I must have been 20 years old when John F. Kennedy made this statement. This was just a few years before I joined the family company created by my father forty years earlier in 1922. Originally from New Zealand and still a minor, he arrived in South Africa alone at the beginning of the 1920s. He then went to the Belgian Congo, about which he knew very little, apart from the unprecedented economic growth that the Belgian colony was experiencing at the time. On the 22nd February 1922, he created a transportation company in Kolwezi, Entreprise Générale Malta Forrest. Over the years, the company repositioned itself in the fields of construction and mining. Patiently, through the opportunities that presented themselves to him and those he created himself, my father built a jewel that he bequeathed to his children in 1973. Well, who could have imagined that by the dawning of the year 2000, his little company Entreprise Générale Malta Forrest, would have become the leading private employer and investor in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
In 1986, I took over the company alone, after having managed it for about fifteen years with my brother Victor. At that point, Entreprise Générale Malta Forrest was a construction company, equally well reputed and respected among the Zairian authorities of the time as by a range of private customers and international institutions. I was convinced, as I still am today, that the durability of the company depended on the diversification of its activities. Even more so, considering that the start of the 1990s in Zaire, particularly marked by instability and looting, did not predict anything at all reassuring for the decade to come. However, leaving the country, as so many other companies were doing at the time was unthinkable to me. I was at home. Abandoning this land in which I was born and grew up, the country of adoption of my father, who would never return to New Zealand, seemed unacceptable to me. However, I was not prepared to endure and eventually disappear.
So, I invested. In purchasing cement works, including the Cimenterie de Lukula and the Interlacs plants, then in survival mode. Similarly in Belgium, I acquired New Lachaussée, a company producing equipment of a pyrotechnic nature and Baron Lévèque. At the time, the latter company, which was renowned for establishing factories, particularly in the Congo, was renamed New Baron & Lévèque International Afrique, henceforth based in the Congo. I also had the idea of suggesting that the Zairian government open up the uniquely public mining exploitation to private capital, because it was in a state of virtual bankruptcy. The legal and financial structures that we established by forming an association between the public company Gécamines and private investors have now become the norm in the Congolese mining sector. They have enabled it to gradually attract foreign capital, to which we owe the mining and consequently economic revival of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
To a certain extent, by swimming against the current, I simply grasped and created opportunities. Ten years later, the Groupe Forrest International had in fact become the leading private employer and investor in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the top tax contributor to the State budget and a Congolese Group in which almost 98% of the employees are Congolese, from the labourers to the highest executives. My Group belongs to them equally. Whatever events sweep through the Congo, from the most dramatic to the most joyful, we have never stopped working. Creating. Investing. Working with flawless determination, with the security of being at home and the duty to progress and to construct, under all circumstances.
My mother Rachel has also been a decisive source of inspiration, both for my father and myself. Each company within the Group bears the mark. She could not imagine, probably due to a matter of harmony, that a company could develop without contributing, and saying this with all humility, to the welfare of the local neighbouring populations. Today, thirty years after her disappearance, the Rachel Forrest Foundation is the clearest emulator of this. It develops and supports projects in a range of fields, including education, heath, infrastructure, food processing, culture and even sport. By way of example, more than 5,000 Congolese pupils per year benefit from free top quality education, thanks to the Foundation’s unfailing support. It assists universities and schools, awards scholarships and finances the construction of libraries, cyber-cafes and even classrooms. I consider it as a mission, the pledge to our common, harmonious future.
In the area of health, one of our foundations, Fondation Rachel Forrest supports hospitals, health centres and even dispensaries. GROUPE FORREST INTERNATIONAL also owns the Medical Centre for the Community, established at Lubumbashi and Kolwezi. The Centre has a clinic, the most highly reputed in the Katanga Province, as well as dispensaries and free clinics.
I conceive each industrial success as the opportunity to develop further ones. Thus, our success throughout the 1990s has enabled us to strengthen the existing activities and to continue diversifying our sectors of activity.
Since the second half of the 1990s, the Cimenterie de Lukala has become the leading cement producer in the Congo.
After several decades of absence, the Entreprise Générale Malta Forrest was re-established at Kolwezi. Today, the company exploits the KOV open pit mine through subcontracting. In the mining sector, we have initiated and contributed to the rehabilitation and revival of first-class assets, notably the underground mine at Kamoto and even the one at Kinsenda. We have been exploiting the Luiswishi mine for 15 years, making it one of the main cobalt producers in the world, throughout the 2000-decade.
