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Following a decade in which Chinese largesse has helped to transform Africa’s prospects – and challenged the supremacy that western companies once enjoyed over the continent’s natural resources – Beijing has sent word to Washington that the world’s two biggest economies might combine their efforts to generate some much-needed electricity in one of the poorest.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, an expanse the size of western Europe that perennially ranks among the worst countries in which to do business, has known little but conflict and penury for decades. World Bank-backed plans to build a third dam at Inga are part of a broader vision for a dam complex capable of generating 40,000MW – twice the size of the Three Gorges dam in China. 

Airtel, India’s largest mobile operator by sales, is continuing its expansion into Africa. On Tuesday, it announced plans to acquire Warid Congo, making Airtel the largest telecoms provider in the Republic of Congo (also known as Congo Brazzaville).

Before the deal, Airtel was already the second largest telecoms provider in the country and Warid, the third largest. 

Suspecting that the minerals and metals trade was funding conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the US Securities and Exchange Commission adopted Section 1502 of the Dodd Frank Act last August, requiring US-listed companies operating in the region to carry out checks on their supply chain for commodities including tin, tantalum, and gold.

This week, five months into the first reporting year of the law, a US House of Representatives’ subcommittee on monetary policy and trade heard ‘for and against’ testimony about the impact of Section 1502 so far. 

Randgold chief executive Mark Bristow has criticised a “disturbing” tendency among African governments to increase taxes and regulations on mining investors, as the company disputes its tax bill with the Malian government.

The chief executive of the FTSE 100 gold mining company, which has operations in Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ivory Coast made his statement at the Mining Indaba conference currently taking place in Cape Town. He claimed that revisions to mining laws risked deterring investment on the continent. 

Private equity in east Africa is punching below is weight. The region attracted nearly a third of the 66 private equity deals done in sub-Saharan Africa in 2011 – but their value was just $188m out of a total $3bn, or 6 per cent. Deals worth six times as much were done in west Africa. 

China’s Minmetals Resources (MMR) has finally achieved its ambition of getting into Africa, with the completion on Friday of its C$1.3 bn ($1.3 bn) bid for Anvil Mining and its interest in the Kinsevere copper project in the the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

But the Chinese state-run group and its western boss (CEO Andrew Michelmore,  pictured) remain on the lookout for more overseas acquisitions and have plenty of funds for the right deals. Anvil is a modest buy compared to the $6.6bn Minmetals put on the table last year in a failed attempt to take over Canada’s Equinox Resources. 

The stock market may be shot and commodity prices all over the place, but China’s drive for natural resources acquisitions goes on. Tuesday’s news is that Australia’s Sundance Resources has recommended a sweetened takeover bid worth A$1.65bn from Hanlong Mining.

Even an annoying insider dealer probe involving three Australia-based Hanlong executives hasn’t derailed the deal, which Sundance has backed after Hanlong improved its initial offer. No shortage of funds, then, when it comes to buying strategic assets – in this case Sundance’s African iron ore deposits.

 

With over 71 per cent of its 66m population living in poverty and a GDP per capita a meagre $160, the Democratic Republic of Congo – which is still rebuilding after years of war, dictatorship and turmoil – is not an obvious place for a company to be looking to do business in.

Yet for France Telecom, it is precisely the lack of competition and the prospects of developing a relatively untapped market that has prompted it to mull a bid for Congo’s fourth-largest mobile operator. 

The contest for Africa’s copper and iron ore is sometimes likened to the Great Game, as various powers vie for geopolitical and investment advantages on a volatile continent. This analogy is criticised because of its colonial nineteen-century overtones. But to do so misses a basic fact. The powers in today’s Game come from emerging markets and bypass established economies entirely.

This was confirmed on Tuesday when Jinchuan Group, one of China’s largest state-owned miners, started a bidding war with Vale, the Brazilian mining giant. Their target is a small South Africa-based company whose main asset is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Add another item to the agenda at this weekend’s G20 summit: African resource nationalism and the twin issue of security of mining contracts. That’s thanks to a burgeoning dispute between Canadian miners and the authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, who is hosting the meeting, plans to raise concerns about the case, which Canada views as particularly egregious. Canadian authorities think they should play a part in a decision by the IMF and World Bank due next week on whether to conclude the write-off of $9bn of Congo’s historic foreign debt.