the-impact-of-diamond-mining-in-the-democratic-republic-of-congoIn the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) many adults and children work in the diamond mines. Children as young as 6 are forced to give up their education and work for long hours in the mines. Diamond mining in the DRC has caused harsh living conditions and poverty for its citizens.

Process of Diamond Mining in the DRC

Miners work in artisanal mines and small-scale mines where the use of machinery is rare and in most cases nonexistent. Miners have to dig through layers of dirt, rock and gravel up to 50 feet deep to find the location of the diamonds. They then have to wash and sift through it to find any remnants of diamonds.

The miners’ bosses then take the diamonds and the Congolese people only receive a small portion back. In 2004, the DRC mined a total of $1 billion in worth, its treasury department only saw $40 million of it.

Impact on People

Because of the harsh conditions of diamond mining and the little pay it provides to the workers, much of the Democratic Republic of Congo is in poverty. According to UNICEF, the DRC contains over 50% of Africa’s water reserves, but 33 million people in rural areas do not have access to potable water.

In the village of Tshikapa, the cost of food is very high because people turn to diamond mining over agricultural farming, leaving the fields with no workers, according to the Time. The roads are unpaved and many can’t even visit a doctor because the price is too high. Hundreds of those miners each year die in drowning or tragic accidents because of the workplace environment that has no safety regulations.

On June 9, 2022, a collapse in one of the artisanal mining wells occurred killing six people in total. Because they often dig these wells by hand and have no safety precautions, people often die mining diamonds. Additionally, last year, a toxic spill from a diamond mine in Angola killed 12 people in the DRC, because of the pollution of the River Congo.

Environmental effects are very common as pollution of water sources and exploitation of water occur because of the mines’ locations and the materials needed to run the mines.

Helping the Miners

While diamond mining in the DRC negatively affects many Congolese people, there are organizations taking steps to stop these blood diamonds. In 2003, Global Witness, an NGO dedicated to ensuring the relationship between natural resources and the environment globally, launched the Kimberly Process, a government-pioneered safety certificate.

Since its launch 75 diamond-producing countries have taken part in this process and are required to establish safe and conflict-free export and import systems. This is one of the first actions taken to stop blood diamonds worldwide.

Diamond mining in the DRC has affected the Congolese people for many years. Many can’t access the resources they need to survive because the mines infect the water sources, environment, and infrastructure of cities in the DRC. Even though many of the miners are suffering in poverty, there are steps in place that are working toward a safer and more sustainable process of mining diamonds in the DRC.

Janae O’Connell

Photo: Unsplash

how-the-rainforests-waste-is-used-to-produce-sustainable-energy-in-congoIn Congo’s easterly city of Bukavu, Bavon Mubake, a 62-year-old recent retiree, is helping to provide cheap, sustainable energy to the community while conserving Congo’s forests. By creating fuel pellets through reused waste, Mubake has set an example of how to produce sustainable energy in Congo.

Producing Sustainable Fuel Pellets

With plenty of energy and enthusiasm to spare, Mubake provided the spark to change his community for the better. The process begins with collecting waste such as leaves, maize stalks and cardboard. This mixture is soaked, dried and ground into a powder, which is then combined with sawdust to mold into energy-giving briquettes that communities can rely on for fuel.

“This work helps me to educate my children, to have food on the table and also to have enough to buy clothes and other things,” Mubake explains in an interview with Reuters.

Mubake’s work presents a lifeline for those in communities that have limited or no access to energy. According to Our World in Data, as of 2020, access to electricity sat at 19.1% across Congo. A lack of access to energy contributes to poverty in the nation. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in 2018, 73% of the population in Congo experienced extreme poverty.

Mubake and other retirees like him create the sustainable fuel pellets at Bukavu’s Rehabilitation Center for the Elderly. Three months into operation, the center produces an average number of 2,000 briquettes on a weekly basis. The sale of the briquettes produced by Mubake and the other retirees provides a source of income for the group.

Protecting Congo’s At-Risk Environment

The briquettes look to provide a sustainable alternative to the more traditional means of energy usage in Bukavu — locals cut down trees in the national park to use as charcoal. With the considerably low price of the sustainable briquettes made from waste standing at just $0.05, there is hope that efforts such as these, spearheaded by locals within the community, will help to reduce the dependency on Congo’s natural abundance of forest.

