DRC/Russia: the contract for the restoration of the DRC’s railways, a fake?
According to Thierry Vircoulon, a researcher at IFRI and a specialist on Central Africa, the 500 million dollar contract signed during the state visit to Sochi between the DRC and the RJD (Russian Railway Company)

would be a ceremonial contract enabling Kinshasa to reassure the public and Moscow to exert influence “at little cost”. Reader’s digest of the AFP article published at the end of October. At the first Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, the Russian authorities expressed their ambition to double trade with the continent in the next five years. One of the contracts signed committed the Russian Railway Company RJD to invest in the DRC’s railway network. The contract amounts to “500 million dollars”, according to the Congolese presidency.

The DRC has a 5,000 km rail network dating back to colonial times and divided into four zones with no rail links. “This rail network is in ruins,” says Thierry Vircoulon, “we have to redo everything: the railroads, the machines, the trains, the power supply. The bill is huge, it will take many number of years to restore this network and turn investment into profit.” Hence the researcher’s scepticism: “This agreement was signed because the Congolese partner is the applicant, but the Russian company will never have the required funding. Moscow has signed several agreements that make no financial sense whatsoever. Just like when they committed to build nuclear power plants in Sudan. It still makes you smile,” concludes the researcher.

However, in the DRC, not only is the rail network in a poor state, but the railway company has also been criticised for its poor management, both by the Congolese League against Corruption and by the World Bank. In a June 2019 report, a copy of which was obtained by RFI, the financial position of the Société nationale des chemins de fer du Congo is “unhealthy” or even “bankrupt”. “It’s a ceremonial contract.” What, then, is Russia’s interest in promising investment in Congolese railways? Are other markets - military, energy - linked? “The experience of the Chinese, who financed infrastructure in exchange for access to ore, has shown that this type of deal is not profitable. The challenge for Russia is mainly diplomatic. It is one of those ceremonial contracts, which allow the Congolese president to tell his people that he is working for his country, and the Kremlin to be visible on the international scene at little cost: it doesn’t cost too much to sign a contract,” says Thierry Vircoulon.

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