Interview with Moïse Katumbi Chapwe, Governor of Katanga Province, Congo
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by Paul Trustfull:
Moïse Katumbi Chapwe:
A Man the West Would Love
To Do Business With
Exclusive Interview with the Governor of Congo’s Katanga Province by Paul Trustfull
When he was elected governor of the Katanga Province in February 2007, Moïse Katumbi Chapwe knew exactly what he wanted to do and how he was going to do it: he was going to bring change to the province, which would be felt throughout the rest of the country.
Born to a country that has through history been ravaged by war and competing interests for its vast wealth, the 45-year-old knew exactly where to start, and with a solid reputation for being outspoken and honest, a rare quality amongst many African leaders, he was raring to go.
And his election could not have come at a better time in the history of the province. With the global economic crisis rearing its ugly head only months after he had entered office, the province of Katanga had been in danger of a most severe economic crisis and the importance of a smart, transparent and open leader could not be overemphasized.
With the prime economic sector (mining) of the province hardest hit by falling prices of metals such as copper, many mines closed and at least 300,000 workers lost their jobs. The crisis also saw a reduction in foreign exchange earnings and a rise in the value of the dollar. Many companies also cancelled investments in construction, in mining and industrial projects, and this did not augur well for Katanga, the resource rich copper belt.
Listed companies also lost in value and some also saw their shares lose up to 90 per cent. Such has been the gloomy scenario that has faced the governor, in a somewhat replica of what is facing America’s new president, Barack Obama, who has inherited an economy in crisis.
And like the US president, he began office with drastic measures; by banning the export of unrefined ore.
“I had to look for ways that would work positively for both the miners and the people. Where was the rationale in exporting unrefined ore when we could do it here and create the much needed jobs,” he says.
This decision by the governor has turned out positively, as it has led to the creation of new jobs and mines have begun processing their ore exports. And as the global financial crisis continues to bite, the governor has put his focus on the mining industry. He has already met with key industry leaders and stakeholders to chart the way forward and has also drawn a couple of measures to help reduce the effects of the crisis.
Among the policies is the ban on unnecessary dismissal of employees, but which allows, if necessary the reduction of worker’s wages as long as they are kept in employment.
To entice and retain investors, he has also introduced several tax breaks, including a reduction in local taxes on exports. And to make it easier for businesses to come in or start, he has reduced the number of government procedures from 23 to six.
However, this successful Congolese businessman and politician has not only focused on mining, but has thought out of the box to create diversity in the economy. Instead of relying only on mining, governor Katumbi has identified three other prime sectors, including agriculture where he has urged each mining company to grow at least 500 hectares of maize crop and cassava for their employees. To help market these, he has embarked on a programme to rehabilitate roads in all the provinces and the districts.
He has also looked at developing the energy sector of which Katanga has enormous potential. During the colonial era, many hydroelectric dams were built, while the province also has vast untapped potential of its many rivers. The third sector the governor has put his mind to is the service industry. This is an industry many developed and developing countries depend on, and Congo feels it cannot afford to continue watching from the sidelines. This politician, in his own capacity, has also been very concerned about the welfare of his people and has used his own money towards social issues, he has built hospitals, schools and even given out school uniforms.
During an interview at his office with this brilliant businessman, I could only understand why even children love him and why I got goose pimples on meeting him. Katumbi, a self-made man who made his first profit of 40 dollars at the age of 13 while selling fish in school, was born to an immigrant man from Israel who married a black woman from the DRC. His father was from a city in Israel called Netanya. During the Mobutu rein, the family was forced to change their names to African ones and they chose, Katumbi’s great grandfather’s name from the mother’s side.
He was the first democratically elected governor of the Katanga province, and he voted for the first time aged 42 during that election. He is happy about Barack Obama’s election as president of the US, and believes he is a blessing to Africa. This gives him optimism that things (the economy) will get better soon.
“His election, which was a truly democratic process should be an example to African leaders that they should not stick to power once their time has come to leave office,” he says.
George Forrest: Unconditional Love for DRC
He is not a president or politician, and neither is he a sportsman of wide acclaim nor a professor, but mention the name George Forrest to anyone in the DRC and you will be in good company.
George Forrest, whose name has become synonymous with the group of companies he owns, is as humble as his business empire is gigantic in comparison. A Belgian-Congolese, he can be termed as a man of the people, a man who mixes freely with his employees and is easy to talk to. This man, whose companies consist of diverse industrial activities including mining, cement manufacturing, public works, hauling, and munitions manufacturing, which are spread across the continents of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, gives the impression that his love for people is solid, displaying none of the arrogance that comes the trappings of wealth.
And he is not ready to leave Africa at any one time. “I love Africa. I am an African, and am going nowhere because this is where I belong,” says the president of the George Forrest International group, a white African born in Lubumbashi, DRC in 1940.
