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Congo copper output falls 14% in H1 on lower prices

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Copper output in Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s top producer, fell 14 percent in the first half of 2016 to 466,250 tonnes as a global price slump led some mines to suspend production, the central bank said on Tuesday.

The decline is hammering the economy of the country, which derives about 95 percent of its export earnings from extractive industries.

In June, the government slashed its budget by 22 percent in response to low commodity revenues.

Congo, among the world’s top copper producers, produced 990,000 tonnes of the metal in 2015, down from 1.03 million tonnes the year before.

In a weekly report, the central bank also said production of cobalt, the metal used in lithium-ion batteries and of which Congo is the world’s leading producer, slid by 13 percent to 35,267 tonnes over the same period.

Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange lost 25 percent of its value in 2015 and has recovered only slightly this year, while cobalt prices are also down about 14 percent from this time last year.

Glencore’s Katanga unit, one of the country’s largest copper and cobalt producers, announced an 18-month suspension of operations last September and thousands of jobs have been lost in the sector since then as companies cut costs.

 

(Reporting by Aaron Ross; editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Jason Neely)

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Congo’s small miners fill hole left by downsizing multinationals

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

KOLWEZI, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – His toes bursting out of sneakers several sizes too small, a miner hacks with a pick at the copper and cobalt-laced stone in southeastern Congo, slowly filling a sack that could earn him anywhere from a handful to a few hundred dollars.

The 42-year-old father of five, who only gave his first name, Stany, has done this nearly every day for a decade, after he quit his maize fields for the comparatively lucrative mines of Africa’s top copper producer.

But unlike most artisanal mining, this is sanctioned by the Congolese government. As its mining heartland endures mass layoffs at big mines caused by low commodity prices, small-scale mining is helping to fill the deficit.

The price of cobalt, a byproduct of copper, is expected to rise 45 percent by 2020 owing to demand for electric vehicles. Congo holds about half the world’s cobalt reserves.

Seizing the initiative, the national mines ministry has recognised dozens of cooperatives of workers to exploit 10 square kilometre plots of land owned by state miner Gecamines.

Tens of thousands of people also dig near mines owned by giants like Glencore and Eurasian Resources Group, as more than 13,000 jobs have been shed in the formal sector.

Yet, as is often the case, poor local diggers say that it is savvier, well-capitalised foreign buyers who are cashing in. They accuse Chinese and Lebanese middlemen of dominating the market by colluding to drive down prices and rigging their instruments to understate the weight and tenor of ore they buy.

That could store up trouble if discontent turns into unrest, as happened in past years in Zambian copper mines, when workers beat up and killed Chinese mine managers in pay disputes.

At the Musompo market, a smattering of half-built brick and concrete depots 15 kilometres east of Lualaba province’s capital of Kolwezi, miners and traders said that of the roughly 140 buying firms, almost all are Chinese owned.

 

COOPERATIVES

Lualaba Governor Richard Muyej would rather see farming and tourism, which he considers paths to more inclusive, sustainable development but reluctantly accepts the need to expand small mining in the near term.

Muyej said giving cooperatives measuring instruments would help level the playing field between miners and foreign buyers.

Alain Chinois, the Congolese president of a cooperative with 34 members, said he might be forced to turn to foreign investors to secure the necessary funding. Under his set up, diggers will receive 60 percent of revenues from the mine while cooperative members consisting of Congolese traders running them and an investor — likely Chinese or Lebanese — would split the rest.

He said the cooperatives would result in better working conditions, equipment and access to capital.

“As a cooperative, we can go to a bank as a well-established group,” said Chinois. But he acknowledged that foreign buyers with money to invest would continue to exert major influence.

At Musompo, Louis, a Chinese buyer who checked London Metal Exchange prices on his phone between deliveries, sells to a smelter owned by Congo Dongfang Mining International (CDM), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chinese mineral giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd, China’s top cobalt chemicals producer.

According to a January report by Amnesty International, CDM exports to China before selling to battery manufacturers who claim to supply electronics companies including Apple, Samsung SDI and Sony.

Hearing miners’ complaints, Louis shrugged: “Those who are happy with the price sell the product. Those who aren’t, leave.”

And the old concerns about the dangers and abuses of artisanal mining haven’t gone away. At the Tilwizembe mine where Stany works, despite its cooperatives, research by Amnesty in 2013 documented deadly accidents and abuse of workers.

But whatever its flaws, few see a viable alternative to more small-scale mining in the near term.

“I do this because there is nothing else. If something else came along, I would do it,” Stany said.

 

(By Aaron Ross. Reporting by Aaron Ross; editing by Susan Thomas)

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Congo to seek up to $500 million in budget support from World Bank

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo will seek between $250 million and $500 million in budgetary support from the World Bank this year, pending a review of its economy by the International Monetary Fund next month, the government said on Tuesday.

