International Alert recently took part in a meeting with ten Dutch INGOs and representatives from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss local governance in the DRC.
In 2006, elections were held in the DRC amid high hopes that they would bring about positive change for Congolese people and mark a turning point after decades of weak and unaccountable governance, which remains a primary driver of this country’s instability.
At the meeting organised in the Hague by the Dutch NGOs platform on the DRC, civil society participants discussed the continuing gap between the trappings of democratic governance and the realities on the ground. Provincial institutions, for example, are operating but there is widespread popular disappointment with their effectiveness and accountability. The fact that parliamentarians and an executive have been elected does not per se increase their legitimacy in the eyes of everyday Congolese.
In this light, the participants debated whether local elections are the right priority for donors at this point in the country’s transition and, if so, what efforts are necessary to ensure that they genuinely begin to change the relationship between citizens and those who govern them, by strengthening processes that encourage active citizens and accountable leaders at grassroots level.
To inform that debate, International Alert and Oxfam Novib presented their recent studies on local governance in eastern DRC, both of which involved extensive field research and local focus group discussions.
Jennifer Smith, Alert’s Senior Policy Officer on the DRC, presented her recent report on South Kivu, a province where Alert has nearly ten years of experience working on peacebuilding and women’s political participation. Based on a series of visits to Kinshasa, Bukavu, Uvira and two smaller villages in South Kivu, the paper titled Democratisation and good governance in the Democratic Republic of Congo: A case study of South Kivu province explores how democratisation and governance processes actually work at the provincial and local level in the DRC. The report also evaluates whether the “top down” approach to democratic institution-building currently used by many donors is likely to have an impact on the way most ordinary people in the Congo live.
As it is still relatively early in Congo’s democratic reform process, the report suggests that donors continue to have a window of opportunity to focus more on strengthening local governance in a way that is concrete and visible to ordinary people. This requires locally-targeted interventions that increase public knowledge and participation as well as strong donor commitment to operating within the particular realities of the DRC context.
The paper was produced under the democratisation strand of the European Commission funded project Initiative for Peacebuilding and also supported, in part, by DfiD. Work in this strand has aimed to provide analysis on how, in conflict-affected contexts, citizens understand governance processes and how they can have greater influence on them. Alert’s case study on South Kivu is available at www.initiativeforpeacebuilding.eu