In Congo, many of the villagers who live on Renaissance’s development site are worried about the project. They’re afraid they could be evicted from the land that Renaissance is now leasing from the government. Even when the company began digging boreholes to provide water for the villages, some were nervous.
“Maybe you’re digging the borehole so that you can come here and take water for yourself,” a young mother named Mwape Salome told Mr. Crandon in the village of Kintu.
“We’re living in fear every day,” said Gadi Sept, a farmer in the same village. “We’ve been informed that we live on someone else’s land.”
Mr. Crandon tries in vain to reassure them. “There’s definitely an air of skepticism here,” he admitted later.
If the poorest Congolese are distrustful of the Russian real estate project, they are equally unimpressed by the billions of dollars in foreign investment in the mining industry. They feel that the foreign investments – including those from BRIC countries – are benefiting only a narrow elite.
Congo boasts an estimated $20-trillion in natural resources. But many of its most lucrative assets have gone to mysterious shell companies, often registered in the British Virgin Islands, which have acquired valuable copper and cobalt mines (including former Canadian-owned mines) at a small fraction of their value. Congo has lost $5.5-billion in potential revenue from these shadowy deals, according to an investigation by British MP Eric Joyce.
One of those Canadian assets was the massive Kolwezi tailings project, valued at up to $2.5-billion, which was owned by a joint venture between Vancouver-based First Quantum Minerals, the World Bank and the state mining company, Gecamines. It was seized by the Congo government, and 70 per cent of the asset was secretly awarded for $60-million to four shell companies based in the British Virgin Islands, according to Mr. Joyce’s research. Those companies later flipped a majority of their interest to a Kazakhstan firm for $175-million. (First Quantum eventually received $1.25-billion from the Kazakh company in an out-of-court settlement that covered several mining assets.)
In Lubumbashi, some of the harshest criticism has been directed at BRIC investors – including an Indian company, Chemaf, which processes copper and cobalt in several factories around the city.
Since arriving a decade ago, Chemaf says it has created 3,000 jobs here. But the air around its main factory is thick with sulphur and dust, and many Congolese are worried it is endangering their health.
Dominique Sango, a 23-year-old bus ticket seller, lifts his shirt to show the scars from the burns he suffered in an acid spill near one of Chemaf’s factories this year. A tanker truck, filled with sulphuric acid from a Chemaf plant, flipped over on a road outside Mr. Sango’s small house. When he heard the crash, he went outside and fell into the spilled acid.
“It was like a fire inside me,” he says. “It was as if the flesh would come off me.”
He says he was treated for six weeks at a Chemaf clinic, but was never compensated. The acid flowed into his house, which had to be abandoned, and he was left unemployed.
The foreign investment, he says, is “good for those who get jobs.” But most people get nothing, he says.
Company officials confirm that the acid came from a Chemaf factory, but they blame the spill on the trucking company involved. They also blame the neighbours for building their houses too close to the factory.
“People living beside a mining company will always complain,” says Jo Katembo, deputy manager of the Chemaf plant. “It’s like someone whose room is next to the kitchen – he’ll always complain of the smell.”
The government rejects Chemaf’s argument. Moise Katumbi, Governor of Katanga province, where the city is located, says he will shut down Chemaf’s operations if it fails to reduce its pollution.
“Their big mistake was to put their plant in the middle of town,” he said in an interview. “We can’t allow people to die because a company wants to make money on the lives of the people. If they don’t take care of this issue, we’ll dismantle this factory.”
Foreign investors always promise to be good corporate citizens in Congo, but their actions often fail to live up to their pledges, the Congolese say.
“They have a tendency to reduce their standards in Congo,” says Katanga’s Mines Minister, Barthelemy Mumba Gama.
“They’re coming with nice words about what they’ll do. But when they start working, you see the opposite face.”