The Canadian government is now reported to be blocking the granting of almost $10 billion in debt relief to the Congo. Why? Because the Congolese government is canceling the mining concession of First Quantum, a Canadian company, reportedly to give it to another, unknown and somewhat mysterious company based out of the British Virgin Islands. This is a huge deal for the Congolese government, as debt relief would reduce interest payments from $920 million to $194 million, freeing up more than 15% of the country’s budget.
This is distasteful. Not because we shouldn’t be pressuring the Congolese government to better live up to its human rights and governance obligations – of course, we should. (Although the debt is odious, acquired largely by Mobutu). But over the past three years, we’ve have the killing of 300 people in Bas-Congo, a brutal counterinsurgency campaign in the Kivus that has led to thousands of deaths and more rapes, and the repression of opposition.
And all the Canadian government really cares about is the mining concession of one of their companies? They didn’t want to use their leverage on any of these other issues?
For years, World Bank and IMF officials have told me that the only conditionality they can impose is based on economic and fiscal performance, not larger political issues. The First Quantum contract is related to economic performance, but doesn’t mass conflict in the Kivus and the disrespect of the rule of law also impact the economy? More importantly, why do the financial institutions pretend like there is a strict line between the economy and politics. Haven’t we seen that movie before under Mobutu? And wy must we ignore these most fundamental issues when it comes to the only real leverage we have on the Congolese government, namely our loans and grants?