Dependence and depreciation of Congo’s natural forests are also fuelled by the abundance of high-value resources. According to World Wildlife Fund, “The Congo Basin is abundant in natural resources such as timber, diamonds and petroleum, but current methods and rates of extracting these resources are unsustainable and threaten the future of this vast wilderness area.”

Mubake’s innovation presents a solution to a much more significant problem that Congo faces, as the preservation and security of the Congo Basin are constantly under threat. On top of the ever-growing demand for natural resources across the Congo Basin, mass agricultural projects particularly in the region of South Kivu, home to Bukavu, present a genuine threat to wildlife due to deforestation.

According to data provided by Global Forest Watch, in a 20-year-period from 2001 to 2021, Congo lost “34% of its total tree cover loss.” Tree cover across the Congo Basin not only helps to deal with the absorption of harmful emissions but provides a home to countless unique and endangered animals such as the eastern lowland gorilla.

Ensuring protection for endangered species such as the eastern lowland gorilla is vital to annual tourism as thousands of tourists every year travel to Congo to experience one of the nation’s greatest spectacles. Not only do attractions such as the eastern lowland gorilla help to further Congo’s economy but they also help to provide employment for impoverished people within the community.

Through the efforts of Bukavu’s elderly, access to energy in Bukavu, while not universal as yet, is heading toward a promising goal. Hope remains that such actions will set a precedent for how communities can produce sustainable energy in Congo through initiative.

James Garwood
Photo: Flickr

Health Care in Congo
The Republic of Congo is one of the most resource-rich and “least densely populated” nations in Africa. Its economy is heavily dependent on oil exports so it is vulnerable to dropping oil prices and economic crises. This, combined with its history of civil conflict, has resulted in a high poverty rate of 52.5% in 2020. Further, in times of economic decline, a lack of government funding has plagued health care in Congo. In turn, that has led to high out-of-pocket costs for the majority of patients. It also has resulted in a lack of health care professionals and an uneven distribution of health care services. Finally, the financial strain of the health care system exacerbates the country’s burden of communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV. It has also contributed to the nation’s high rates of maternal and infant mortality.

Effects of Communicable Diseases

A major challenge that health care in Congo faces is the high rates of tuberculosis (TB), malaria and HIV. Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death in Congo and early diagnosis is a critical first step in ensuring successful treatment. To increase Congo’s TB testing capabilities, the World Health Organization (WHO) equipped the cities of Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire with GeneXpert diagnostic machines, which the Global Fund financed.

Delivered in December 2021, the GeneXpert machines have increased the TB testing rate eight-fold at the Antituberculosis Centre in Brazzaville. In the past, TB centers in Congo could only treat the most critical cases due to backlogs created by inefficient machines. By increasing the number of diagnoses, the GeneXpert machines have proven to be a cornerstone in expanding access to TB treatment.

The GeneXpert machines are part of the Global Fund’s two grants that total more than $64 million to strengthen prevention and treatment services for TB, malaria and HIV in Congo. Implemented by the UNDP and Catholic Relief Services, the goals of the grant are threefold:

  1. Successfully treat 90% of TB cases by 2023.
  2. Scale-up access to antiretroviral treatment for HIV-infected patients, with a special focus on pregnant women.
  3. Deliver 3.5 million mosquito nets across Congo by 2023 and increase access to malaria treatment and diagnostics.

Maternal and Infant Health Care Successes

In the past two decades, Congo has made significant strides in reducing maternal and infant mortality rates. The maternal mortality rate has fallen from 739 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 378 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. Similarly, the infant mortality rate has fallen from 106 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 63 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2020.

To continue on this trajectory of improving maternal and infant health, in June 2021 the World Bank approved $50 million for the Kobikisa Health System Strengthening Project. The project’s goal is to improve the quality and availability of maternal and child health care in Congo among the most impoverished households. With financing from the International Development Association, the Kobikisa initiative will provide free health services for pregnant women and their children in 36 districts across the country. Included in these services are treatments for diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis and the provision of vaccines. By delivering essential health care services free of cost, the Kobikisa initiative will help alleviate the financial burden of health care for millions of Congolese citizens.

Strengthening Congo’s Health Infrastructure

In addition to these targeted interventions, the Congolese central government has also begun to prioritize strengthening the infrastructure of health care in Congo. In 2018, the government increased its investment in health care from 5% of the annual budget in the previous year to 13%.

