The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to extraordinary mineral wealth, from copper and coltan to gold and diamonds. Despite its natural resources, the DRC is often considered one of the most challenging business environments in the world.
In the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020, the DRC was ranked 183rd out of 190 countries, reflecting the poor business environment that expats are likely to encounter.
Years of corruption, exploitation and mismanagement, as well as political and economic tensions and conflict, have left the country impoverished. According to the World Bank's survey, the DRC scored particularly poorly in trading across borders (187th), paying taxes (180th) and resolving insolvency (168th).
However, there are evident gaps in the market, which foreign investors are keen to fill. Starting a business is ranked 54th out of 190 countries by the World Bank, a hopeful sign for future investment and entrepreneurship.
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.
When considering the DRC as a potential country to move to or foreign market to do business in, there are some key elements of business culture to bear in mind.
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 DRC. Local languages including Swahili and Lingala, as well as Kikongo and Tshiluba, are also widely spoken, particularly in 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, given the warm climate. For formal meetings, smart business attire is 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. There are very few women in senior positions within the corporate sector.
Business culture in the DRC
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. Elders and those in authority are respected. Likewise, business structures in the DRC are hierarchical. Although the ideas of the team are generally welcomed, the final decisions are normally made from the top.
However, expats working in the DRC have often cited a lack of transparency in the decision-making process, 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. The decision-making process can be drawn out: it’s not unusual to have meetings rescheduled or even cancelled at short notice.
French is the language of business in the Congo. To communicate effectively with Congolese associates, expats are recommended to learn at least some French. The effort will likely be recognised. 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 DRC. Although efforts in recent years have gone a long way in tackling the problem, corruption remains a real issue across all facets of business. 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 DRC
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.