A growing list of Kenyan firms are looking for investment opportunities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as the mineral-rich economy proves to be a fertile hunting ground for top firms, with analysts predicting several mergers and acquisitions following a new requirement for lenders to increase their capital to a minimum of $50 million by the end of 2020.
Barely a fortnight ago Kenya's Mayfair Insurance Company received a permit to enter the Central African nation becoming the latest Kenyan financier to seek a piece of the mineral-rich country.
DRC's insurance regulator granted approval to the insurer to operate in the non-life business market.
Mayfair group which began its operations in 2005 already operates in Zambia, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania.
At the same time regional lender KCB is on course to establishing presence in DRC this year after announcing that it is looking for acquisitions in the country to strengthen its bid of transforming into a Pan-African banking giant with an asset base in excess of Ksh1 trillion ($10 billion) in three years.
In 2019, the lender, which has operations in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan acquired the struggling state-owned National Bank of Kenya through a share swap deal.
Equity already has operations in DR Congo through a subsidiary it established by acquiring 86 per cent stake in Pro Credit Bank, the then seventh largest bank in the country by assets exceeding $200 million and a customer base of over 170,000, between 2015 and 2017.
And last year, the bank deepened its presence in the country by acquiring Congo's second largest lender Banque Commerciale du Congo (BCDC), with a plan of merging the new business with its existing subsidiary in DRC.
James Mwangi the Group's chief executive said the acquisition provided more impetus for the Kenyan-based lender to push ahead with its dream of converting into a pan-African bank by 2024.
Banque Commerciale du Congo was majority owned by Belgian entrepreneur George Arthur Forrest and family (66.53 per cent) and the government of the DRC (25.53 per cent) while the remaining 7.94 per cent shares are owned by other minority shareholders.
In 2016 listed insurer Jubilee Insurance announced entry into DRC market with its medical insurance cover through a partnership with DRC's state-owned insurance company Société Nationale d'Assurances (Sonas).
However, in the same year, oil marketer KenolKobil sold the fuel depot it had acquired in Lubumbashi in 2011, marking an exit from DR Congo.
KenolKobil has since been acquired by French energy firm Rubis Energie.
According to Verdant Capital, a pan-African investment advisory firm there is a significant untapped potential for DRC given its 85 million potential consumers, significant mineral resources, fertile agricultural land and potential for political renewal.
Climate of confidence
The African Development Bank has also noted that the normalisation of the political situation and a new determination to reform and fight corruption in the Central African nation has instilled a climate of confidence, promoting new private investment in sectors that drive the economy forward.
On the other hand, the World Bank argues that with 80 million hectares of arable land and over 1,100 listed minerals and precious metals, DRC has the potential to become one of the richest economies on the continent and a driver of African growth, if it can overcome its political instability and improve governance.
The Democratic Republic of Congo was ranked 184 of 190 countries in the World Bank's 2019 Doing Business Report.
The country's average inflation in 2020 and 2021 is expected to stay around five per cent.
DR Congo has 19 licensed banks of which five are local, four Pan-African and nine foreign while bank penetration still remains low at around six per cent placing the country among the most underbanked nations in the world.
Of an estimated 65 per cent of the population that saves, only 4.7 per cent do so through a bank,
Last year, DRC formally applied for admission to the six-member East African Community currently comprising Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.
In terms of trade, DR Congo accounts for about six per cent of total exports from the EAC countries.