investors get nervous and development efforts falter. There is no such thing as overnight success, and if the emerging markets of the African continent are to prosper, we would do well to remind ourselves of that reality. For many people, that is how the DRC is seen. Some investors have lost money; some have had their fingers burnt. The country's reputation as a development minefield is second only to its reputation as a literal minefield. And if you read about the DRC in the news, it is easy to see why investors may be wary. The country's failures, both historic and contemporary, are obsessed over by the press with a kind of morbid fascination. Politics dominate the headlines; crisis populates the airwaves. But even impartial observers can see that forcibly removing the President at a time of political impasse would be foolish.

What DRC needs right now, and is getting, is relative stability. In these conditions, we may even shake off the misguided perception that the DRC is in a perpetual spiral of conflict, poverty and struggle for power. Because in reality, the DRC is quietly addressing its challenges. In fact, it is poised to become the next big emerging economy over the next two decades. But this obsessive commentary is a symptom of the very impatience that will cripple African growth. Because in reality, the DRC is quietly addressing its challenges. In fact, it is poised to become the next big emerging economy over the next two decades – a viewpoint almost entirely ignored by the media. Certainly, it would be naïve to deny that the DRC has serious domestic challenges which it needs to overcome; and it must do so in order to create a stable business environment and attract foreign direct investment.

But when the Congo is on the verge of reaching the levels of development necessary to make itself a true, emerging African economy, why is the world not encouraging it to do so? Let's take a closer look at a DRC beyond the headlines. To begin with, the potential of the country is obvious. Consider this: the DRC is Africa's second largest country in terms of landmass and, with a population of over 75 million people, it is the fourth most populous on the continent – ahead of South Africa – and larger than countries like the United Kingdom, France and Italy. Aside from its human resources, the country's economic potential is also bolstered by its incredible potential physical resources. The UN estimates that untapped raw minerals in the DRC to be worth in excess of $24 trillion.

By 2018, the DRC will be producing 1.5 million tons of copper alone, just behind China, and according to the World Bank, the DRC has 80 million hectares of arable land; an area larger than all of Turkey. Yes the country has massive potential but, what is more, Congo is stepping towards the realisation of this potential. A recent 'low point' was in 2009 growth fell to 2.8 percent - a figure which many countries on the continent, indeed many countries in the developed world, would be grateful for today. The years since have witnessed a consistently strong growth average 7.7 percent, hitting highs of 9.5 percent in 2014. Inflation has also fallen from around 50 percent in 2009 to 1 percent in 2013.

Whatever your view on Joseph Kabila, we cannot deny that the relative stability his administration is affording the DRC is a welcome respite from a history many would wish to forget. The constant focus on the DRC's weaknesses therefore, ignoring its progress and much-needed stability, is tantamount to wishing failure upon it. Instead, Pan-African businesses would be wise to invest in the Congo while it is on an upward trajectory. Those who engage with the Congo now would not only reap the financial benefits in years to come as the country flourishes economically, but they will find themselves on the right side of history by backing an African success story early on.

It is not just the media which betrays the real potential of the Congo. The country is still very much treated as a colony by policy makers and campaigners in the West. Approaching the DRC with the best of intentions, but in fact inflicting more damage on the country than good. But the DRC is an incredibly resilient nation, with a history littered with the negative impact of external forces. And despite all this, the economy continues to grow. With the population and untapped mineral wealth in the country, the DRC has the potential to flourish and become Africa's new Nigeria. But it will not do so overnight. Prosperity will only come through international support, championing success stories rather than ridiculing them, contextualising constraints rather than sensationalising them.

The greatest favour we can do the DRC is not simply to be patient with her development, but to contribute to it. And by doing so, we will change the way the world thinks about the DRC, reflecting a bold and optimistic reality.