Congo’s ready for business, KDF tells Kenyan investors

A Congolese man pushes a cart past  KDF soldiers

A Congolese man pushes a cart past  KDF soldiers serving under the East African Community Regional Force in Kibati, DRC, on April 19, 2023.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

For many Kenyans, the thought of investing in war-torn Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) sounds like a risky venture, but there are a myriad opportunities in this largely untapped market.

The region that has been at war for over two decades now is slowly picking up the pieces following the deployment of a three-pronged military, political and disarmament process that is seeking to bring an end to the conflict.

With a population of about 42 million, vast fertile lands, huge demand for learning for children and young adults whose education was cut short by decades of conflict, unavailable health services, minerals, sugar, coffee and other agricultural products, the region is thirsty for the growth it was denied during the fighting.

The large population translates to adequate labour for manufacturers and producers as well as a market for goods and services. There are opportunities available for Kenyans in farming , manufacturing, education, mining and construction.

Brigadier (Rtd) Jossiah Mrashui, the Kenyan Consular General in Goma, noted that the return to normality in Goma following the arrival of KDF troops last November had allowed resumption of operations at the city’s international airport with multiple commercial flights landing and taking off every day.

“Goma as a city is not that insecure, it’s in only the peripheral areas that have some semblance of insecurity and, therefore, it becomes unsafe to venture out of the city,” he said. He urged Kenyans to invest now and grow with the country as it emerges from the shadow of war.

“I would urge Kenyans willing to invest here to come. We will advise them on what to do in the sectors they seek to venture in. Jambo Jet, for example, is now operating four flights per week and is working towards daily flights. Security at the airport is now guaranteed,” he explained.

Brig (Rdt) Mrashui said Kenyans will soon travel to DRC visa free once both governments have signed the bilateral agreement.

“We are looking forward to having the children of DRC undertake their education in Kenya, and having patients travel for medical purposes to Nairobi and at the same time encourage our healthcare institutions to set up bases here in Goma,” he said.

With peace a real prospect, more Kenyans are likely to explore the country following the success of other Kenyan brands that are thriving in Goma.

Brig (Rdt) Mrashui urged Kenyans not to wait for the situation to fully normalise to take advantage of the many sectors that are open for business.

“We don’t have to wait until the situation is conducive for everybody to come. We have our troops and mission here so we are saying the time for Kenyans to enter into the economic sphere in eastern DRC is now so that, while we are stabilising this region, we also encourage them to integrate with our business people,” he added.

The opportunities will further widen once DRC completes its bid for full integration in the East African Community (EAC), which will enable free movement of goods and services across the region under a harmonised tax regime.

Additionally, ongoing expansion of the road network, such as construction of the 89km Bunagana-Rutshuru, 54km Kasindi-Beni, and the 54km Beni-Butengo highways that stalled due to conflict, establishment of one-stop border posts and systems that cut on time and costs will enhance trade in the region.

Kenyan products are held in high regard in DRC, with Equity Bank ranking as the leading bank followed by the Kenya Commercial Bank. Kenyan owned Skyborne Hospital and the Goma Serena Hotel are also amongst the thriving brands in the city.

Kenya enjoys cordial diplomatic relations with DRC, with a permanent presence in Kinshasa and a consulate in Goma while DRC has a permanent residence in Nairobi and a commercial liaison office in Mombasa.

“We are rated as friends of the DRC mainly because of the trade links we have with its people. You will see many Kenyan products being sold on the streets,” Brig (Rdt) Mrashui said. The consulate in Goma was opened a year ago to deepen security and economic relations. It covers from upper Katanga to Upper Uwele on the DRC border with South Sudan.

The consulate estimates that Kenyans living in North Kivu Province, whose headquarters is in Goma, are about 3,000 mainly staff for non-governmental organisations, The United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco), the East Africa Community Regional Force and businesspeople.

Those living in the province have been asked to register with the consulate for evacuation purposes in the event the volatile situation in the rural areas where armed groups have dominated changes for the worse.

“The consulate in liaison in Nairobi will be able to make arrangements to see if the evacuation would be via road after congregating in specific points but for those in Goma, we would liaise with Monusco who have adequate space that we can ask Kenyans to move to before they are airlifted to the airport and to Nairobi,” he explained.

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua on Monday said KDF troops would remain in the DRC until the region has attained its peace. He said Kenyan troops are on the ground to facilitate the peace process and ensure security of the local population.

“In terms of ... extending [KDF’s mandate] that’s in the process ... Kenya is not planning to withdraw its troops until we find an amicable solution,” said the CS.