The company has also opened a subsidiary at Kinshasa, where it has conducted construction work, following the example of what is done at Lubumbashi. Finally, in Kenya, it is renowned for vast wind power construction projects and laying fibre optic cables.
Société pour le Traitement du Terril at Lubumbashi is equipped with the second largest furnace in the world for its type of metallurgy. Using the unique technology that we have perfected with our partners, the Société pour le Traitement du Terril de Lubumbashi alone is responsible for a fifteenth of the world cobalt production. Through the treatment of slag at Lubumbashi, to be specific, the waste from a previous metallurgic exploitation, and through the treatment of its own waste, such as the gases from its furnace, this company is not only an economic pillar of the Republic, but it is also a clean company.
In spite of being strictly modest, I admit I am proud of this. Not as a result of these successes, but because of the capacity of the whole of the Group's employees to believe and keep alive a clearly steadfast faith in the future, despite the instability and war. If I have contributed to this, as captain of the Forrest ship, then yes, I am proud of it.
So, we have continued to invest, recycle our successes in concrete projects, throughout the first decade of this millennium. For example, the Grands Élevages de Katongola, founded in 1930, has 35,000 heads of cattle in two ranches on a total surface area of about 450,000 hectares. I purchased it in 2006 with my Belgian friend, Aldo Vastapane. For the continuity of the company, we would like the livestock to reach 40,000 animals. The Company is however already independent today.
It falls within an emerging sector in the Group, that of food production. I already own the company Agrifood, which produces corn flour, a basic food in Katanga. Corn flour is traditionally given to the workers as a wage bonus. I have continued this tradition, inherited from the Belgians, then from the public Congolese companies, nowadays indispensable in the Katangese industry.
On a private level, my family and I have purchased shares in the hundred-year-old Banque Commerciale du Congo, one of the oldest institutions of the country, in which we are now the majority shareholder. For forty years, it was the country’s central bank and issuing institution. Today, the Banque Commerciale du Congo is the country's leading commercial bank and by far the most renowned Congolese bank overseas.
The diversification of Groupe Forrest International’s activities continues. We are now investing in the food processing and energy fields. The Entreprise Générale Malta Forrest is particularly involved in the FRIPT project. Being financed by Katanga mining companies, this project consists in rehabilitating the infrastructures of the Société Nationale d’Electricité, particularly the high voltage line between Inga and Kolwezi, one of the longest in the world.
Under my impetus, a second foundation was constituted, the George Arthur Forrest Foundation. Through specific actions, one of its main objectives is to participate in reinforcing the legal and judicial security of private investments in Africa. Parallel to this, it promotes the transparency and ethics of these same private investments on the continent. Indirectly, I think that it can contribute to giving a new boost to relations between Africa and Europe, particularly of an economic nature. I am highly convinced of the mutual benefits of this.
In another vein, nevertheless important, my wife Lydia and I are restoring and maintaining the Lubumbashi Zoo. It was the first African zoo. Our objective, through the intervention of the Association des Amis du Zoo de Lubumbashi, is to provide the population with an educational centre, increasing the citizens' awareness of the fauna and flora of our country. This will enable the Democratic Republic of Congo to discover the splendour of its environment and its exceptional nature, in order to develop tourism, a more than promising economic asset.
Finally, I am not aware of any harmonious development that is not accompanied by cultural and artistic enrichment. In this sense, art and industry are completely inseparable. Similar to the effect of an outstanding industrial tissue, I am convinced of the significance of art in the human development of a people. This is notably the reason why my wife Lydia and I created the NPO Dialogues and the Contemporary Art Gallery within the Lubumbashi National Museum. The NPO supports Congolese artists, enabling them to express themselves, to exhibit their work and to live. Some are gradually earning international recognition, which they richly deserve. This is the least I would wish for them, because through the re-appropriation of codes and societal themes, they offer their fellow citizens a space for reflection and consequently for progress, which is essential in society.
I believe in the values of work, creativity, selflessness, a sense of initiative, humanism and respect. I hope that this is reflected in the Groupe Forrest International, a work to which I contribute on a daily basis.
« Together, we build the future. »
George Arthur Forrest