A History of Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo first gained independence in 1960 and has had a somewhat turbulent history since. The violence began in 1994 as a spillover from the genocide in nearby Rwanda. Hutu génocidaires fled into eastern provinces of the DRC and their presence soon sparked tension and conflict. Additionally, the DRC fought a civil war known as the Second Congo War between 1998 and 2003.
This presence of conflict in eastern provinces has had numerous effects on social and economic structures in the country, most notably the destruction of most of the country’s infrastructure. This has left poor conditions for personal hygiene and a serious transportation problem. According to a report from the World Bank, the limited availability of transportation–stemming from the lack of public infrastructure–is the single biggest obstacle to SDG Goal 1 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Projections have determined that the DRC’s population will increase from 30 million to 44 million in the next 15 years. The subsequent increase in demand for infrastructure of all kinds will only exacerbate existing problems if no one addresses this fundamental obstacle to poverty reduction.
The World Bank’s Efforts
The World Bank has led investment in the DRC over the last decade and has seen encouraging success. The High Priority Reopening and Maintenance Project began in 2008 and concluded in early 2020. The project’s objective was to re-establish lasting access between provincial capitals, districts and territories in three provinces in a way that is sustainable for the people and the natural environment in the project’s area of influence.
The World Bank invested more than $100 million in order to fund the reopening and subsequent maintenance of 376 km of high priority national roads in the Equateur province, caretaking of 741 km and rebuilding of six worn out panel bridges on the Route National (RN4) in the oriental province. This much-needed investment in transportation services has the potential to significantly expand the DRC’s economy. Investment in transportation addresses the infrastructure problem in the DRC and improves Congolese citizens’ ability to relocate in pursuit of more job opportunities. This is especially helpful for those citizens living in rural areas who are otherwise isolated and lack the ability to diversify their occupations. It is also an important measure in rebuilding the unity and interconnectedness of a nation divided by civil war in recent decades.
The DRC’s Efforts
In 2010, the government of the DRC provided a report on its poverty reduction efforts to the OCHA division of the United Nations. The report detailed government spending and effort related to poverty reduction. In 2009, 60% of primary public expenditure went toward “promoting good governance and peace.” The second-largest area of expenditure was for “promoting access to social services.”
This spending has been productive in helping the government improve the security of the nation. A variety of operations successfully reestablished peace and the government’s authority in the eastern and western parts of the country.
Spending on social services in 2009 also improved transportation infrastructure. The project completed 22,900.60 kilometers of roads, representing 113% of the project’s target of 20,352.05 kilometers. The efforts largely focused on rehabilitating and modernizing roads while re-opening unpaved roads and focusing on large-scale maintenance projects. The poverty rate in the nation has also decreased from around 85% in 2008 to 76.6% in 2012.
By investing in infrastructure and modernization, the DRC’s government is helping the nation to move forward following a period of serious instability and unrest. The presence of additional roads, houses and social services creates an environment in which Congolese citizens can build an economy for a post-war future. The social cohesion and unity of the people are just as important as government programs and foreign investment; by demonstrating an ability to take care of its people, the DRC’s government is showing that there is the potential for recovery and improvements in quality of life.
The Eastern Recovery Project
The Eastern Recovery Project (STEP)–another World Bank-led effort–received approval in 2014 and should reach completion in 2024. Its objective is to improve access to employment and socio-economic infrastructure like schools in vulnerable communities in the eastern provinces of the DRC. Since its beginning, the Project has rehabilitated more than 850 community infrastructure facilities and has created 1.3 million person-days of employment for vulnerable people. Additionally, markets are now present in every province. Reports showed that the poverty rate was 72% in 2018, which was down from 94% in 2004 and 85% in 2008.
Over the last decade, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has begun the process of recovery. Years of devastating conflict and poor governance have left much room for improvement within the infrastructure and social services of the nation. Investments from the World Bank as well as commendable efforts from the DRC’s government have resulted in significant progress regarding the largest obstacles facing the nation.
Though there is still much work necessary to reach SDG Goal 1 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the process of rebuilding is underway.
– Haroun Siddiqui
Photo: Wikipedia Commons