Can the Democratic Republic of Congo prioritize a pathway to sustainable development?

Can the Democratic Republic of Congo prioritize a pathway to sustainable development?

In the first of two blogs on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), SmartEarth Managing Director, Noel Casserly, writes about the challenges and opportunities for DRC in prioritizing a pathway to sustainable development as it emerges from many years of political and economic instability.

The Democratic Republic of Congo remains a fragile state that is slowly recovering from more than three decades of political and economic instability. A huge challenge for the DRC is to rebuild the trust in its government institutions and implement good governance. This will be fundamental to unlocking its undoubted potential. A strong and vibrant civil society must also be fostered and encouraged to play a meaningful role.

The second and accompanying blog to this will look at role of civil society and in particular the recently established International Missionary Council for Education and Safeguarding the Environment (COMMIESE) as an example non-governmental organization that can play an important role as part of a strengthened and renewed civil society. SmartEarth is working with COMIESE to expand its programmes for education for sustainable development in the DRC as well as to build appropriate international partnerships.

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A recently published USAID, Country Development Cooperation Strategy 2015 – 2019 for the DRC noted that the DRC, strategically located at the crossroads of the African continent and sharing borders with nine countries, has the potential to be a leader in the African economic renaissance because of its size, potential, and geo-political importance.

  • It is the second largest country in Africa in terms of area and the fourth largest in terms of population.
  • It has unparalleled natural resource wealth, including cobalt, copper, gold, tantalum, tin, diamonds, and petroleum. Fifty percent of the world’s cobalt production is controlled by the DRC.
  • It has abundant water resources, sufficient for consumption, agriculture, and environmental protection, but also enough to power all of Africa.
  • It has the second highest agriculture potential on the continent, over 60 percent of the second largest forest basin and carbon stocks in the world, and substantial fish and livestock resources.

Yet, despite all its extraordinary wealth of natural resources, the DRC’s development progress continues to be elusive.  It remains at the bottom of International Food Policy Research Institute’s Worldwide Hunger Index making it the hungriest country in the world, with only 10 percent of its agriculture potential exploited.

  • The country is among the poorest countries in the world and was ranked 176 out of 187 countries on the Human Development in 2015, and its per capita income, which stood at $380 in 2014, is among the lowest in the world.
  • Over 85 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty and 80 percent of households report an inability to meet basic needs. Though population estimates vary, this means that approximately 50 million Congolese people live in extreme poverty, a figure that will only grow exponentially as population growth quickens over the coming decades.
  • DRC is also one of the world’s top five contributors to child mortality and out-of-school children, hampering worldwide success on achieving key Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
  • Women are disproportionately affected, earning only about half that of men, a much lower figure than in other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Despite having large carbon stocks, the DRC is the 8th most vulnerable country in the world to climate change and the 13th least ready to respond to climate impacts.
  • DRC hosts the world’s second largest tropical forest landscape, with 133 million hectares but has a high rate of deforestation – within the top ten in the world. Most of this loss of forest cover is due to family/small-scale farming for energy needs.

The legacy of very weak governance has been at the root of the problem but, as USAID has noted,  there are hopeful signs that the DRC is at a turning point.  A generational change is underway, and there are a growing number of Congolese leaders across the country who are focused on increased government transparency, institutional reform, and improved service provision.  Key ministries such as health and education, among others, are demonstrating leadership not seen for a long time within the government.  For example:

  • DRC has made strides in improving macroeconomic management, resulting in annual GDP growth rates of over six percent, a decline in inflation rates, an increase in foreign exchange reserves.
  • The Ministry of Education has adopted and begun implementation of critical policy reforms to increase student access and improve teacher performance, efforts for which the Ministry received significant budget increases.
  • The Ministry of Gender is working with the Women’s Caucus in Parliament to foster the adoption of engendered laws and codes and thus advance a gender equality agenda.

The rebuilding of trust in government institutions and good governance is fundamental to unlocking the DRC’s undoubted potential.  In 2015, the government pressed ahead with a decentralisation process, including the division of eleven provinces into 26 as provided for in the 2006 constitution and this process will require fine-tuning over time. The International Crisis Group has noted that 2016 is a crucial year for the DRC democratisation process launched a decade ago with scheduled presidential and legislative elections. The democratic reforms and strengthening and renewal of governance institutions must continue beyond electoral the electoral cycle.

In the second and related blog I will look at how a strong and vibrant civil society must also be fostered and encouraged to play a meaningful role.


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Noel Casserly

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