The main focus of the Congolese government’s investment is improving primary care services and revitalizing health districts. At a workshop in September 2021, executives in the Ministry of Health and Population received coaching and the tools needed to train and supervise various health care professionals “from 93 health areas of the 2020-2021 Operational Strategy.” The training of health care actors at the community level will not only improve the quality of primary care patients receive but will also expand the availability of health care in Congo to remote and rural communities that are underserviced.

Ensuring quality and affordable health care in Congo is one of the cornerstones of the nation’s development. While there is still much work to do, improvements are visible thanks to the support of the international community.

Kaitlyn DeWeerd
Photo: Flickr

Serge Ibaka foundationBefore he was competing on the court and playing alongside NBA superstars such as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka was a child facing many adversities. Both of Ibaka’s parents played basketball in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, during the late 1990s. It was at this time that the Congo was going through a civil war.

During the summer of 2009, Ibaka began his career as a professional basketball player in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder. After achieving the status of a professional athlete, Ibaka’s dream began to shift. He decided to use his platform as an athlete in a way that goes beyond just playing a sport and impacts the lives of others. Specifically, having once lived during the war in the Republic of the Congo, he now assists children within the community and does so through the Serge Ibaka Foundation.

The Serge Ibaka Foundation and its Mission

Education remains out of reach for millions of children between the ages of five and 17 in the Republic of the Congo. This is caused by a large economic disparity between parents who can afford for their children to attend school and those who cannot. Receiving an education is critical for the future of these children, yet factors such as child labor, child marriage and pregnancy all stand in the way of children being able to reach a brighter future. Living in the Republic of the Congo during a war, Ibaka faced similar feelings of hopelessness. However, he was able to achieve his dreams, and through his foundation, he wants to help other children in the community to do the same.

Partnering with other organizations, the Serge Ibaka Foundation strives to improve the living conditions of Congolese children and promotes the importance of receiving an education. Ibaka aims to use his story as inspiration to ultimately demonstrate to children that anything is possible with determination and hard work. Rather than solely using his fortune to help the country from afar, Ibaka makes frequent visits back to the Republic of the Congo to interact and share his story with children.

Context and Aid for the Congo’s Situation

Outbreaks of cholera, Ebola and measles continuously claim the lives of civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This left the country struggling even more when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With more than three-fourths of the country living in poverty, various statistics suggest a difficult reality. For example, the Congo ranks highly globally for stunting, which is a reflection of poor nutritional health for children. The pandemic only made matters worse as the country struggled to keep up with the health care of civilians. Many parents also struggled to provide meals for their families.

In May of 2020, the Serge Ibaka Foundation fired up a COVID-19 relief program to provide aid for those affected economically by the pandemic in Brazzaville. The foundation, along with the help of the BUROTOP Iris Foundation, has distributed 80 tons of food to 8,000 families who live in Brazzaville.

Helping Toronto’s Homeless Population

Ibaka also expands his desire to achieve change internationally to other nations. There are more than 9,000 people living without homes on the streets of Toronto, Canada, and shelters within the area have been at capacity for many years. The COVID-19 pandemic has not helped the situation of homelessness; instead, it has highlighted the struggles that the homeless endure in this city. In 2020, Serge Ibaka pledged to match up to $100,000 of donations to the Fred Victor COVID-19 Emergency Fund in its attempt to improve the health and safety of those experiencing poverty and homelessness in Toronto.

NBPA and its Accomplishments

Serge Ibaka is not the only NBA player committed to ensuring those who are less fortunate are recognized. Players in and around the NBA devote their time and effort through charities of their own, and Ibaka has worked alongside others to provide these players and their organizations with support through the NBPA. Through this foundation, Ibaka works to help not only those in his hometown but anyone around the world who may also need inspiration or a change in lifestyle.

The NBPA is a foundation that aims to highlight the collaborative work that players of the NBA conduct worldwide to create positive change. The foundation’s main mission is to provide funding and support for the charities of the many professional basketball players who dedicate time and resources to communities around the world. Ibaka serves as one of the directors on the foundation’s board. Notably:

  • The NBPA has provided more than $500,000 in matching grants for players’ own donations.

  • NBA players and the NBPA have donated a total of $5.5 million for COVID-19 relief.

