Economy

Republic of the Congo: 2024 Economic Overview

A cursory overview of the economic landscape in the Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) in 2024.

Image credit: Shutterstock / Roger de la Harpe

The economy of the Republic of the Congo is almost exclusively commodity-based, particularly relying on the export of natural resources—a shortcoming that most observers agree must be addressed.

The Republic of the Congo is the third-largest oil producer in Sub-Saharan Africa, pumping around 250,000 barrels per day. This will fetch the nation’s economy some USD6 billion by the end of 2023, accounting for 60%-80% of the net exports.

As a full member of OPEC since 2018, the Republic of the Congo has been set the target of over 275,000 barrels per day for the year 2024, which will marginally improve the nation’s foreign exchange earnings.

But will that be enough to offset the country’s economic challenges? The answer is likely “no!”

Indeed, the temporary magic of petroleum has already worn off.

Image credit: Shutterstock / Issa Kashala

The Republic of the Congo became a middle-income country by global standards in 2005, according to the World Bank, which was largely thanks to crude oil exports.

However, by 2014 and the end of the golden age of hydrocarbons, the nation was downgraded to the lower income category.

To compensate for this, the Republic of the Congo has few readily available alternatives. Equatorial agricultural exports are one such source of revenue. Timber and rough wood exports have been generating USD250 million for the Congolese economy per year.

There is much room for development in the agriculture sector, as over a third of the country’s workforce are subsistence farmers whose productivity will dramatically increase with the adoption of modern agricultural practices.

Given the country’s fertile soil, tropical cash crops such as coffee, cocoa beans, and palm oil could easily double the sector’s export, adding another USD250 million in the short term.

A quarter of a billion dollars may not sound like much for a nation’s economy, but in recent years, the Republic of the Congo has turned to yet another natural capital whose export is fetching over ten times that amount: copper.

Image credit: Shutterstock / Issa Kashala

In 2021 alone, the Republic of the Congo exported almost USD3.2 billion worth of refined copper, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC).

Diamonds and precious metals are yet another natural capital in high demand, though no reliable statistics are available on the market.

Since the mid-2010s and the decline of oil revenues, the Republic of the Congo has been on the lookout for foreign investment, hoping that an inflow of foreign capital can help reshape the Congolese economy.

Nevertheless, “investors report that the commercial environment in ROC has not improved substantially in recent years,” according to a 2023 statement on the country’s investment climate by the US Department of State.

On the plus side, however, the same statement notes that “ROC has made significant investments in recent years in its infrastructure,” referring to the expansion of roads and improvements in internet access.

Also adding to the positive momentum was the economy’s return to the growth phase in 2022 for the first time since the mid-2010s.

In the long run, however, the Republic of the Congo’s economic future is dependent on the country’s ability to implement reforms while maintaining and improving political stability.

Meanwhile, improving metrics such as the ease of doing business, economic freedom, and transparency will be hugely beneficial.

A degree of caution is required in all aspects of these endeavors. A country such as the Republic of the Congo, whose economy relies on hydrocarbons, forestry exports, and similar industries dependent on natural resources, must remain highly aware of sustainability.

The country has already felt certain minor impacts of climate change, such as increases in average temperature, according to the UN-affiliated ReliefWeb, and if appropriate measures are not taken, the country may have to pay a heavier price in the coming years.

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