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Democratic Republic of CONGO - INTRODUCTION 
Peace opens the way to recovery
HISTORIC PEACE AGREEMENTS AND FAR-REACHING REFORMS, INCLUDING NEW CODES OF PRACTICE IN FORESTRY, INVESTMENT AND MINING, ARE GEARING A NATION ENDOWED WITH VAST RESOURCES OF RAW MATERIALS TO BECOME THE POTENT ENGINE OF CENTRAL AFRICA


When it comes to potential, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is hard to equal. At around 905,000 square miles, the country is bigger than Western Europe, and has an abundance of natural resources. Apart from containing 50 percent of Africa’s forests, the DRC is home to one of the world’s mightiest river systems, which could, if adequately exploited, provide hydroelectric power throughout the entire continent. Historically, petroleum extraction and mining of copper, cobalt, diamonds, gold, zinc and other base metals have accounted for about 75 percent of total export revenues and 25 percent of the country’s GDP.

The sub-soil is rich in minerals too, particularly cobalt and copper. Although 90 percent of its output is industrial-quality, the DRC is the world’s third-largest diamond producer by volume. In 2003, diamonds accounted for 70 percent of total export revenues. Substantial gold deposits and 80 percent of the world’s reserves of columbite-tantalite (coltan), a substance used in high-tech appliances such as cell phones, round off the country’s mineral wealth.

The DRC holds vast potential: a market of 60 million people and land rich in natural resources

But these riches have played a significant part in the conflicts which have rocked the country for the past years and from which it is only now beginning to emerge. Thirty years of dictatorship following independence in 1960 left the country, then called Zaire, in economic turmoil. Laurent Kabila, backed by Rwandan and Ugandan military forces, took power in May 1997. War, however, continued with the armies of neighboring nations fighting each other over borders, ethnic problems, and access to mines.

When Laurent Kabila was assassinated in January 2001, his son and former chief of staff Joseph Kabila took over. He now heads a multi-party transition government prior to the country’s first democratic elections, re-scheduled for before the end of June 2006. With help from international financial institutions, President Kabila has made progress in establishing peace and stabilizing the economic situation, creating the conditions for sustained economic growth. The rewards for peace are tangible: a vast market of 60 million people, untold resources and, given its strategic position at the very heart of Africa, the potential to become the continent’s political center of gravity.