  • Australian NBA players have committed $750,000 to bushfires within Australia.

Serge Ibaka is also a UNICEF Ambassador in the Congo and has dedicated his time to organizing a plan that involves renovating an all-boys orphanage and an all-girls orphanage by providing the two with educational and health care supplies. He has also collaborated with the Starkey Hearing Foundation and worked to provide hearing aids to children in Brazzaville. Ibaka serves as a role model in his work and in his actions, particularly throughout his professional career as a basketball player. Never forgetting his roots of a childhood in poverty, he has vowed to inspire the children of his hometown and assist them with the necessary living conditions to one day soar down the court to a better life, just as he has.

– Nia Hinson
Photo: Flickr

Expanding Internet Access in the DRCIn today’s digital age, the internet is a norm in many people’s lives, as nearly 4.66 billion active internet users exist worldwide. People use the internet for communication, research, gaming and e-commerce. Yet, most citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have no access whatsoever to the internet. Only about 20 million people out of 100 million people living in the DRC have access to the internet. However, changes are occurring in the DRC. Nearly 9 million people in the last few years have gained access to the internet due to technology companies investing in the development of the internet in the DRC. Likewise, Liquid Intelligent Technologies (LIT) and Facebook are partnering to build a massive fiber network in the DRC. Here is some information about how they are expanding internet access in the DRC.

How LIT is Expanding Internet Access in the DRC

Liquid Intelligent Technologies plans on building a 2,000-kilometer-long fiber-optic cable network from the DRC to the Atlantic Ocean. From there, it will connect with the 2Africa submarine cable system, which Facebook has a major role in developing.

On completion, the undersea cable network will better connect the DRC to Europe and the Middle East. It will help complete LIT’s two-year-long project to build a vast digital pathway from the Atlantic Ocean connecting to East Africa and the Indian Ocean, where millions of people would gain access to the internet. In addition, it will bridge the democratic republic with its neighboring countries of Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia.

Facebook has invested in this operation and helped plan the fiber network, but LIT will be the company to build and own the fibre network. It also plans to provide internet service providers and services to network operators to take advantage of the fibre network. Thus, the company estimates that nearly 30 million people in the DRC will gain access to the internet.

However, the effort that is necessary will not be easy. “This is one of the most difficult fibre builds ever undertaken, crossing more than 2,000 km of some of the most challenging terrain in the world,” said Nic Rudnick, CEO of Liquid Intelligent Technologies. To help build the network, LIT will hire nearly 5,000 locals from communities in the Congo, employing many people and families in the DRC.

Why Internet Access in the Congo is Nonexistent

Government policies on censorship and high Wi-Fi costs ensure that the Congolese have no access to the internet. The government passed a censorship policy in 2002, called law No. 013/2002, which has the power to control telecommunications in the DRC. It grants the government the power to control telecommunications to defend the public or in the interest of national security. If telecommunication companies don’t comply with this law, they risk getting their operating licenses terminated. This forces many ISPs to shut off the internet.

Due to manipulation of this law, the Democratic Republic of Congo has cut off the internet, text-messaging services and social media services multiple times such as Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp to stifle civil and peaceful protests occurring in the country. In addition, the country is suffering economically as it is losing $2 million every day due to the termination of internet services.

Buying one gigabyte of mobile broadband data in the DRC costs a staggering 26% of monthly income. This makes the DRC the most expensive country to get access to the internet in the world because there are no rules regulating caps on internet prices. Additionally, customers bear the burden of high taxes on telecommunication companies. These reasons allow telecommunication companies to raise prices to an extreme.

Companies like Liquid Intelligent Technologies are expanding internet access in the DRC. However, the government will need to make changes in censorship policies on the internet, to ensure every Congolese can experience the joys of the internet.

Matthew Port Louis
Photo: Flickr

Mutombo CoffeeOver a span of 18 years, Dikembe Mutombo built a Hall of Fame NBA career that made his name synonymous with stifling defense and a trademark finger wag. In 1997, he established the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation with the mission to improve the lives of people in his native country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Mutombo also recently established Mutombo Coffee to revive the Congolese coffee industry.

Congolese Coffee

A major accomplishment of the Foundation is the construction of a 170-bed hospital in Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC. The hospital opened in 2007 and was built in memory of Mutombo’s mother. The hospital services anybody in need, regardless of their ability or inability to pay.

