Egypt boosts investment in Congo, hoping to secure support in Nile dam crisis

As Egypt seeks to grow its influence in Congo by boosting investments, Kinshasa takes over the chairmanship of the African Union, which is currently sponsoring the negotiations to resolve the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Egypt is expected to direct more investments into the Democratic Republic of the Congo amid Egyptian efforts to have greater influence in the country.

The Egyptian and Congolese governments signed a series of agreements in various fields, including in infrastructure, energy and drinking water, during the visit of Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi to Cairo on Feb. 2.

The two governments inked an agreement to build the Tshipuka solar park in Congo. As per the agreement, the solar park’s construction was entrusted to a consortium composed of the Egyptian company Hassan Allam Construction — a subsidiary of Hassan Allam Holding, a leading, privately owned engineering, procurement, construction, building materials and utility development company — and Power Generation Engineering and Services Company — a privately held engineering consultancy based in Egypt focusing on the civil engineering, electrical engineering and energy sectors.

The $19.7 million photovoltaic power station in Tshipuka aims to resolve Kasai-Oriental province’s electricity problems by generating 10 megawatts of clean and sustainable energy.

The Congolese government has also signed with Egyptian companies an agreement to build a drinking water plant on the Lubi River in Sankuru province in central Congo, according to the AFRIK 21 website, which focuses on the environment, sustainable development and green economy sectors in Africa. The drinking water plant aims to increase the supply of drinking water to the province’s residents.

Tshisekedi welcomed the role Egyptian businesses play in Congo, particularly in the construction, energy and infrastructure sectors. In a press conference with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Feb. 2, Tshisekedi said an agreement was reached to boost Egyptian investments in Congo and trade exchange between the two countries.

He added that he is looking forward to establishing a new administrative capital in his country, similar to Egypt’s new administrative capital, to counter the problem of rapid population growth in Kinshasa.

The Africa Report reported Feb. 4 that the Congolese government entrusted the Egyptian consortium Income to build the Kitoko mega project, which consists of building a 300-square-kilometer (116-square mile) smart city in Congo. The planned city, which the Congolese government hopes will help ease traffic congestion in Kinshasa, will be located 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Kinshasa and 15 kilometers (9 miles) from N’Djili International Airport.

Urbain Manoka, a Congolese economist, told Al-Monitor, “The projects signed within the framework of the partnership between Egypt and the DRC [Congo], are of great importance for the DRC; not only will this improve the daily life of the Congolese in specific areas such as energy [and] infrastructure, but also … some jobs may be created.”

Manoka added, “Investment is the factor par excellence of the DRC’s economic growth. It creates income and is one of the main engines of economic activity. A volume of over 50% of inflows [were invested] in sectors linked to basic infrastructure and agriculture, because the country favors investments in the secondary sector, [which is considered a] creator of added value.”

Egypt is also taking part in infrastructure projects in Congo’s information technology sector. On Dec. 20, Benya Capital (formerly known as Fiber Misr), a leading Egyptian-based information and communications provider, signed an agreement with Congo’s Ministry of Post, Communications and Digital Economy to build a national fiber optic network that would digitally connect all cities across the country.

Attiya Essawi, a writer focusing on African affairs for Al-Ahram daily, told Al-Monitor that these projects would boost Egypt’s economic and political influence in Congo and improve its reputation among the peoples of Congo and Africa.

Essawi said the planned infrastructure projects in Congo will allow Egyptian companies to further invest in a country whose poor infrastructure requires billions of dollars in investments.

Essawi said Egypt is providing Egyptian companies with an opportunity to reap returns by investing in Congo, which would subsequently serve the national economy. Furthermore, Cairo aims to strengthen political ties with Kinshasa so as to ensure that Congo will remain by its side in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis.

Egypt is relying on Tshisekedi to support it in the dam file, after Congo took over the chairmanship of the African Union on Feb. 7. The African Union has been brokering the tripartite talks between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the dam since last year.

Addressing the 34th ordinary session of the African Union on Feb. 6, Sisi said he is confident that the African Union under Tshisekedi’s chairmanship will reach an agreement on the dam crisis that takes into account the three countries’ interests and safeguards Egypt’s rights to Nile waters.

South Africa was chair of the African Union for 2020, but its efforts to broker a deal to break the deadlock in the faltering negotiations over the dam were unsuccessful. The talks have been suspended since Jan. 10.

Ethiopia is looking forward to the dam serving as the largest hydropower station in Africa. Egypt and Sudan, however, fear that their share of Nile water will drop significantly due to the dam, which would affect their development prospects.

Ethiopia and some upstream countries have called for a reconsideration of the countries’ shares of the Nile water. Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi signed the Entebbe Agreement in Uganda about sharing the Nile river’s resources in 2010. This treaty reassesses the Nile water shares allocated to the river’s two downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, under the 1929 and 1959 agreements that set their respective shares at 55.5 billion cubic meters and 18.5 billion cubic meters. While Sudan and Egypt do not recognize the Entebbe Agreement, Congo has not signed it yet.

Essawi said Egypt has managed so far to keep Congo from recognizing the Entebbe Agreement, and has even won Congo’s support for Egyptian demands to safeguard its share of the Nile water and position in the dam crisis.

Egypt seeks a binding agreement on the dam before the first phase of filling the dam’s reservoir kicks off in July. Essawi, however, questions Congo’s ability to bring about a breakthrough in the crisis in light of Ethiopia’s intransigence and Congo’s lack of diplomatic means to pressure Addis Ababa.

Essawi added, “The good bilateral Egyptian-Congolese relations will prompt Ethiopia to question the DRC’s neutrality in the mediation process. It may indirectly accuse Kinshasa of favoring Egypt at the Ethiopians’ expense.”