By Hunter McGill – Head of Review and Evaluation (Peer Reviews), OECD/DAC
As part of the preparation for DAC Peer Reviews, teams of member country examiners and DAC Secretariat staff travel to developing countries to see first hand the challenges of development cooperation.
A few weeks ago I went to a country that is per capita one of the poorest in Africa. At a local market in a slum area a man with a small table waited to sell eight handfuls of charcoal, each stacked in a neat little pile. This said as much about the purchasing power of his clients as it did about his own poverty. What kind of a life is it when you can afford to buy only a handful of charcoal?
It’s hard to reconcile this scene with the knowledge that the Democratic Republic of Congo is a country rich in natural resources like diamonds, gold, timber and ample fertile land. But for than a decade, it has been wracked by war and the decay of the key institutions after the overthrow of the dictatorial president, Mobutu.
The country is at a very critical moment in terms of its transition from conflict to stability. The present government has an interim status and little if any political legitimacy. National elections are due on June 30, but with scope for two six month extensions which are likely to be taken. That means elections are probably more likely next year.
These elections will be a huge undertaking. MONUC, the integrated mission of the United Nations, including development people from UNDP and UN peacekeepers, is doing its best to raise the funding necessary for the elections and has about half of what is required, including for security. It needs more.
Meanwhile, in the North-East of the country (Ituri and to a lesser extent the Kivus) MONUC is taking a more hands-on approach in an attempt to contain the rebels (the Interahamwe who are fighters from Rwanda) and the bandits to reduce the violence which has led to the death of as many as three million people in the last ten years.
MONUC’s forces have recently been increased by several thousand more soldiers, mostly from Pakistan, giving it a somewhat better capacity to operate in a huge area. In total, MONUC, including its development activities is costing the UN about USD 1 billion – 1.2 billion per year.
Donor countries doing development are in a difficult position. While development best practice advice (much of it coming out of the OECD DAC) tells them to align with partner country’s own poverty reduction strategies, that’s a problem if a partner country (like Congo) doesn’t yet have a poverty reduction strategy (PRS).
In these circumstances, coordination amongst different donors becomes even more important than it does in stable developing countries. This avoids duplications and also aligns development work wherever possible with functioning local systems.
In local organisations for example, in government and civil society, we found dedicated and skilled Congolese people committed to poverty reduction – but not enough of them to deal with the demands of multiple donors. Coordination amongst donors helps considerably in reducing the burden on these local players.
Local staff like this are doing their best with little or no political guidance from their leaders. Their salaries are low, on average about the equivalent of USD 30 per month. Donors could perhaps coordinate efforts to deal with the urgent problem of salaries. It would be a great loss if these dedicated Congolese could no longer continue their work.
The situation for local people is not all bleak. We travelled to a market garden on the outskirts of Kinshasa. Terrace gardens are teeming with vegetables and fruit, and produce is sold in the city. These market gardeners have a monthly income of about USD 50 dollars or more. This is a considerable amount compared to the man selling handfuls of charcoal. Market gardens like these have been set up with catalytic donor capital and business advice. It was great to see an entrepreneurial spirit flourishing in a country under considerable stress.
We came away from this visit sharing the hope of our Belgian hosts that upcoming elections will deliver a government committed to poverty reduction in what is a stunning and naturally rich country. In the end, this will be the key to long term development success.