While certainly impressive and commendable, Mutombo’s latest endeavor involves building a thriving coffee industry in the DRC. “Rebuilding” is actually the proper term to use when describing the DRC’s coffee economy. In the 1980s, coffee was the country’s second-largest export, providing approximately $164 million to the economy. Connoisseurs prized Congolese coffee and rain-rich, volcanic soils in the Lake Kivu region provided ideal growing conditions.

However, recent decades of conflict and instability, much of it centered in the country’s coffee-growing east, have decimated output. Many Congolese people live without the infrastructure needed to safely operate their farms and easily reach international markets.

Mutombo Coffee

Mutombo announced the creation of a new coffee company in the first few months of 2021. He has placed special weight on not only providing economic sustainability and fair wages for farmers but spotlighting the unsung efforts of women farmers in the industry. The emphasis is especially significant given the DRC’s infamous struggles with sexual violence. Additionally, his work is important given that in 2018 an estimated 73% of the Congolese population lived on less than $1.90 a day. As the chair of the international distribution company, Cajary Majlis, Mutombo partnered with the DMCC Coffee Centre to bring coffee from the DRC to other parts of Africa and Dubai. Mutombo hopes to extend the coffee’s reach even further.

Perils of Congolese Coffee Farming

The Congolese wars between 1996 and 2002 significantly impacted the country’s export industry. Coffee farmers were forced to make a dangerous journey across Lake Kivu in small boats to smuggle their crops into Rwanda and neighboring countries. Locals estimate that 2,000 drowned making these trips. Those who made it were forced to accept below-market value prices for the coffee out of desperation.

Fortunately, many farmers no longer have to undertake this ordeal. The development of regional cooperative associations with stable international supply links has reduced some of the hurdles. However, numerous challenges still remain. Grenades and mines lie waiting in thickets around crops. Also, more than one hundred armed groups, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and the Allied Democratic Forces, still operate in the eastern DRC. Abductions and kidnappings also happen with some regularity, putting farming families at risk.

Bureaucracy and taxes pose additional hurdles and can reach as much as 13% of a shipment’s value. This total is far higher than in neighboring countries. Frequent delays involved in moving goods across the DRC border can needlessly increase prices even further.

Building a Market

There is also disagreement regarding the optimal strategy for marketing DRC coffee. Some argue the product needs to be sold at the lowest possible price in the highest possible quantities to reestablish the beans around the globe and compete with neighboring countries. Others believe higher prices targeting the burgeoning specialty coffee market are ideal. Congolese coffee shop owners say there needs to be more emphasis on building a domestic market.

Mutombo sees promise in his native country and so do others. A partnership funded by USAID, the Howard G. Buffet Foundation, Catholic Relief Services, Eastern Congo Initiative and World Coffee Research committed a four-year-long effort to help Congo’s coffee industry. The effort led to 4,000 farmers exporting their own coffee, which Starbucks sold in 2015.

Financial aid is flowing in to redevelop the region, and despite the obvious challenges, hope is on the horizon. With Mutombo’s track record of success and the personal touch of a native Congolese committed to prioritizing people over profits, Mutombo Coffee seems primed to bolster a region hungry to rebuild and thrive.

Jackson Fitzsimmons
Photo: Flickr

Agricultural Sustainability in the DRCDespite the Democratic Republic of the Congo harboring the second-largest cultivable land in the world at 80 million hectares, food insecurity and malnutrition are pressing issues in a country that ranks among the poorest in the world. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) characterizes almost 22 million of the 89.5 million residents as severely food insecure, despite 70% of the employed population working in the agricultural industry. Lack of infrastructure combined with prolonged national armed conflict has led to only 10 million hectares currently under cultivation, leaving enormous potential for agricultural and economic growth. Agricultural sustainability in the DRC is crucial to address food insecurity and poverty.

The Joint WFP-FAO Resilience Program in DRC

A combined effort from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) focuses on the optimization of agriculture production as well as market revisions and improvements to reduce food insecurity and bolster a declining national economy. Improving agricultural sustainability in the DRC could prove effective in stabilizing a region with enormous agricultural potential.

