It would be hard to find another place on earth where the improvement of transportation is more impactful on the wellbeing of a population than in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Here, transportation is so severely underdeveloped that travel to other provinces is sometimes nearly impossible, if not downright dangerous.
Congo, Democratic Republic of
I was about 13 years old when my family organized a trip to the village of Mpangou, in the Republic of the Congo. Travelling to the village was an event for us kids of the city – a new world. I remember packing our generators, cd players and speakers to bring a bit of our urban lives with us, and my mother telling us to buy candies and biscuits as gifts for the people. The road was full of potholes, and the men often had to push our cars forward through the mud, but at last, we got there.
“We felt like human beings again” asserts a survivor of sexual violence at the Panzi Hospital in Eastern DRC. Survivors arrive here with serious physical injuries and deep psychological scars. Some are accompanied by children who are painful reminders of the rape and trauma they suffered. They face numerous hurdles to putting their lives back together—stigma, isolation, and hopelessness. While many organizations provide support, only a few are able to offer the full range of services required—medical care, mental health support, legal aid and economic activities.
Next week, I will be joining World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on an historic joint visit to Africa's Great Lakes Region. The aim of the trip is to brainstorm with African leaders solutions to helping the people of the Great Lakes prosper.
This visit is important for two reasons - it highlights a new era of global institutions working together to promote stability, and it signals to the citizens of fragile and conflict affected nations our commitment: we will not leave you behind.
Many countries in today’s world have struggled, or are struggling, through war or political conflict to rebuild themselves and lift their people out of poverty. They are called fragile states, nations with poor health and education, little or no electricity, disorganized or weakened institutions, and in many cases no functioning governments. In Africa, 18 of the 48 countries in the sub Region are considered fragile, six of them so much so that UN, NATO or African Union forces are on the ground helping to keep peace.
Young men from four formerly war-torn African countries put years of conflict and hardship behind them last weekend as they played each other in the finals of the Great Lakes Peace Cup.
I did not expect Burundi to win, but they did! And what a beautiful victory it was. The team came from Bubanza, a small town about an hour north of Burundi’s capital Bujumbura. The players had journeyed more than 18 hours by bus, including about three hours to cross the border into Uganda.
Football players from across East and Central Africa will gather in the Ugandan capital of Kampala on September 21 and 22 to take part in the finals of the Great Lakes Peace Cup, a tournament organized to help former combatants – many of them abducted child soldiers – become part of their communities through the healing power of sport.
The Great Lakes Peace Cup is being organised by the World Bank’s Transitional Development and Reintegration Program (TDRP), and the government amnesty and reintegration commissions of the four competing countries.
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”.
Working for the two Congos – DR Congo, Kinshasa and Congo Republic, Brazzaville (the closest two capital cities in the world) – over the last three-and-a-half years has been like running a fast-track marathon. Everything was urgent and important. Time was never our friend.
Yet, when I settled in Kinshasa as the first World Bank Country Director to serve the two Congos in-country, I was convinced that I would find a few weeks now and then to catch my breath. As I am leaving, I know better. The two Congos demand all the time and energy we have… and more, to make a dent in the many development challenges of the countries.
As I leave Kinshasa for my next post as World Bank Country Director for Nigeria, I will surely miss the dynamic and hard working people of the Congos. Happily, I will take indelible memories with me. I will forever remember my first field trip to the Province Orientale in the northern part of DR Congo. It came on the heels of my assuming service in Kinshasa at the end of January 2008. I remember the big smile of farmers in several villages along the 750km road we were helping to rebuild in order to reestablish the Eastern Corridor with Uganda and Kenya. “We are happy,” the farmer told me about the road, beaming from cheek to cheek. He explained that, only a few days before, he had seen for the first time in seven years, a car coming from Bunia (a town in the same province). Another farmer noted: “Before the road was built, a trip to Kisangani would cost us $10. We are now paying $2. Now we can travel faster and sell our products more easily.”