It is hard, especially on the eve of only the second democratic elections in DR Congo, to find a topic about which a diverse group of distinguished Congolese agree. So, we expected little agreement when we brought together a diverse group of Congolese to contextualize the September 14, 2011 seminal speech of World Bank President Robert Zoellick at George Washington University on the theme “Beyond Aid.”
We were hoping to promote a public debate on policy choices and foster demand for good governance. We also aimed to set the foundation for the implementation of our Africa Strategy in this country. Participants included Congolese intellectuals; renowned politicians; parliamentarians; a respected cleric; renowned journalists; a lady who once ran for president; a key member of the current government; a prominent lawyer; and a women’s rights advocate.
Our guests dealt with the speech as if it had been written about DR Congo. The discussions went further. The talk could have been convened under the title “Beyond, Beyond Aid”.
Some participants were outright provocative. They challenged the assumption that aid is needed or has been useful. The absence of aid, they suggested, would have forced Africa to do better.
Others asserted that aid is there to stay as part of a business line. Then, at some point, consensus emerged on two aspects.
First, how can aid be used to unleash sustainable economic development and poverty reduction in this country, 70 percent of whose citizens continue to live in poverty due to failed development policies but also due to a decade of war and violent conflict which has killed more than 3.5 million people?
Second, how can aid – including the largest debt relief ever granted - be used better to address the real needs of a country that has the potential of becoming an African powerhouse?
DR Congo is home to 80 million hectares of arable land; 52 percent of all existing water resources in Africa; more than 16,000 kilometers of navigable rivers; 100,000MW of hydroelectricity potential ˗ 150 percent of the current power generation capacity of Africa. DR Congo is also poised to turn into a formidable market by 2050, when it is projected to become the eleventh most populous country on earth.
Like other Africans, Congolese have heard of their potential. The nagging questions for them are: how do you move from potential to opportunities? How does DR Congo go from aid dependency to “Beyond Aid”? While aid lasts, can it be more effective? Can aid be more efficiently deployed to produce development results?
Participants thought the post-conflict situation may have been an easy excuse for too long, whereas the real test for the donors is to be more coordinated when capacity is weak and institutions are in shambles. That has not been the case in DR Congo where aid represented 27.5 percent of GDP in 2009.
Aid is fragmented and is managed in an uncoordinated manner. Despite commitments to use national institutions to administer aid, 78 parallel project implementation units were in place in DR Congo in 2010; 59 percent of aid disbursement to the country was on schedule in 2010; 21.3 percent of missions to the country by donor organizations were coordinated in 2007 and 34 percent of technical assistance is coordinated with country programs and consistent with the Kinshasa Agenda, the guiding framework for administering aid in this country.
Forty five days into my assignment as country director in this continent-of-a-country, the diverse group of guests who visited our Kinshasa office to discuss “Beyond Aid” left us with two key messages.
First, they stressed that scarce aid must be focused on improving governance and helping the country’s leadership to engineer a vision that effectively combats the widespread corruption and “clientelism,” as well as the lack of transparency and accountability that has held DR Congo in a “poverty trap” this past half century. Congolese of all political persuasions need to be in the driving seat, identifying obstacles to development, designing bold solutions to the country’s development challenges, leading implementation and evaluation of outcomes.
Second - and in line with the findings of the 2011 World Development Report - participants urged the World Bank to implement what they called the “Fifty Percent Solution.” The call is for a more gender-inclusive approach to development in DR Congo, where violence has already badly damaged the better half of the population: girls and women.
We heard our clients, loud and clear. We need to do more to support an open, all-inclusive discussion on development solutions across both sides of the Congo River, and we need to provide support to data collection and statistical capacity, which is crucial to basing development solutions on the kind of evidence that studies like the 2011 WDR bring forward.