The Need for Agricultural Sustainability

Providing direct financial relief to the DRC has proven both necessary and effective, especially in the wake of nationwide flooding in 2019 and 2020 on top of widespread armed conflict and displacement. Since 2018, USAID reports that the DRC has received roughly $570 million worth of direct food relief. However, direct relief does not equal sustainability and is a relatively short-term solution. The joint program from the WFP and FAO implements successful strategies to provide much-needed agricultural sustainability in the DRC and creates an important foundation for further improvements.

The Benefits of Cooperation

Promoting organizational cooperation and improving managerial structure has allowed for combined agricultural improvements nationwide. Since 2017, this project has reached 30,000 small farm households and stimulated cooperation that has improved organizational structure and operational capacities. This cooperation has allowed for the distribution of newer agricultural technologies and concepts such as improved seeds and more advanced tools to optimize production.

Increased cooperation has also helped eliminate local conflicts between farmers and has increased the total area of land being cultivated. The program has also provided 7,000 local women with functional literacy education, allowing for more female community engagement as well as involvement in managerial duties in farming communities.

Addressing Nutrition in the DRC

At a local level, the joint program has implemented enhanced nutritional programs to utilize the increasing resources. Increased cooperation and education have allowed for the growth of crops with enhanced nutritional value. To promote long-term sustainability, in 2020, the project utilized direct aid to establish 300 vegetable gardens, reaching 13,510 residents. The program also held 150 culinary demonstrations regarding optimal cooking techniques that are both affordable and nutritious.

Developing the DRC’s Infrastructure

Large agricultural areas such as the DRC rely heavily on infrastructure for transportation and storage of goods. The joint program has fixed 193 kilometers of agricultural roads since implementation in 2017, with 65% of the road rehabilitators being women.

Not only has the program enhanced transportation capabilities but it has also constructed 20 different storage buildings as well as 75 community granaries, allowing for the long-term storage of agricultural products. This enhanced storage capacity reduces waste from spoilage and allows product to be sold during favorable selling seasons, allowing for advanced agricultural sustainability in the DRC.

The Joint WFP-FAO resilience program in the DRC has made significant accomplishments in the country. With further efforts, agricultural sustainability in the DRC can be further developed to improve poverty in the region.

Jackson Thennis
Photo: Flickr

Economic Decline in the DRCThe Democratic Republic of the Congo, otherwise known as the DRC, is blessed with abundant natural resources, advantageous geographical trade points and a booming youth population. It is also a nation struggling with economic and political tensions that threaten to tear it apart. Conflict within the sub-Saharan African continent is not new, as with many developing regions. Yet when it comes to the DRC, its current conflict takes on several different forms; from systemic economic mismanagement to tense ethnic divisions. The DRC has a series of underlying problems that both its leaders and regional partners need to resolve to make progress. One key issue, however, is the systemic economic decline in the DRC.

As noted by the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, economic woes point out several grievances against the current government. For example, concerns highlight the hoarding and mismanagement of natural resources and inefficient governmental models. The models focus more on federal power rather than balancing out authority to local government. As the DRC borders conflict-ridden neighbors such as Rwanda and Sudan, it has to deal with incoming migrants and persistent border security threats. When analyzing the economic decline in the DRC, one must also consider the direct implications of the current escalating conflict.

A Flawed Economic Policy and Aid Agenda

One of the central weak points of the DRC is its flawed economic policy. The issues of the policy include the disproportionate distribution of natural resources, lack of adequate investments in capital and infrastructure and lackluster trade agreements. In addition, the DRC has a long way to go before it can overcome its systemic economic woes.

The DRC’s inefficient federal government barely understands the complexity of localized economies. The federal economy and general stock market are important. However, local markets and financial growth are also vital, if not more important. For instance, while the DRC is one of the largest suppliers of natural resources such as diamonds and cobalt, it is one of the top eight countries struggling with hunger and humanitarian assistance deficits.

Analysts argue that conflict and hunger are interdependent. This is due to conflict limiting agricultural production and disrupting one’s income. As a result, it is increasingly difficult for economically challenged nations such as the DRC. Due to recent wars in the Eastern Congo and a series of political conflicts around its borders, the DRC bears a severe brunt in its ability to generate ample economic income.

Violence and Conflict

Violence and conflict contribute to the economic decline in the DRC. Ethnic violence, the spread of Ebola and high levels of corruption hurt the overall economic benefit of cobalt mining. In contrast, it sponsored those who benefit from the current conflicts in the DRC. The U.N. Economic Commission found that despite an increase in prices for rare minerals, the DRC still struggles economically due to inadequate pro-poor development programs and mass unemployment.

