Doing Business in Democratic Republic of Congo
Doing business in the Democratic Republic of Congo is extremely difficult, with the country often considered to be one of the most challenging business environments in the world. Despite a wealth of natural resources, years of corruption, mismanagement and conflict have left the country impoverished and there is still much work to be done to rebuild the Democratic Republic of Congo. That being said, there are also many opportunities for foreign companies to do business in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The dominant sectors of the local economy are agriculture, fishing, mining and forestry. There is also some manufacturing, particularly of textiles, cement and wood products. The main centres of business are the capital, Kinshasa, and Lubumbashi, in the mining district of Katanga.
In the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2018, the DRC was ranked 184th out of 190 countries, reflecting the poor business environment that expats are likely to encounter. Areas in which the country scored particularly poorly included trading across borders (188th), resolving insolvency (168th), protecting monitory investors (165th) and getting electricity (174th).
Business hours are typically Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm, with a two-hour lunch break taken sometime between 12pm and 3pm.
French is the language of business in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Local languages such as Swahili and Lingala are also widely spoken, particularly in more rural areas.
A handshake is the usual greeting between business associates. It’s not unusual for people to touch each other on the shoulder or arm while talking to those they are familiar with. When shaking someone’s hand with their right hand they may also hold their right forearm with their left hand.
Lightweight suits are best.
A gift is acceptable when visiting an associate’s home, but with the prevalence of bribery and corruption, expats should consider their gift-giving carefully.
Local culture is still traditional when it comes to gender roles and there are very few women in senior positions within the corporate sector.
Business culture in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Expats doing business in the Democratic Republic of Congo will find the Congolese to be friendly and welcoming. They generally take pride in their work and are hard working. Appearance is also important and locals dress smartly, but modestly.
Status is important in Congolese culture, including in business, and elders and those in authority are respected. Likewise, business structures in the Democratic Republic of Congo are hierarchical. Although the ideas of the team are generally welcomed, the final decisions are normally made from the top. However, expats doing business in the Democratic Republic of Congo have often cited a lack of transparency in the decision-making process as a frustrating issue that can hinder potential business dealings.
Communication style may be direct but direct eye contact is usually avoided. Expats should adopt an attitude of patience when undertaking business in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The decision-making process can be a drawn out one and it’s not unusual to have meetings rescheduled or even cancelled at short notice.
French is the language of business in the Democratic Republic of Congo and expats will do well to learn at least some French in order to effectively communicate with Congolese associates. An interpreter may be required for business meetings. Other local languages such as Lingala and Swahili are also widely spoken, especially in more rural areas.
Bribery and corruption are everyday realities and often cited as the biggest constraints to doing business in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although efforts in recent years have gone a long way in diminishing the problem, corruption remains a real issue across all facets of business in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Expats working and doing business in the country should tread carefully when it comes to negotiating and the need for gifts or special favours.
Dos and don’ts of doing business in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Do be punctual for meetings, even if Congolese associates are late themselves
Don’t be surprised if meetings are cancelled at short notice
Do learn French in order to effectively communicate with Congolese colleagues. Otherwise, an interpreter may be required, especially for business meetings.
Don’t ask about someone’s ethnicity or discuss the civil war. Politics should also be avoided as a conversation topic.