Zaire "must privatize Gecamines."

Author:Misser, Francois

In a Belgian Ministry of Co-operation seminar on future aid to Zaire held in March behind closed doors in Brussels, World Bank officials called for the privatisation of the huge state mining conglomerate Gecamines. However, Zairean officials were not present.

The World Bank representatives, who claim to have been approached by mining operators from South Africa, the US, Japan and France, called for the privatisation of the copper enterprise.

Attending the seminar were Belgian officials, scholars and businessmen, as well as a few Zairean academics and some multilateral experts. In the corridors of the seminar, the favoured mechanism was a 99-year lease, under which operators would rent mining concessions, enabling the company to pay back its debts.

Operators are indeed far more interested in undertaking new activities on the rich deposits of Tenke and Fungurume than in an agreement which would force them to take over the burden of the company's rehabilitation and indebtedness. One problem is that nobody except Gecamines management and the Brussels-based Banque Belgolaise has an exact idea of the amount of that debt, which would doubtless exert a heavy influence on the negotiations about the price of the lease.

In any case, any privatisation could be undertaken only by a "credible" government, the World Bank maintains. Those present appeared to have little confidence in the Mobutu-appointed Prime Minister, Faustin Birindwa.

No Zaire officials invited

Despite the symbolic presence of a few Zairean academics at the seminar, the opinions of the Zaireans themselves were given little consideration. No Zairean officials, either from the Mobutu side or from Tshisekedi's transitional government, were invited to attend.

"How can you pretend to discuss future relations with Zaire and yet exclude its representatives?" demanded outraged Zairean diplomats in Brussels. The issue of Gecamines's future is indeed the subject of heated debate in Zaire. First of all, who would be in a position to allow such a privatisation? In December, the Katanga provincial assembly voted in favour of a charter which declared that very same assembly to be the sole authority to decide on mining concessions and rights. The central government in Kinshasa gave no public reaction.

Another problem is that Zairean politicians are split over the privatisation issue. The opposition considers that such an important decision cannot be taken as long as Mobutu remains in office, since...

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