Walloons jump on Lubumbashi

28th October 2013, Comments 0 comments

South Africa is a springboard to sub-Saharan Africa and especially to the Democratic Republic of Congo to which the Belgian business community dreams of returning.

Belgian and especially French-speaking "expertise," is key to entry to South Africa, not only into the Congo, but also into the other half of Africa that doesn't speak English. It involves a three-way collaboration, between Belgians and South Africans, working together in a continent that seems more and more like a "new frontier," the last part of the world with explosive growth...

Those are a few conclusions drawn by the Belgian economic "mega-mission" to Angola and South Africa, which the Walloon Economics and Higher Education minister Jean-Claude Marcourt left to travel to Lubumbashi. He wanted to confirm the feasibility of this three-way cooperation right away. The opening of a Wallonia-Brussels agency in the capital Katanga, to be directed by Fabrice Primont demonstrates the desire for involvement: beyond cultural activities, the new center will be a hub for economic and university partnerships.

Cooperation between Lubumbashi and Wallonia, Liège in particular, is long-standing and multi-faceted. Liège helped Katanga computerize its census records and exchanges are numerous and time-honored. It was through these relationships that Professor Leroy involved the Liège school of veterinary medicine in improving livestock and developing small ranches. This project was much appreciated by Governor Moïse Katumbi, who mentions that 100,000 cattle pass through Katanga's feedlots.

The governor adds that, although the province currently produces 750,000 tons of copper a year - an all-time record - agricultural production must be reinforced to reduce corn imports from Zambia and Zimbabwe. The food crisis, which could bring industrial development to a halt, is even more preoccupying than the troubles in the North Katanga region. These have led to 400,000 displaced persons and blocked agricultural supplies to the southern mining region.

The governor thinks that copper production could surpass one million tons per year if energy problems can be resolved. Here too, Belgians are already present in the creation of micro-dams and the construction of five electric power stations.

In addition, the explosion of mining production has brought with it serious pollution, and doctors are observing an elevated number of malformations among newborns. That is why Professor Eric Pirard of the University of Liège, an internationally known geologist, has been asked to contribute to the development of a "center of excellence for mine training," which should attract environmental specialists.

The University of Kwa Zulu Natal, in Durban, is interested in being part of the research work that will be conducted in Katanga. An agreement has already been reached to this effect. Doctoral candidates can now be exchanged between Liège, Durban and Lubumbashi.

On the Cape, the University of Leuven (KUL) rector Rik Torfs did not hesitate to say, "We're at home here..." That assurance didn't necessarily please the South Africans and encouraged them to discover that the French-speaking universities also have great potential (four Nobel Prizes for ULB alone...), long experience in French-speaking Africa and perhaps less self-satisfaction.

Those assets led Jean-Claude Marcourt to bring the six southern universities together with twenty Walloon businesses, a delegation that did not accompany him to Katanga, where the minister ended his travels with a short private stay at the ranch of entrepreneur Georges Forrest.



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