John M. Ulimwengu
The explosion of social medias has given voice to a new breed of ―experts‖ not subjected to the rigor of fact-checking for their statements. This, unfortunately, does not allow for an educated debate around important development issues such as those associated with the Bukanga Lonzo Agro-Industrial Park (PAI-BL).. It is for this reason that we starting working for several months to gather the facts in order to separate the myth from reality. In this note, we address questions about the relevance of such an initiative, the stages of its design and studies undertaken, and the level of its technical and financial implementation. Issues of governance, corruption and land use are also addressed. Overall, it is recognized that the process of economic transformation can be facilitated and even accelerated if the country chooses a sufficiently homogeneous sector or group of activities and focuses on a given geographical area. This is largely the reason for the development of special economic zones (SEZs). In record time, they allow countries to remove the constraints on economic transformation. SEZs have enabled countries such as China, Korea and Malaysia to quickly catch up and rise to the level of emerging countries. However, the existence of solvent domestic demand and proven natural potential must guide the choice of the sector through which to start the process of economic transformation. This explains the preference for special economic zones with an agro-industrial focus for a country like the DRC. The PAI-BL is a strategic and indispensable project given the country’s food challenges. The Democratic
Republic of Congo spends an average nearly USD 2 billion annually on imports of basic food
products. The import bill will increase further with the rapid growth of population, especially in Kinshasa. This is a serious threat to both food security and national security. There is no doubt that Bukanga Lonzo is not close to where it should have been. It must be understood that this project was not designed as a monoculture farm to produce harvest in the next season. To better understand Bukanga Lonzo, one needs to think of a city to be built around agricultural production and processing. The Bukanga Lonzo site is 8 times the city of Paris; therefore, the infrastructure phase alone should have taken at least 3 years! Even with a sustained support from the government and improved business environment for private sector participation, Bukanga Lonzo’s full potential will take some time to materialize. It took 10 years to move the now famous Shenzhen (China) from a city in 1970 to a special economic zone in 1980. The size of Bukanga Lonzo (800 km2) is 1.6 times that of Shenzhen (493 km2)!