Our story begins in Kolwezi on 2 February 1922.
The Entreprise Générale Malta Forrest (EGMF) is the main thread of this long story of over 97 years. In 1922, Malta Forrest, the father of George A. Forrest, founded this company which was destined to become a benchmark in central Africa. Of New Zealand origin, after a solo journey which led him from his native country to Kolwezi at the age of 16, he first went into the transport business. Little by little, noticed by the Mining Union of Haut-Katanga (UMHK), EGMF was entrusted with mining activities as a subcontractor in the Kolwezi concessions. At the same time, the Company began to develop in the public works and civil engineering fields. Between 1922 and 1950, EGMF became a prosperous, recognised and respected company within the Congolese economic fabric.
Malta Forrest forged excellent relations with the Belgian, Italian, Lebanese and Greek communities, present in large numbers in Katanga at that time as well as with the Congolese themselves. This proximity and this respect for the Congolese population led him, with the support of his wife, Rachel Forrest, to develop various projects in favour of his employees, their families and the local population as a whole. This commitment is the second main thread in the story of Groupe Forrest International. It is found today through the Rachel Forrest Foundation [LINK], which manages and coordinates projects in favour of the local populations in a variety of areas such as education, health, infrastructure, sport, culture and farming.
In 1974, following the death of their father, George A. Forrest and his brother, Victor, took over at the head of the company. Together, in the areas of construction and public works, they confirmed the trust placed in the company by the various private and public backers. From 1950 to 1986, EGMF built hundreds of kilometres of roads, road infrastructure, buildings and aerodromes.
In 1986, on the death of his brother, Victor, George A. Forrest took over management of the company alone. Apart from new construction projects, George A. Forrest decided to diversify the company’s activities. He thus redirected his company into the mining sector. George A. Forrest was the first private investor to suggest to the Zairian authorities and to Gécamines that it should restart mining activity, at that time in a state of virtual bankruptcy, under a new form. Instead of the public monopoly, George A. Forrest presented the alternative of mixed partnerships, enabling Gécamines to benefit from private capital.
As well as diversifying the company in the mining sector, a second was added in the cement field. In 1992, George A. Forrest became a shareholder of the CIZA. Annual production of cement was at that time 80,000 tonnes per year. In a few years of sound management of the CIZA, that became Cimenterie de Lukala (CILU) in 1997, production rose to nearly 430,000 tonnes of cement per year and the price of the bag of cement on leaving the plant was greatly reduced. Little by little, the CILU increased its share of the Congolese cement market, accounting for more than 70% of annual national production. In 2010, the Heidelbergcement group (the 3rd largest cement group worldwide) bought 55% of the shares of the CILU and thus became the majority shareholder. In June 2015, Groupe Forrest International transferred its remaining shares to the German group and thus left the CILU’s management.
At the end of the 1990s, at a time when the country was being devastated by war, it was difficult to find foreign investors willing to invest in the country. There were in fact very few. Groupe International Forrest took the decision to remain in the country and continue to invest as it had always done. This was due to several factors among which, primarily, the attachment the Forrest family has to the Congo. Because, like Malta Forrest who never returned to New Zealand, over the decades and births, the family Forrest has become established in Katanga and still lives there today.
Lubumbashi slag heap
In 1997, a $165 million project was launched by Groupe Forrest International in partnership with the Gécamines and the American company OMG: the Société pour le Traitement du Terril de Lubumbashi (company for processing the Lubumbashi slagheap (STL). The project involves using a pyro-metallurgical process to treat a third of the volume of the Lubumbashi slag heap. Thanks to state-of-the-art technology, STL treats this slag and produces an alloy containing cobalt and copper. Its annual production capacity is around 5,000 tonnes of cobalt and 3,000 tonnes of copper per year. In 2018, Groupe Forrest International and Gécamines concluded a non-judicial agreement which provides for the transfer of ownership of the plant to Gécamines and payment, by it, of compensation to GTL (Groupement du Terril de Lubumbashi (grouping of the Lubumbashi slag heap), of which the Group is now the sole shareholder.
Diversification of activities
Rather than simply consolidating its traditional activities, the Group is pursuing a diversification strategy, both sectoral and geographical. In the aviation field, Groupe Forrest International, in partnership with Brussels Airlines, launched a regional aviation company, Korongo, based in Lubumbashi. The latter operates in Africa, although complies with the safety criteria which apply in the European Union and issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In 2015, Korongo stopped its activities.
In the health field, the Group is the sole shareholder of the CMC (Community Medical Centre), a high-quality hospital, based in Lubumbashi, which owns and manages health clinics in Kolwezi, Kalemie and Likasi. From 2016 to 2019, the CMC has benefited from a major development plan supported by Groupe Forrest, the Belgian Investment Company for Developing Countries (BIO) and the Bank of Africa. The objective has been to create a maternity unit, a neonatal department, a hospitalisation unit with forty-two beds, an emergency centre and develop the existing services: radiology, imaging and cardiology. Today, the CMC is a centre of reference, where medicine is practised according to international standards.
In the agri-food field, the Group has bought, with the Belgian investor Aldo Vastapane, the large cattle farms of Katongola (Grelka). Grelka now has nearly 35,000 head of cattle located on two ranches, covering a total area of 450,000 hectares.
Malta D. Forrest takes over management of the Group
In 2011, George A. Forrest entrusted the management of the Group to his eldest son, Malta David Forrest. A graduate of the École Polytechnique of the Free University of Brussels, he is continuing and strengthening the Group’s diversification policy, in the electricity field, in particular.
In 2017, the Group, through its company, Congo Energy, built at Manono the largest 100% off-grid solar power plant of the region. The project also includes the laying of underground MV grids, distribution cabins, LV grids, public lighting and connections. Again via Congo Energy, Groupe Forrest International is taking part in the FRIPT project which includes the renovation of infrastructure of the Nzilo and Inga 2 dams and a strengthening of the direct and alternating current transmission between Inga and Kolwezi. The development of infrastructure in the energy and electricity field is a priority of the Group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Projects in these fields should come about in the future.
The Group has also developed activities outside of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is the case in Kenya where the Group has acquired unique expertise in the field of laying fibre optic cables and in the sustainable energy sector. Groupe Forrest International has participated, as a subcontractor, in the construction of wind farms, in particular the largest in Africa: the Turkana wind farm in Kenya.
A family identity
As it has always been, the family identity of Groupe Forrest International is a guarantee of its stability. Today, all of George A. Forrest’s children work within the Group or in companies held privately by the family. Malta David has been Executive Vice-President and CEO of the Group since 2011, George Andrew is Executive Director in charge of cash flow, Mike Igor is COO of the Group’s Industry Cluster. In particular, he manages the production of the mechanical, metal, electrical and foundry workshops. With regard to Rowena Forrest, the youngest, she is responsible for the design and communications of the Cristallerie du Val Saint Lambert glassworks, a Belgian company recently acquired privately by George A. Forrest.