Mr Forrest is passionate about everything Congolese. He loves Congolese art, eats Congolese food and loves Congolese music. This is why the company has engaged in trying to promote art and culture in the DRC. Through the non-profit association “Dialogues”, Mr Forrest has endeavored to promote the visual arts in Lubumbashi, and supported the city’s museum.
Dialogues also organises talks with artists in the city focused on raising awareness of Congo’s cultural roots and contemporary art.
In a society that has had constant upheavals, the father of four has come to be respected and appreciated for his efforts in helping the community and the economy of the country at large.
And it is not without reason. What strikes one readily, is his commitment and ambition in investing a lot of money in health care and education. Towards this, he has built schools and provided free education and has been rewarded many times by African and European countries as well as by international institutions for this. Among those to honor him include the DRC, France, Italy and Belgium.
Due to it riches in minerals and precious metals, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has seen no rest from plunderers and profiteers, it has gone through wars brought about by greed and is still currently suffering from the ravages of a war that has been going on for more than 10 years. And despite all its natural wealth, its people have remained poor.
However, amidst this, George Forrest and by extension his company, has come to be seen as dependable and a big help to the country. He has been appreciated as one of the few contractors and large provider of employment and stability.
Currently, the company operates the last cement factory in the country. He has repaired the principal roads in Katanga, and has inspired remarkable progress in Lubumbashi.
And today, when most companies are shutting down due to the global economic crisis, George Forrest International stands as a rock. It is not ready to close down its industries and leave its employees jobless, or deny the government much needed revenue from it taxes. The company has become the leading private investor and employer in the Republic of Congo, with its workforce including 9,500 employees and 15,000 others with subcontractors.
However, Forrest’s efforts have not been without their challenges. In Europe, he has generally been criticized for feeding the war economy of the country, and for his activities in the munitions.
Forrest the 61-year-old took the reins of his father’s company, Entreprise Générale Malta Forrest (EGMF), together with his step brother when his father died. EGMF was first formed by his father in 1922 in Katanga province as a transport company. Later, it diversified into mining and civil engineering. In 1986, he took over the reins of the company as chairman and CEO and gave it a new lease of life. To coordinate the company’s business activities better and to bring about synergies for the development of his industrial group, he created the George Forrest International Group in 1995.
Beefing Up DRC’s Economy
Of all the businesses a large multi-technical mixing pot with business concerns across Africa, Europe and Middle East, and dealing with a wide range of activities as diverse as civil engineering, mining and metallurgy would engage in, cattle rearing is the last that would come to mind. But much as Mr George Forrest of the George Forrest Group is among the who’s who in the world concerning riches, it is not a wonder that he has taken to this business with gusto.
He has a passion: to help get DRC out of the doldrums it’s been for so many years and provide healthy food to a population of people that have been denied in so many instances, a right to proper life, food and shelter. His is a vision based on the long range. He believes that agriculture is the business of the future in Congo and should be developed. “One day we are going to run out of mines and agriculture is going to be among the pillars of the economy,” he says. After all, he adds, the DRC has such large tracks of land and plenty of rivers that are not in use. Why not develop it. And in a global community where food production or the lack of it is becoming a major issue, Mr Forrest could just be setting the stage for a booming agricultural economy that besides the wealth in resources could help lift the country and its people out of the gloomy situation it has become and put it among the top in global markets for food.
Governor Moïse Katumbi Chapwe of the Katanga province would support him on this, for it is the governor’s wish that the country diversifies from over reliance on its mines and delve into agriculture of which it has a great potential, with its vast vegetation and rivers. Governor Katumbi has been promoting the growing of maize and cassava for mine workers on large tracks of land by the mining companies and would certainly give a thumps up for Forrest’s project.
The Grelka Biano Ranch, which started three years ago, sits on an area as large as the City of Luxembourg in Europe. It is huge. It has on it 30,000 herd of cattle and 800 local employees. Heading this business is Mr Desire Nfundiko, who has been with Mr Forrest for 20 years. Mr Forrest, whose beef is among the best in Africa according to Mr Desire Nfundiko, sees a lot of opportunity for the business in the country. Added to the fact that this beef has been equated to that of Argentina in South America for its quality and taste, it is what is served in most restaurants in Lubumbashi, Mr Nfundiko says. “We do not use any chemicals on our cattle but only graze them and add a little salt and vitamins to boost their diet,” he says.
On a daily basis, the company produces and supplies a large quantity of beef to supermarkets, hotels and to locals. Mr Nfundiko says it is looking to exporting this meat to the rest of Africa and then to Europe at some later date.
Mr Forrest is a good example to Africans. By taking agriculture seriously, he has proved that it too, can be a good source of revenue and can create lots of jobs. Many Africans believe in only white collar jobs and have dumped agriculture on those who have not received any adequate education and who grow it only for subsistence. This is why, even though many parts of Africa are well endowed with natural resources, many Africans are going hungry and some dying from malnutrition and plain hunger.