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Congo’s Sofibanque weighs equity partners as it eyes regional growth

DEMOCRATIC Republic of Congo’s fourth-largest lender, Sofibanque SA, is considering bringing in strategic equity partners including other banks as it looks to expand in new markets in the sub-region, its managing director said.

The family-held Sofibanque, which has grown its asset base to about $1.2 billion over the past decade, could consider selling an equity stake to help finance its plans to expand into markets including Guinea, and the neighbouring Republic of Congo and Zambia, Henry Wazne, told Reuters.

Sofibanque could consider a strategic investor or partner with other banks that have a similar growth ambition and vision, Wazne said. He declined to say if Sofibanque was engaged in any active discussions with the potential investors or partners.

“There are ongoing discussions that we are having with various potential investors, with other banks. The difficulty is to find someone with a similar DNA,” Wazne said in an interview on the sidelines of the African Mining Indaba in South Africa.

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Congo, where Sofibanque was founded about 11 years ago, is the world’s top supplier of cobalt and Africa’s top copper producer. The mining sector accounts for about 30% of the bank’s total loan portfolio.

Sofibanque wants to exploit Congo’s large, untapped market, as well as potential growth that exists beyond the central African country’s borders, Wazne said.

“Our strategy is to do both, we don’t believe in over-sizing ourselves in one market,” Wazne said.

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Still, despite the lure of Congo’s huge copper and cobalt reserves, the cost of securing financing is often complicated by some investors’ perceptions that the nation is still risky, Wazne said.

This places limitations on local banks’ ability to raise financing internationally to participate in big mining projects.

The government has been grappling with insecurity in the eastern Congo, where armed groups have been fighting for years over territory and resources.

Rawbank, Congo’s largest lender, said on February 5 it raised $200 million on the international market to help finance the Phase 3 expansion project at Ivanhoe Mines’ (IVN.TO), Kamoa-Kakula copper mines. Rawbank lent about $800 million to Congo’s mining sector last year.

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By FELIX NJINI

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