The 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 lead 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. This is mostly because the civil war displaced over one-third of the population. The return of natives 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 of access to, education. Over a third of the population never enrolled or completed primary school. Higher education has even less attendance, with only about 3% completing. This is mostly because there is a severe lack of access to basic educational materials. Also, many girls have little to no encouragement to get an education. This leaves half of the population out of school. This impacts the Republic of Congo’s human capital, which makes it harder for people to find jobs domestically or internationally. Therefore, this leads to a higher unemployment rate across the country. Lack of education leads to a lack of opportunity.
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 $451 million. The new 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 overall gross national income of the country has improved by 50% since 2011. In addition, improvements in education account for 14% of poverty reduction as a direct result of improved standards of living. Educational skill gains and an uptick in the enrollment of girls in urban areas also attributed to lowering unemployment levels. This subsequently increased educational enrollment levels across the country. 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. They must also reduce gender disparities in school to create a more holistic student body and future workforce.
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