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Walloons returning to Congo

Walloons returning to Congo

Belgium made its great return to Congo in September during an economic mission led by AWEX and Jean-Claude Marcourt, the Walloon Minister of Economy. The large delegation (about 20 companies, the TWEED cluster, five universities, etc.) highlights Wallonia's determination to promote its SMEs in Congo which has set itself some new ambitions.

Recently, Walloon economic missions have included university centres in order to work towards better synergies and greater cooperation on an academic level. Indeed, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the country which is receiving the most attention from Wallonia and the Wallonia-Brussels Federation in terms of cooperation. Implemented by WBI, this focuses on priority sectors, such as education and vocational and technical training via the APEFE, the development and creation of economic activities in the fields of agriculture and agri-food, culture and cultural enterprises and governance.

The return of Walloons under the sign of SMEs

There is a real demand for assistance and support in these fields from the Congolese government. For Belgium, the mission wishes to promote the sustainable and peaceful development of DRC, with political instability being one of the main reasons for the withdrawal of most exporting countries. The Walloon mission's representatives want to promote services, solutions, appropriate responses at the same time as products and ensure the development of local response capacities.

For several years, the Chinese, Canadians and Americans had replaced Belgians for business in Congo. The first were entrusted with the main infrastructure while the North Americans inherited the mines. However, the often painful historic links between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Belgium do make it possible to start out on a familiar basis.

And the return of Walloons is seen in a good light by the Congolese Prime Minister Matata Mponyo: "We want to see the Belgians return because, alongside the major groups, there is room for small and medium enterprises, for joint ventures with the Congolese diaspora. For example, in the road construction or cement production sectors, in agriculture and education."

Jean-Claude Marcourt agrees wholeheartedly with the Congolese Prime Minister: "In Belgium, official authorities had two different visions of Congo. There were those who said that we should not do business with Congo under any circumstance as a result of Belgium's colonial past and there were those who said that our companies' intentions were not in any way with a view to supremacy. Our economic landscape has changed. The very large companies which used to come here have been bought over."

Energy and banks are the great changes

Congo is currently experiencing a major economic change. The power of the Congolese economy is highly enviable with growth of 10.5%, which should be at about 8.5% this year, with an exchange rate that is almost nil. The DRC is showing globally positive and encouraging economic foundations. Also, we are seeing the gradual emergence of an increasingly structure economic fabric and a slight, but real, improvement in the country's economic attractiveness as a result of the cancellation of taxes, a relaxation in business creation procedures, the country's adhesion to the Organisation pour l’Harmonisation du Droit des Affaires en Afrique (OHADA). The DRC is a waking giant.

The country is experiencing deep changes which offer opportunities for Walloon companies to promote their expertise. The Congolese banking system is starting to develop. In 2005, only 90,000 Congolese had a bank account out of an estimated population of 80 million people! Today, this figures has risen to 4 million. The percentage of bank account users continues to remain low in comparison to the Congolese population but the trend is becoming more pronounced.

The second major change is the Congolese government's wish to lift restrictions on the electricity market in order to increase production and support efforts in the field of computing. The DRC is indisputably one of the African countries with the most natural resources in addition to its considerable hydro-electric potential (7% of global reserves) and a proven potential for renewable energies.

That is why the economic mission mainly focused on the water and energy sectors, two economic fields in which Walloon companies have distinguished themselves.

Renewable energies: a Walloon speciality

Stéphane Moreau, CEO of Nethys (former Tecteo) offers his impressions of this trip: "We already have a first conclusive experience in Africa. This concerns the construction of wind turbines in Kenya, in association with the European Bank. I am here to see what know-how Nethys-Energie (wind turbines) could offer, as well as what is possible in the field of gas, electricity and telecommunications."

But Nethys is not the only company to have established contacts with NeoTech (didactic equipment for laboratories and universities) and Tractebel Engineering also having obtained results. Despite the great progress made in hygiene and access to drinking water, the DRC continues to have many difficulties in this area.

There is no shortage of opportunities, therefore, for Walloon public or semi-public companies, among which SWDE (Société Wallonne des Eaux), Intercommunale Liégeoise des Eaux, Balteau, a specialist in water purification and, of course, the TWEED cluster, which brings together about one hundred companies active in the sustainable energy sector, all claiming to be delighted with the mission.

In parallel to this successful mission, the delegation was also able to take part in the first Francofolies festival in Kinshasa. Delayed twice, the project was set up by another Walloon resident for whom it had always been a dream: Jean Steffens, the organiser of the Francofolies in Spa. Another great example of a Walloon SMEs' success in Congo which promises a wonderful future.

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