DRIVING through Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s mining capital, it is difficult to believe more than $10bn of investment has flowed into the area recently.
The Congo’s fastest-growing city has become the victim of rampant urbanisation, with its population nearly doubling in a decade. It is now home to nearly 2-million people. But, on the face of it, the city is more faded colonial elegance than mining boom town — the result of years of unchecked urban degradation.
Heavy trucks laden with precious minerals destroy the roads as they head through the city to the border. There is little sign of new development in this boom/bust town, where occupancies in the city’s only five-star hotel provide a barometer of its fortunes.
The bulk of mining taxes flow to Kinshasa and little returns to Lubumbashi — in defiance of a revenue-sharing formula with the provinces.
But the governor of Katanga Province, flamboyant business tycoon Moise Katumbi Chapwe, has big plans to change the face of this city. On the table is a plan for Luano City, a 15-year, $4bn, 300ha mixed-use development on the outskirts of the existing city that he hopes will become a new city centre. The catalyst for realising this dream is US property magnate and international developer Preston Haskell, who immediately saw the opportunity and invested in it, signalling his confidence not only in the governor but in the juxtaposition of mineral riches and underdevelopment as a model for opportunity, and in the future of this region of the Congo.
Haskell was at the launch of the first phase of Luano City on Friday, an event also attended by mining bosses, executives from other local and international companies and the governor himself, who exhorted mining companies in particular to put down proper roots in the Congo by buying offices in the development. He has already committed the provincial government to relocating there in time.
The biggest mining operator in the country — Tenke Fungurume — has already snapped up the first office block. A Chinese company has signed up for the second and there are buyers for offices that are yet to be built.
Haskell is no stranger to complex and high-risk environments, coming to Africa after years of developing property in Russia. Now in his mid-40s, he says the opportunity he sees in Africa makes it likely that he will see out his career on the continent.
His first African investment was in South Africa — Cradle City, next to Lanseria Airport. He bought it in 2007, but was forced to put it on hold after the global downturn hit. Undeterred, he moved on to invest in a country most regard as one of Africa’s riskiest business environments, the Congo, and is planning to invest in development in Kumasi, Ghana’s mining hub.
He is sanguine about the cyclical nature of commodities. The combination of Katanga’s rich mineral deposits and good prospects of economic growth in emerging markets will make Luano City viable in the long term, he believes.
Situated next to Lubumbashi’s airport and a highway linking Lubumbashi to Zambia and rapidly growing mining nodes such as Kolwezi and Likasi, Luano includes more than 3,000 residential units, 300,000m² of commercial and light industrial space and 200,000m² for retail. Katumbi’s political support is important to the development’s success. His popularity suggests he has a long future in politics. But there are other factors that support the new city’s viability. The mines are generating employment and growth in supplementary businesses, while China is building new roads that will make movement easier between Lubumbashi and outlying mines.
There are many potential risks to long-term projects whose viability relies on the shifting sands of politics and commodity cycles, and it is easy to be cynical. But the Luano City project does show the potential for broad economic development on mineral riches, which has been largely dismissed by critics over the years.
• Games is CE of Africa At Work, an African business consultancy, and compiled the book Business in Africa: Corporate Insights.