A delegation of UAE officials signed a $1.9 billion partnership to develop several mines in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The deal was signed Monday with state miner Societe Aurifere du Kivu et du Maniema, or Sakima, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi’s office said in a statement on its website.

The UAE’s minister of state in the ministry of foreign affairs, Shakhboot Nahyan Al Nahyan, led the delegation to Kinshasa, Congo’s capital.

The partnership “will make it possible to set up more than four industrial mines which should connect the provinces of South Kivu and Maniema,” the president’s office said.

The statement gave no details on the mines or minerals involved.

South Kivu and Maniema are rich in gold, tin ore and tantalum. The two provinces have suffered from decades of violence by armed groups, which sometimes support themselves through the illicit mineral trade.

A separate joint venture between Congo’s government and a UAE company, Primera Group Ltd., began shipping artisanally mined gold from South Kivu earlier this year. 

In December last year, Congo’s government announced that it would implement several initiatives to increase revenue and improve financial transparency from 2023, including a plan to formalize the artisanal gold trade.

Finance Minister Nicolas Kazadi said at the time that the deal with the UAE “will allow us to buy all the gold produced by the artisanal sector", Bloomberg reported. The UAE and Congo are putting infrastructure in place to formalize the market to curb gold smuggling, he said at the time. The agreement with Primera Gold - a subsidiary of Primera Group - will ultimately aim to export a tonne of certified DRC gold each month.

Artisanal miners produce an estimated 20 tonnes of gold each year, but the bulk of it is smuggled to neighbouring Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, before ending up on international markets.

Congo, the world’s largest cobalt producer and Africa’s top copper source aims to diversify its sources of income after mining led to 8.5% economic growth in 2022, according to the IMF.

(Editing by Seban Scaria seban.scaria@lseg.com)