Congo’s state copper miner set for lowest output since 2004

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s state-owned copper miner is on track to deliver its lowest output since 2004, the year after Africa’s biggest war ended.

In the first nine months of the year Gecamines produced a fifth of the metal it targeted at the start of 2014, according to the company’s production results. A shortage of power, low-grade ore and equipment breakdowns hurt output. Shipments this year were as low as 428 metric tons in April, after a dispute with Congo’s state-owned power utility, and as much as 1,820 tons in March.

“Since September we’ve put in place a rehabilitation program, which included looking at our internal finances to ensure that we’ll meet our goals in 2015,” interim Chief Executive Officer Jacques Kamenga Tshimuanga said Dec. 16 by phone from Lubumbashi, where Gecamines is based in the southeast of the country. He declined to give an estimate for fourth- quarter output.

Gecamines produced about 8,700 tons of copper in the nine- month period, more than 32,700 tons lower than previously forecast. That compared with a target of 60,000 tons for all of 2014 and production of 41,000 tons last year.

Gecamines used to be one of the biggest copper producers in the world, shipping 476,000 tons in 1986, until years of war and mismanagement almost destroyed the business. By 2004, a year after warring factions agreed to peace, Gecamines’ copper output fell to 7,691 tons, according to central bank figures. Production doubled the next year, rising to 16,055 tons, before dropping to as low as 13,367 tons in 2009 after the world financial crisis.

Deadliest War

Congo in 2003 emerged from nearly a decade of war that engulfed the country and surrounding nations. At least 3.1 million people died between 1998 and 2007 as a result of conflict, making it the deadliest since World War II, according to the New York-based International Rescue Committee.

To raise capital, the company sold majority stakes in some of its most valuable assets. It now counts Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan Inc., Baar, Switzerland-based Glencore Plc, and Eurasian Natural Resources Corp., also known as ENRC and based in London, as its largest partners.

Congo’s copper industry in recent years has reached record production levels surpassing Zambia as Africa’s largest producer last year. The country could ship more than a million tons of the metal in 2015, President Joseph Kabila said Dec. 15.

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