(Repeats Wednesday item)
* Economy heavily dependent on mining sector
* Cell phone subscribers treble between 2009-14
* Centre is rare employment opportunity for young Congolese
* African call centres have mixed track record
By Aaron Ross
KINSHASA, Sept 7 In a renovated warehouse in
Kinshasa, dozens of young Congolese wearing headsets sit in rows
of identical orange cubicles, fielding phone calls in six
Congo's first call centre gives a glimpse of how the central
African country could follow a path already taken by the
Philippines and India, which have long hosted low-cost offshore
operations for U.S. and British companies.
Serving companies, aid agencies and even churches, the Congo
Call Center (CCC) handles queries from 8,500 people each day on
everything from problems with phone bills to spiritual anxiety
and domestic abuse or sexual violence.
CCC isn't new - it was founded by two Congolese women with
European telecoms experience in 2005 - and so far it has had
only a handful of overseas clients, usually on short-term
Nevertheless, its business is growing fast and Democratic
Republic of Congo - which remains far poorer and less developed
than the Asian countries it wants to emulate - needs a services
sector to cushion itself against a slump in the mining and oil
revenues that usually account for 95 percent of export earnings.
As a Francophone former Belgian colony in the same time zone
as Western Europe, Congo could be well-placed to become a
telecoms hub, including for tele-services in French and other
"In terms of language, we manage well," co-founder Huguette
Samu said at CCC's new headquarters, its walls plastered with
inspirational quotes by Winston Churchill, Rosa Parks and Nelson
"Whether it's in English or French, clients don't really
notice the accent over the phone," she told Reuters. "Europeans
find that Congolese have a quite acceptable accent."
The company also works in Congo's four national languages -
Lingala, Swahili, Tshiluba and Kikongo - and employs 350 agents,
almost all in their 20s and 30s. It hopes to expand to as many
as 600 within three years.
But alongside the commodity slump, which led to a 22 percent
cut in this year's budget, political uncertainty has further
deterred investors in Congo as President Joseph Kabila looks
likely to defy opposition demands that he step down at the end
of his term in December.
Against this gloomy backdrop, an expanding telecoms sector,
- fuelled by a young population and annual economic growth of
around 8 percent in recent years - offers hope.
Overall, the services sector's contribution to GDP growth
increased from 28 percent in 2014 to over 40 percent last year.
In April, French telecoms giant Orange paid $160
million for Millicom's Congo subsidiary Tigo DRC,
noting that Congo is the largest mobile phone market in west and
central Africa after Nigeria.
Long-term, CCC's managing director Faly Tamuna Lukwaka is
optimistic. "The Congolese market has 70-80 million people," he
said. "We're pioneers but we think it's a sector that is
CCC has ridden Congo's infant tech wave, with revenues
jumping from $400,000 in 2009, when it landed its first major
corporate client, to $2.7 million last year. Foreign clients
have included Altai Consulting in France and Access Bank Ghana
The average monthly salary for an agent is $300 - not a lot
but an attractive proposition to most young Congolese. According
to 2012 African Development Bank research, of 9,000 graduates
from Congolese universities each year, fewer than 100 find work
in the formal sector.
Most growth is from the domestic market, spurred by a
tripling of mobile phone users since 2009 to 53.5 percent of the
population in 2014, according to the World Bank.
Domestic clients include two of the largest telecom
providers, banks, the local operations of U.N. agencies such as
the World Food Programme, churches and a government hotline for
However, CCC is a rare success story. While some big
Congolese firms have their own call centres, no one else has set
up a stand-alone operation.
CCC executives say this is partly a lack of familiarity with
the concept but it also points to broader weaknesses in Congo's
business climate and previous government failures to diversify
away from resources.
Congo ranks 184 out of 189 countries on a World Bank index
that measures the ease of doing business. It has a byzantine tax
regime, high domestic borrowing costs and a decrepit power grid
that makes private generators a costly necessity.
More broadly, African countries have struggled to live up to
hype casting them as "the next India".
KenCall, Kenya's leading outsourcing company, has suffered
repeated losses since it was created in 2005 despite a
well-educated, English-speaking labour force and efforts by the
government to sell the sector abroad.
South Africa and Mauritius have fared better, though South
Africa's call centres have had trouble attracting foreign
clients, according to research by Chris Benner of the UC Davis
Center for Poverty Research.
The Congo finance ministry wants increased investment in
agriculture, infrastructure and energy. "The recent crisis ...
recalls the necessity of working to diversify the economy in
order to reduce its dependence on the extractive sector," the
ministry said in a response to Reuters questions.
(Additional reporting by Neha D. Wadekar in Nairobi; editing by