Congo-Kinshasa’s fiftieth birthday celebrations on 30 June were marred on two sides. International accusations of corruption delayed an US$8bn debt deal (see Box), and an oil tanker explosion killed more than 230 people, many of them children watching a World Cup football match. Neither politics nor the economy are working so the big questions remain unanswered: how to use the country’s legendary natural resources honestly and constructively and how best to run a country more than half the size of Western Europe.
More than a decade of tortuous negotiations has won US$8 billion of debt relief for Congo-Kinshasa a day after its fiftieth birthday. The historic, moral argument for relief is straightforward. The IMF and the World Bank, under pressure from Britain, Belgium, France and the United States, lent billions of dollars to President Mobutu Sese Seko’s regime in the 1980s when by most independent assessments there was little chance of the money being used for the intended reforms and developments.
SOUTH AFRICA | CONGO-KINSHASA
The emergence of Khulubuse Zuma, the nephew of South African President Jacob Zuma, as a leading player in Congo-Kinshasa’s oil industry has provoked curiosity and anger in almost equal measure. Caprikat and Foxwhelp – two companies which Khulubuse Zuma claims to own – are registered in the British Virgin Islands and have won highly favourable production-sharing agreements (PSAs) for Blocks 1 and 2 on the Congolese side of Lake Albert. On 18 June, President Joseph Kabila confirmed the awards in a decree, but neither the state’s Congolaise des hydrocarbures (Cohydro), or oil ministry staffers were involved in the highly secretive negotiations.
AFRICA | FRANCE
The continuing crisis of the rich world’s financial system has thrown off balance the main surviving element of France’s African empire, the franc of the Communauté financière d’Afrique. Both are better known as the CFA. This monetary arrangement sees 15 mostly small and very poor countries use the CFA franc as their currency. The central pillar of the system is that the exchange rate of the CFA is fixed to the euro, the currency of 16 of the 27 European Union countries.
AFRICA | FRANCE
The initials CFA once stood for the Communauté française d’Afrique, later changing to Communauté financière d’Afrique. The name is a colonial legacy and considerable monetary powers are still reserved to the Banque de France, the French central bank. The value of the CFA franc was fixed to that of the French franc until 2002, when France gave up its own currency and adopted the euro; the exchange rate since then remains fixed at 656 CFA francs to the euro.