Nigerian economist, Dambisa Moyo, argues that the fatal flaw in international aid and intervention is a lack of focus on regional infrastructure projects, targeted educational and job skill programs and communal credit programs. Moyo states further that when it comes to the DRC specifically, the IMF has a history of giving more than $700 million to the developing nation, only for it to be misused by kleptocrats.

The individuals are susceptible to several factors that escalate conflict and increase the influence of conflict entrepreneurs. The economic decline in the DRC creates an environment most profitable for conflict entrepreneurs and profiteers. The mass hunger and poverty in the DRC feed into several factors that contribute to conflict. For example, corrupt warlords who prey on struggling workers to militias who target local villages further worsen the issue.

A prime example is the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group that has terrorized the Eastern Congo for years, brutally murdering more than 100 people. The ADF feeds off of two main causes. The first is the lack of governmental authority. The second is the DRC’s insecurity, armed groups with murky agendas and the government’s failure. It is more important than ever that international aid groups take action to put a stop to mass poverty and the violence it causes.

Policy Reforms for the Future

Although the DRC is in a dark spot, the reforms of the government and international community can help improve the situation. First, the DRC needs to localize its credit lines and monetary policy. A big issue for state factions and communal governments is a lack of financial authority. Ensuring a gradual decentralization process will increase income flow and help legitimize local elections and state power.

The International Finance Corporation, a branch of the World Bank, recently started a program that gave small credit loans and financed new investment credit lines in local areas within West Africa. This initiative helps fund hundreds of small and micro-businesses and shake off the potential risks of debt or inflation.

Another potential solution is to focus more directly on local infrastructure investments. Recent studies show the four most effective ways to combat poverty in the DRC. These include emphasizing the accumulation of job creation, macroeconomic stabilization, rehabilitation of key infrastructure and structural reforms for a healthy market environment. Thus, if the government undertakes the following reforms, the aforementioned goals will be within reach.

Economic recovery amid conflict in the developing world is difficult. Oftentimes, nations like the DRC must resolve a series of ethnic and political conflicts before they can become top-tier economies. However, the DRC’s leaders must be aware of the role the declining economy plays in the escalating conflict. They should also acknowledge the necessity of reforming key policies. Reaching out to regional NGOs, the African Union and working with international partners is a step in the right direction. Additionally, supporting bills such as the International Affairs Budget and the Girls Lead Act also promotes transformative growth and provides essential resources and support.

Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

CongoThe Democratic Republic of the Congo has one of the highest poverty rates and one of the worst healthcare systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. The country’s struggle with healthcare is related to many other socio-economic issues the country struggles with.

Healthcare in the Congo is not guaranteed for its citizens. This is due to long-lasting poverty and a lack of healthcare efficiency in the country. Since there are no hospitals in the Congo that offer free care, each patient must pay. Medical bills can range anywhere from $50 to $100. However, the average annual salary in the Congo is just $400, making the medical costs prohibitively expensive. And, in addition to 71% of the population living in poverty, the law does not require that people have access to healthcare despite their economic standing.

The Healthcare System in the Congo

Armed conflict has consistently damaged the country’s ability to improve healthcare facilities for decades. The lack of stability associated with the conflict has exacerbated the situation.

Per 10,000 people, the nation has 0.28 doctors and 1.91 nurses and midwives. In the Congo, the staff in the healthcare industry and the level of care have declined. There is no coordination structure in place to enable health worker training organizations to take current health system needs into account. In training schools, there is a lack of physical and financial resources. Patients must schedule an appointment with their physicians in order to be evaluated. In most cases, physicians see patients on specific days out of the week. Thus, patients must wait for lengthy periods of time to be treated due to the limited range of health centers with doctors.

There are currently 401 hospitals in the Congo. Moreover, small towns have limited access to primary treatment and, as such, many residents continue to struggle to access appropriate medical care. These hospitals also fail to maintain the tools and supplies needed to meet most of the patients’ health concerns. Because of armed conflict, among other reasons, hospitals often run out of critical prescriptions and materials needed for different services.

