More often than not, “we” criticize the “system” for being corrupt; yet it is simply a reflection of what we make of it. For example, what would happen if “we” decided never to collect bribes from users in our health service system? Or if we implemented and respected the rule of ‘first come, first served’ instead of paying or collecting bribes for faster service delivery? What would happen when it is brought to our knowledge that there are irregular practices operating within our health centers?
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”.
Leadership can be exercised in many ways and a lot has been written about leadership and empowerment, and about the need to strengthen both in Africa. Very recently, I came across a true female leader, a simple woman with a strong personality, excellent communication and problem-solving skills, and great determination. In sum, all the things we consider to be the basis for good leadership.
She is not a politician or the head of a big company. She is a school teacher in a poor area in the southern province of Namibe, Angola. Her school is part of a group called ZIP (zone of pedagogical influence), and although her school is the poorest among the three in the group, she was chosen as the group’s leader.
In Angola and many places in Africa, parents must purchase report cards which teachers then fill in to send home. In the following account Maria Ines, Head teacher of Tchinducuto, and Director of ZIP 6, describes how her school revamped the purchasing process and found a way to earn money for the students.
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.”
Earlier this month, I participated in a four-day mission to Mandera, a county in northeastern Kenya, some 640 km from Nairobi on the Somali border. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Agency (ECHO) arranged the mission to assess progress of various community-managed drought risk reduction initiatives.
We visited several projects being implemented across Mandera’s central, northern and eastern districts, an area which is home to more than a million people, according to the last census in 2009. The area is classified as arid and receives on average 250 mm of rainfall in a good year. But for the last several months, not a single drop of rain has fallen and all water reserves have been depleted. Famine could be imminent in Mandera and its neighboring counties if policies are not put in place to prevent it.
Being my first visit to Mandera the mission was eye-opening but also disquieting, coming as it did in the midst of what is now accepted as “the most severe drought in the Horn of Africa in the last 60 years”.