Africa’s leading copper producer has been hit hard by a fall in commodity prices since last year. This month the government proposed a 22 percent reduction in the 2016 budget and cut its annual growth forecast to 6.6 percent from 9 percent.

It also announced on Monday that it would scale back the size of a planned international bond issue to finance infrastructure projects to 256 billion francs from 653 billion francs ($686 million).

The support would allow the central bank to boost its foreign currency reserves, which have fallen from $1.48 billion at the end of 2015 to $1.2 billion this week due to a slowdown in exports, said Vincent Ngonga, a deputy chief of staff to the prime minister.

After years of exchange rate stability, a lower supply of dollars has heaped pressure on the franc, causing it to lose more than 2.5 percent of its value against the dollar this year.

“The advantage of budgetary support is that it affects the reserves because, once you have the support, it’s in dollars,” Ngonga said. “The reserves increase but the revenues of the state increase too.”

However, the negotiations with the World Bank can only begin if the IMF certifies Congo’s conformity with governance and macroeconomic standards during a visit next month, he added.

The IMF called off a $530 million loan programme in 2012 after the government failed to provide sufficient details on the cession of mining assets by state miner Gecamines to a company based in the British Virgin Islands.

Ngonga said it was not clear when the government could expect to receive the first tranche of support. The World Bank’s office in Congo was not immediately available for comment.

Ngonga said the government would also seek budgetary support from the African Development Bank (AfDB) but said that too depended on the IMF’s blessing. The AfDB was also not immediately available for comment.

 

(By Aaron Ross. Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Gareth Jones)

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Orange completes acquisition of Congo mobile operator Tigo DRC

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

DAKAR (Reuters) – Orange has completed the $160 million acquisition of Democratic of Congo mobile operator subsidiary Tigo DRC from Millicom, the French company said on Thursday, one of four African purchases it has made this year.

“With a population of more than 80 million people and a relatively low mobile penetration rate of 50 percent of the population, the country offers considerable growth potential,” Bruno Mettling, deputy chief executive officer of Orange, said in a statement.

This month it completed the acquisition of Cellcom, Liberia’s leading mobile operator, and in January it announced a deal to buy Indian firm Airtel’s Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone subsidiaries.

 

(Reporting by Marine Pennetier; editing by Edward McAllister and Jason Neely)

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African Super Sunday: 5 votes in 5 countries

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Politics

March 20th marked a large shift in African politics, as 5 countries on the continent voted on key issues.

Citizens of Benin, Niger, Cape Verde, Zanzibar, Senegal, and The Republic of Congo all had the chance to head to the polls last weekend. While some results were as expected, some showed progress towards improved electoral processes.

In Benin, a presidential run-off took place between Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou, and businessman Patrice Talon. Both were seeking to replace the incumbent President Yayi Boni, whose second term in office ends on April 6th. Events progressed well from the first round of the campaign in which there were 33 candidates. Benin has shown great progress in electoral process, and was the first country in sub-Saharan African to transition to a multi-party democracy. After the polls, Lionel Zinsou conceded defeat to Patrice Talon. The victory of the businessman shows a push for change in how the people of Benin wish to be governed.

Denis Sassou Nguesso was elected to his third term in office

In the Republic of Congo, Presidential elections were held under the new constitution which removed both age and term limits for those serving as President. Before the polls, opposition parties had denounced the lack of transparency in the electoral process. Adding to the irregularity, the country experienced a government-initiated communications blackout during the voting. The official statement was in order to avoid illegal leaking of election results. As predicted, the incumbent President Denis Sassou Nguesso was elected to his third term in office. President Nguesso has already served in office for over 30 years.

In Niger, a Presidential run-off took place between the incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou, and Hama Amadou. Tensions were high before the run-off with the opposition party rejecting the results before the election was even held, and the COPA withdrawing from the campaign stating a lack of transparency in the process. Hama Amadou was arrested earlier in the year on charges of baby trafficking, and had been flown to France recently for medical treatment as it was stated that his health rapidly deteriorated while in prison. President Mahamadou took more than 92 percent of the vote.

Zanzibar was set for a re-run of its elections which were held in October 2015. At the time the Civic United Front claimed victory even before the results had come out, however the election was invalidated by Jecha Salim Jecha (the president of the local Electoral Commission) due to what was claimed as massive fraud. The Civic United Front however, claimed that this was a ploy by Chama Cha Mapinduzi to deny it victory. For these reasons, the main opposition party decided to boycott the elections only 2 days before the polls were held. The incumbent President Ali Mohamed Shein of Chama Cha Mapinduzi was re-elected.