Plan for Improvement

The Republic of Congo has successfully developed a draft for a national strategy, Plan National de Développement des Ressources Humaines Pour la Santé (PNDRHS), with the ultimate goal of improving the medical staff development system, training and administration. This plan aims to expand the education programs for health workers and on-the-job practice to meet the community’s medical needs. It also aims to help motivate and encourage health staff to ensure their performance and accessibility.

Cordaid, a credible institution with significant experience in the Congo, gained a GPSA award for strengthening the consistency and accessibility of critical medical facilities in the country. As a result, hospitals and clinics have been able to receive new appliances. Additionally, Cordaid has successfully achieved upgrades to water pumps and prenatal care units for healthcare centers in recent years.

Overall, due to strengthened management, cooperation and investments in critical healthcare issues, the country has made significant progress in recent years. For example, the nation has been polio-free for four years. This is a significant accomplishment considering its scale and lack of healthcare facilities, and a sign of improvement yet to come.

– Rand Lateef
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in CongoThe Republic of the Congo is a country located in central Africa, right next door to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Congo River separates the capital, Brazzaville, from the neighboring country’s capital, Kinshasa. Both cities were formerly one capital under French Equatorial territory. After the Republic of the Congo gained independence in 1960, a series of coup d’états and successive rulers from 1963-1997 led to political and economic instability throughout the country, eventually culminating in a civil war in 1997 and ending in 2001. The inefficient political rule that followed the war exacerbated the economic devastation of the country. A dictatorial leadership under Denis Sassou Nguesso began when he became president in peace agreements formulated in 2001.

The political instability in the Republic of the Congo is necessary for understanding the economic disarray throughout the population. It is also important for understanding why poverty in Congo remains rife despite international aid interventions.

What Poverty Looks Like in the Republic of the Congo

Poverty in Congo is vast and covers all areas of the country. About 50% of the population lives in poverty.  The return of natives displaced by war to a weakened Congo led to many facing poverty and disease from poor infrastructure and government.

Rural areas are affected most out of the country, as there are many people who do not have efficient access to clean water sources or sanitation. Artesian wells or unclarified water sources account for over 20% of all water access throughout the entire country. In addition, there is little improvement in urban areas. Much of the population, almost 1.5 million, live in unplanned settlements with little sanitation procedure or adequate housing throughout the two largest cities of the country, Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. This creates a difficult atmosphere to combat preventable diseases like malaria and various respiratory or parasitic diseases.

Another problem facing is the country is the lack of, and lack access to, education.  The primary school completion rate is low and the dropout rate is high.  Access to education in rural areas is 42.5% compared to access in urban areas at 82.7%. This impacts the Republic of Congo’s human capital, which makes it harder for people to find jobs domestically or internationally. Further, Congo’s enrollment in secondary school is lower than in other sub-Saharan African countries.  Lack of education leads to a lack of opportunity and thus a higher unemployment rate across the country.

The Good News

The Republic of the Congo has been making great strides in trying to counteract its issues since 2001. It created The Future Path project with the aim of modernizing society as a whole. The plan also aims to industrialize the economy to help the Congo gain international footing. Increasing jobs and economic performance through large-scale building projects and international cooperation are the goals of the government.

The World Bank is currently assisting the Republic of the Congo with economics and societal development projects with 10 current national projects worth $562 million. The  Country Partnership Framework will help improve the Congo’s economic management, help create “economic diversification and strengthen its human capital and basic service provision, particularly in the areas of health, education and social protection.” Improvement of water sources and better sanitation is a priority of the government and also many initiatives funded by the World Bank. The World Bank is also financing $61.31 million in emergency COVID-19 funding to help combat the pandemic in the country. The current levels of poverty in Congo and the level of disease exposed to people exacerbate the issue of COVID-19.

What Needs to be Done

The number of people in poverty decreased from about 50% in 2005 to about 40% in 2011.  In addition, improvements in education account for 14% of poverty reduction as a direct result of improved standards of living. However, rural education slightly deteriorated. This is because the rural population with only primary or no educational achievement increased from 46% to 53%. This highlights how the government needs to focus the fight on poverty in Congo in rural areas. The government needs to focus on encouraging more students into education past the primary level.

Overall, the Republic of the Congo has been making great strides toward leveling its poverty numbers. While the current situation is not perfect, the reduction of poverty in Congo and the improved standards of living are miles away from what the country experienced in 2001.

– Avery Benton
Photo: Wikimedia Commons