The DRC is a country that offers abundant opportunities for local and international companies through its unique biodiversity, vast minerals, abundant forest resources, rich soil and large population base. However, the DRC was also considered one of the most difficult places to do business. Hence the creation of the “Guichet Unique”, a one–stop shop that brings together all the government entities involved in the registration of a company in the DRC. The Guichet Unique has shortened and simplified business registration considerably, as the whole process now only takes three days. The fees and taxes to start a business have also been significantly reduced to the Congolese francs equivalent of $120 for companies and $40 for individuals. In addition, the DRC has joined the OHADA, the Organisation for the Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa. Their role is to provide its member states with a legal framework for business activities. The move was welcomed by foreign investors, and existing businesses took advantage of the new changes to expand and attract more foreign investment.
Not surprisingly, a plethora of start-ups has been created shortly after the Guichet Unique was created. There also has been a marked increase in businesses owned by women. Ubizcabs are a case in point. Created by Patricia Nzolantima, Ubizcabs offer the first female owned operated cab service in the DRC. They aim to provide high quality public transportation to the growing middle to upper class and international residents in Kinshasa, and plan to work with international institutions such as embassies, hotels and private companies. A gap in the current transportation landscape means that the huge number of professionals, foreign visitors and expats who come through the capital have limited transport options. To get around, they often rely on rental cars, are driven around by their hosts or use public transport. Ubizcabs provide a normalised, safe and reliable international cab service.
Unlike their competitors, Uzbizcabs use the latest and best technology to track all activities within the company. Customers can place their pick-up orders via mobile phone service, and even checked emails or social media accounts through an inbuilt portable tablets system. In addition, Ubizcabs aim to make a social impact by exclusively employing women. This is no easy feat in a country where gender roles are at times still steeped in strict cultural norms and values. Women are recruited in areas where the taxis operate. They are then trained, mentored and supported to ensure that they are successful and safe in their new jobs. The Ubizcabs business model sends an unprecedented message of empowerment to Congolese society by uniting economic progress and gender equality.
The Guichet Unique reform has also lead to the creation of new companies in different sectors, including renewable energy. Geologist and entrepreneur Emmanuel Basanga has created an energy-saving stove called Bascons to address the problem of charcoal fuel. Charcoal is widely used as cooking fuel in the DRC and its production has lead to a loss of forest cover for decades. According to Global Forest Atlas, approximately 90% of all wood removals from African forest are estimated to be used for fuel, mainly for home cooking. Charcoal is preferred over burning wood because it provides a slower burn, but its production is very wasteful. Energy efficient stoves offer both environmental and socio-economic benefits. They greatly improve air quality, reducing the occurrence of respiratory diseases among mothers and children, in addition to eliminating the risk associated with open fire. A decrease in charcoal consumption would also allow household to save money that they could invest elsewhere (health, food, education etc.). Mr Basanga is planning to mass-produce his energy efficient stove to make it affordable for Congolese families, and the new business reforms will make this much easier.
Like Patricia Nzolantima, Pauline Kayoko is also a businesswoman making her mark in a male-dominated world. The Guichet Unique will allow her to easily diversify an already impressive portfolio. Ms Kayoko started out selling peanuts and bananas in a market in Lubumbashi, southern Congo. With the help from investors, she created Monalux, a Congolese enterprise involved in different economic activities within the country. The company’s flagship venture was the ML service station, a chain of more than 20 stations located throughout the country. The stations are hubs of other related services, such as supermarkets and restaurants. They also have cold storage facilities; these are important for the hospitality services offered but also for perishable goods, as Monalux offers road and train services that stretch all the way to South Africa. Ms Kayoko initially decided to build her service stations in poor areas where her competitors would not venture. This bold move has paid off in a big way: her company has an annual turnover of 45.7 million Euros. Not bad for a woman who started off selling items in open-air market! Monalux is planning to diversify further and invest in office space complexes and apartments. The recent business reforms will certainly help Ms Kayoko’s next business ventures.
Private sector growth is widely acknowledged to be an essential component of the alleviation of poverty, as it is a way of providing more and different economic opportunities in any given society. It goes without saying that the DRC needed to create a more favourable business climate. Now both new and existing entrepreneurs, as well as international investors, are benefitting from the creation of the Guichet Unique.
By Mr Manitou Nsaka, CCCGB Affilliate Member & Consultant