Uncharted Territory: Exploring Investment Opportunities in the Republic of the Congo

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Since its independence in 1960, the small Central African nation of the Congo has steadily established itself as an important regional and international actor within the energy sector. Representing sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest oil producer and a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the country aims to further strengthen its position as an African energy leader while becoming a more vocal partner at the decision-making table. Concurrently, the Congo continues to push for economic diversification, hoping in the long term to develop other key sub-sectors.

The country’s development has largely been driven by oil and gas revenues. However, with rich soil and a favorable climate for agriculture, a strategically located deep-water port, and with great potential for cross-border trade with other key states, the Republic of the Congo has all the strategic requirements to catalyze socio-economic growth through diverse industries across all sectors of the economy.

Agriculture

The agricultural sector only contributes about 4% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), yet the country possesses 10 million hectares of arable land and an extensive water system that could lead to the growth of a variety of crops including coffee beans, sugar cane, cassava, and cacao for both domestic consumption and export. While the Congo relies heavily on imports for food consumption (about 70%), pushing for adequate investment and development into its agricultural sector would likely contribute to a decrease in prices while ensuring domestic food and nutrition security.

In response to the challenges experienced in the Congolese oil sector in recent years, the government has made agricultural development a pillar of its diversification strategy through its National Development Plan (2018-2022). In support of these efforts, the African Development Bank has contributed with a loan of €73.2 million to finance the Integrated Agricultural Value Chains Development Project (PRODIVAC) – aimed at developing the agricultural sector by focusing on four value chains (cassava, maize, poultry and fish). The project will benefit 355,000 people while promoting the empowerment of women and youth as well as skills development, agricultural entrepreneurship, production system resilience, institutional development and public-private participation.

Tourism and Services

The Congo still remains a little-known part of the world, yet tourism could play a vital role in creating jobs across the country while spurring economic growth. Indeed, tourism mobilizes all sectors of the economy, driving demand in agriculture, infrastructure development, goods manufacturing, and tourism-related services. Boasting many impressive natural landmarks and home to the world’s second largest rainforest and the Ozdala-Kokoua National Parkand, the tourism sector could propel the country forward to establishing itself as a destination of choice for tourists, on par with other tourism destinations of choice in Africa such as Kenya and Tanzania.

The country’s stability and accessibility are two crucial reasons for which tourists may give preference to the Congo over other neighboring countries. The presence of critically endangered western lowland gorillas in the Congo’s rainforests may provide an additional reason for visitors hoping to simultaneously visit the country and support conservation works dedicated to this species.

Infrastructure

Meanwhile, the Congo’s roads and infrastructure could be key to unlocking the country’s potential, and thus represent a lucrative investment opportunity. While the Congo hosts world-class infrastructure such as the deep-water port of Pointe-Noire, more can be done to support the country’s economy. Effective infrastructure development is crucial for growth, poverty reduction, and economic diversification. Rapid population growth is contributing to the expansion of the Congo’s major urban centers, providing both public and private entities with infrastructure investment opportunities, specifically in the areas of housing, transport, energy, and power.

Regarding electricity, opportunities have emerged within the generation and distribution sectors. In the Congo, electricity tariffs are above the regional average, and therefore, projects to support urban and rural access to electricity could prove critical for socioeconomic growth. Investors can also take advantage of the Congo’s impressive water systems by investing in hydropower projects.

Meanwhile, opportunities exist within the transportation sector, whereby the development of associated infrastructure could help strengthen business and commerce by way of facilitating the movement of goods and people. In addition to shortening travel time, infrastructure development in this area could improve urbanization and rural access, thereby growing the economy.

Gas

The European Commission’s plan to label gas as “green” is expected to have a significant impact on the global gas market. Despite countries around the world moving towards renewable energies and financial institutions shying away from investing in fossil fuels, this new strategy will likely drive investments into African gas development projects. With proven gas reserves estimated at 284 billion cubic feet, the Congo is expected to strategize around this decision and work towards becoming a key regional producer and exporter. Here, private sector involvement will be instrumental for the development of gas processing facilities, pipelines, as well as gas-to-power projects.

The Congo Gas Master Plan, unveiled during African Energy Week 2021 in Cape Town, established in collaboration with Wood Mackenzie, has ensured a strategy for long-term gas monetization and development in response to increased domestic consumption and regional demand. Providing a clear and solid framework, investors now have access to a better understanding of the government’s vision regarding the exploitation of its gas resources. Therefore, lucrative opportunities have and continue to emerge within the natural gas sector.

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Damon Biesold

Damon Biesold

Damon Biesold is ECP’s Congo Field Editor, where he produces the country’s first Africa Energy Series report due to be published in early 2022. Damon has experience working in sub-Saharan Africa and writes about the energy sector in the Republic of Congo. He recently obtained his MA in National Security Studies.

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