Senegal: Yes or No referendum

In Senegal, voters were called to vote on a yes or no referendum. Among the issues the referendum addressed was reducing the term limit for presidential office from seven years to five years. This was seen as a bold move by President Macky Sall, as other African leaders seek to find ways to extend their term limits. The referendum would also afford official recognition to the opposition leader in the constitution, local councils would be give more power, and new rights would be afforded to citizens regarding the environment and land ownership.

Meanwhile on Cape Verde, parliamentary elections were held which saw the Movement for Democracy win an absolute majority. They will replace the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde which had been in the majority for over 15 years.

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Congo drops objections to Ivanhoe Mines’ copper deal

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

kamoa copper mine

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo’s government supports Ivanhoe Mines’ $400 million sale of a stake in its Kamoa copper mine to China’s Zijin Mining, it said on Tuesday, dropping earlier objections to the deal.

The sale is a pre-requisite for the development of Kamoa, which is thought to be the world’s largest untouched high-grade copper discovery. A feasibility study on the Kamoa project is expected at the end of next year.

In a statement, mines minister Martin Kabwelulu and portfolio minister Louise Munga Mesozi added that Ivanhoe had agreed to sell an additional 15 percent stake in the mine to the government, which currently controls five percent.

The government said in June that Vancouver-based Ivanhoe’s sale in May of a nearly 50 percent stake in the copper project in southeastern Congo to Zijin for $412 million should be suspended until concerns over the purchase of its own stake were addressed.

It was not exactly clear what the government’s objections were, although industry sources said they wanted guarantees on their own stake first.

The conditions of the sale to the government still needed to be finalized in a contract with Ivanhoe subsidiary Kamoa Holding Limited and the mine, the statement said.

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Congo’s president approves new oil code

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congo oil

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila has approved a new oil code intended to impose order on a haphazardly regulated sector, according to a copy of the law seen by Reuters on Monday.

The code, which Kabila signed last month but has not yet been published online in the Official Gazette, contains no major changes from the text passed by parliament in June.

Some activists feared that Kabila would alter the text before signing, as he has sometimes done in the past.

The code imposes steep capital gains taxes and expands the state’s role in the sector though it leaves unanswered important questions about its implementation, including the criteria for exploration permits.

Congo pumps just 25,000 barrels of oil per day but hydrocarbons contribute close to half a billion dollars in annual state revenues. The government hopes exploration off the Atlantic coast and near its eastern border with Uganda will boost production.

The code, which replaces a 1981 law, institutes a minimum capital gains tax of between 35 and 45 percent on producers, a measure some analysts have said could deter investment.

The Anglo-French oil and gas company Perenco is Congo’s only oil producer. France’s Total and a company owned by Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler are exploring near Lake Albert, which straddles the border with Uganda.

Perenco’s director in Congo, Yvonne Mbala, was not available for comment. She had told Reuters after the bill was adopted that the company’s existing permits would be protected from new taxes in the code.

The law also stipulates that the state must hold at least a 20 percent stake in all hydrocarbons projects.

It introduces transparency measures, requiring public tenders for exploration and exploitation permits, and publication of the names of bidding companies.

Campaign groups have praised those rules but say they do not go far enough to stamp out corruption.

The law does not require the disclosure of beneficial ownership of investors and is vague about the management of a fund earmarked for future generations.

Other key provisions, including the criteria for selecting candidates for exploration and production permits, must be elaborated by the government, a process the hydrocarbons minister’s chief of staff, Jean Muganza, said was under way.

Muganza defended the law’s transparency safeguards, saying some groups would never be satisfied.

By Aaron Ross (Reuters)

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Glencore holds talks with Congo officials on Katanga mine

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KINSHASA (Reuters) – Glencore held talks with Congolese officials in Kinshasa on Thursday over the company’s plans to suspend some copper output at its Katanga Mining unit for 18 months, an adviser to the prime minister said.

The adviser, who asked not to be identified, said there could be an announcement by the mining ministry on Friday regarding the talks. A Glencore spokesman declined to confirm Thursday’s meeting.

The London-listed company said on Monday it planned to suspend 400,000 tonnes of copper output at Katanga and at Mopani Copper Mines in Zambia over the next 18 months.

“This is not a mine that is going to close. It’s just a moment when the copper price is very, very low,” said the adviser, referring to Katanga Mining. “When they sell copper they lose money.”

He said Glencore’s Mutanda Mining operation in Congo was a more efficient operation and did not face the same problems.

A Glencore source said the company would invest about $900 million in Katanga Mining to modernize it. This would bring the production cost per pound down from $2.50 to about $1.65 by time mine reopens in 2017.

By comparison, Mutanda Mining’s cost of production is around $1.33 per pound of copper because it is a newer mine, the source said.

The source declined to comment on potential job losses, saying discussions about employment continued.

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