Africa, Headlines

TRADE-ZAMBIA: Business Links with the DRC Revived

Lewis Mwanangombe

LUSAKA, Jan 14 1998 (IPS) - Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have agreed to eliminate smuggling across their 2000- km common border and to promote legitimate trade and joint-venture business.

The DRC’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Bizima Karaha, told a meeting here attended by officials from both countries this week that apart from combatting smuggling, which has overshadowed genuine trade for decades, the DRC and Zambia need to revise past trade agreements to meet current business needs.

Stability returned to the DRC, formerly Zaire, following the overthrow last May of the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko by an alliance of rebel forces led by Laurent-Desire Kabila.

Kabila, keen to mend fences with erstwhile hostile neighbours, proclaimed himself President soon after toppling the late dictator.

During his reign — between 1965 and 1997 — Mobutu neglected the population, forcing the majority to engage in illicit business like smuggling.

Smuggling is rampant along the DRC/Zambia border, which is inhabited mostly by ethnic groups that straddle the two frontiers.

Goods like maize flour, bread, petrol, agricultural produce, textiles (both new and secondhand), semi-processed metals like copper and cobalt, as well as precious stones like diamonds, freely find their way across borders.

Zambian Foreign Affairs Minister, Keli Walubita, urged the two neighbours during the talks to work closely to bring about faster economic growth and development.

“Let us concentrate on the way forward to the future rather than the past. Let us review and reassess economic potentials and opportunities and find solutions to problems affecting cooperation between our two countries,” Walubita said.

He said Zambia was committed to promoting trade, free movement of people and improving transport and communication links between the two countries.

Walubita also encouraged the DRC to help Zambia to set up a merchant bank in Lubumbashi – the capital of the bordering Katanga Province – under the state-owned Zambia National Commercial Bank.

“In our considered opinion, this will facilitate trade promotion and monetary payments for goods traded between the two countries,” the Minister said.

The Lusaka talks are being held under a bilateral arrangement known as the Joint Permanent Commission of Cooperation which though established between Zambia and then Zaire in 1982, has not been able to function effectively due to the lack of a proper administrative machinery in the former Zaire.

The present talks have generated a lot of interest in Zambia with the Zambia Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ZACCI), saying it was excited by the whole event.

“We are very keen … (and hope) that a bilateral trade agreement may be signed afterwards,” said executive Secretary of ZACCI, Gideon Phiri.

ZACCI sent a trade mission to the DRC to explore business opportunities following the fall of Mobutu. Since then, a number of business people from Zambia have crossed the border to clinch concrete trade arrangements.

Apart from trade matters, the bilateral talks are also expected to touch on the repatriation of thousands of refugees, most of them ex-soldiers who served in Mobutu’s dreaded Presidential Guard.

Zambian defence minister, Chitalu Sampa, returned home on Dec. 11 from the DRC capital of Kinshasa where he signed a defence protocol to ease tensions between the two countries and help the former soldiers return to the Congo.

Oluseyi Bajulaiye, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative in Zambia, said Kinshasa had called for urgent tripatite talks between Zambia, the UN refugee agency and the DRC over the formal repatriation of the ex- soldiers.

“We have no problem with this tripatite arrangement … ,” Bajulaiye said.

The tripatite talks aim to clear the former soldiers of possible charges which may link them to a plan to topple the new regime in Kinshasa.

“If they just walk back to their homes they risk having to face a few hard questions on their absence and return. In my opinion it is better if they obtain the authorisation of the government to return back,” he added.

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