2021 Australia – Democratic Republic of Congo Summit
by Victor Perton
The first Congo-Australia Summit on business and development opportunities, cultural and health development and youth initiatives commenced in Shepparton on Friday 26 March with a roundtable at the Latrobe Shepparton Campus on Friday. The DRC is the second-largest country in Africa and, like Australia, endowed with immense mineral and agricultural wealth and an optimistic and ambitious people. Recognising opportunity, Australian business-leader Andrew Forrest recently signed a deal to invest in hydropower in the DRC.
The Shepparton session of the Summit was uplifting and inspiring beyond even my optimistic expectations and action orientated.
By way of example, one of the participants sitting at the table was looking for support to deliver sanitary kits for women prisoners in Congo prisons: sitting across the table Dr Luc Mulimbalimba responded telling us a new container of supplies had arrived at his health centre in the DRC this week and the kits could be picked up this week for use in the prisons. How's that for solving a need in the Congo on the spot?!
The welcoming speech by Latrobe University’s Christina Tait was thrilling as she painted portraits of the Congolese and African students and administrators at the Shepparton campus including the engaging Hatoumata Sire Camara who stayed with us for the day! Real people rather than mere statistics.
The co-chairs were:
Rashidi and Luc shared the recent painful history of the DRC with millions of people killed and maimed in the Congo wars between 1996 and 2003. However, out of tragedy comes optimism and resilience and a determination to build something new. The needs of the DRC are well-matched with Australia with opportunities for growth in sectors like health, mining, agriculture and water-services. Luc shared his story of buying a few empty acres of land which now house one of the best medical facilities in the DRC and a school for over 1000 students.
The Mayor of Shepparton Kim O’Keefe honoured us with her presence accompanied by Councillor Geoff Dobson and the economic development team. Kim's speech was superb detailing the economic strengths of the region with global business networks and an opportunity-orientated community.
Among the enthralling speeches was one by Austrade's Dean Freeman. Dean's was a practical yet passionate and enthralling speech highlighting examples of global success by African migrants and refugees now resident in Australia and the global opportunities for the Shepparton region. It's obvious that Dean and his team are there to help all Australians make their way into global trade and investment and are open to expanding the Congo and Australia trade relationship. To be frank, it was the best speech I have ever heard delivered by an Austrade official.
A man with a big heart, Dean wrote afterwards, "Victor it was a honour to present at the Summit. The hardship endured, the passion for their homeland and the love for Australia was so obviously demonstrated by the Congolese delegates. Inspirational to say the least! I will be proud to assist in any way that I can both professionally and personally. A visit to the Congo is now on my bucket list. Australia and its innovative people can change lives, improve education, agriculture and employment in the DRC. I’m looking forward to working with you to achieve this. Thank you all for the opportunity to assist."
Adelaide-based Jenny Weaver, the very active Chair of the Birthing Kits Foundation shared with us the inspiring story of delivering almost 200,000 Birthing Kits and training for traditional midwives to support the health of women and their babies in the Congo. Jenny has spent time in the Congo fully understanding the needs of the community. Jenny was full of praise for the work or Luc and his team in the DRC.
Joshua Freeman, Community Director at G.V. Health, talked about the hospital and health service growth and the growth in Congo-born people accessing the services and joining the workforce. Interesting issues arise as many new migrants don't know that the services are free to patients as part of the state and federal provided health services.
George Kabengele, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Australian Chamber of Commerce, joined us and expressed his gratitude for the organisers of the Summit and committed his team to the ongoing conversations. Speaking afterwards, Mr Kabengele said, "It was a pleasure to be part of the DRC-Australia Summit in Shepparton. Congratulation to the organisers of the Summit. It was very inspiring and
insightful event, and it was also interesting to see what my fellow Congolese are doing back home in Congo. The conversations and stories of realistic optimism, hope and action confirm the important role that the Congolese Diaspora in Australia can play in the economic and social development of our country of origin."
Jodie Fleming from the Committee for Greater Shepparton was deeply engaged in the proceedings and painted a wonderful picture of Shepparton and its state and federal role and demonstrated the extent to which Shepparton is deeply engaged in the world both through commerce and the incredible diversity of its population.
Dr Apollo Nsubuga-Kyobe, Chair Future Voices and Vice-Chair of the African Think Tank Inc. shared his experience as a Ugandan-born Australian with decades of experience in teaching business and leadership in NGOs. He emphasised the need to engage youth as they tend to be quite entrepreneurial and optimistic.
Jennifer Hippisley, founding Director of Future Voices and a leading innovator in education and training shared her very positive view of human capital in the region and the talented young leaders drawn from Australian-born teenagers of African parentage and African-born migrants and refugees.
Speaking afterwards, Jennifer said, "Thank you so much for your continued support of Rashidi and the Congolese in Shepparton, Victor. Your facilitation of the discussion at the roundtable was fantastic and very cleverly managed!!! What a fabulous summit giving us the opportunity to meet like-minded passionate and optimistic individuals who aim to improve the lives of people both in the DRC and in Australia.
Christian Santiana, Services Australia's very experienced and French-speaking Multicultural Service Officer, shared his very positive experience working with the Congolese and African community living in the Shepparton region. Speaking afterwards, Christian said, "It was a pleasure to attend the Summit and be part of such an inspiring and positive group. It does show that anything is possible when men and women of good will get together to make this world a better place."
Concluding the first Summit roundtable, Rashidi Sumaili said, “As chair of DRC Australia Summit, I would like to express our profound thanks to all people involved in this summit. The DR Congo - Australia Summit has encouraged and motivated us to further focus on Australia’s values. The conversation was highly inspirational and professional, which we all enjoyed very much.
“The discussions highlighted and enhanced further opportunities for better utilising the passion of the Congolese-Australian community and our friends and supporters, strengthening institutional, cultural, and business exchanges and networks between DR Congo and Australia.
“We valued and appreciated the time spent together that boosted our understandings of the obligations of our Australia- DR Congo relationship. Your presence in Shepparton provided great leadership information and some model to follow.
“The Democratic Republic of Congo is a key global region for mining, agriculture, and new industries. The friendship between our respective regions would lead to increased trade relations and cooperation in industry developments.
“I see such friendship as the underpinning for business and government to establish more bilateral relationships and programs. I believe that our regions can benefit from such bilateral programs in that we could foster diplomatic as well as industry and community development partnerships.”
With the travel limitations of COVID, the Summit adapted to the conditions and includes:
The Summit hopes to:
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has Africa's fourth largest population and is the second biggest country in terms of area.
Established as a Belgian colony in 1908, it gained independence in 1960 after a civil war. President Mobutu renamed the country Zaire, then President Laurent Kabila (1997-2001) renamed it the DRC.
French is the official language, but Lingala is the most widely spoken language.
In 2010, the United Nations (UN) Security Council established the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC. The Mission was authorised to use all necessary means to protect civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders and to support the DRC Government in its peace consolidation efforts.
The DRC has some of the largest mineral reserves in sub-Saharan Africa.