Peacebuilding in Eastern DRC

Improving EU Support for Economic Recovery
Alison Thompson with Edward Bell
International Alert
Number of Pages: 
Publication Location: 
London, UK
Language of Publication: 
Date of Publication: 
November 2007
Executive Summary: 

The most visible current threat to peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is in the east, reflecting the prevailing pattern of the last 40 years. The stand-off between the Congolese government and forces led by Laurent Nkunda threatens the stability of DRC and the region. The crisis is not, however, limited to North Kivu and is not about an individual dissident ‘warlord’. It is fundamentally related to the highly politicised regional context, with important dimensions related to identity and the architecture of armed forces in the east.7 Underlying this latest phase in the long-running cycles of violence are the fears, prejudices and competing ambitions of different groups in the region. These divisions have existed for decades and they continue to prevent the peaceful economic development that the people of DRC desperately need.

In order to help overcome the fractures in Congolese society, there needs to be a step-change in the level of constructive economic exchanges within the country and of formal, public revenuegenerating trade across international borders. At the same time, an immense push to create jobs and provide equitable access to income-generating opportunities is vital not only to improve livelihoods for local populations but also to help separate combatants from the violence and extortion through which they realised a degree of economic security. In that light, and following on from the more wide-ranging report, Peacebuilding in the Great Lakes: Challenges and opportunities for the EU in the DRC, this study focuses on economic (re)construction issues in the eastern DRC.8

The study takes up one of the central arguments of the 2006 paper: that peacebuilding not only needs to be underpinned by major improvements in wealth generation and distribution within local economies, but it also must be at the heart of poverty reduction and economic development efforts in general. This means, on the one hand, securing equitable access to decent economic opportunities through the transparent exploitation and management of the country’s own resources. These include land, water and, of course, the valuable minerals that dominate the Congolese economy – both the formal and informal ones – and for which improved governance and regulation is needed at macro, meso and micro levels. On the other hand, it means using economy-related activities to help address the factors that undermine sustainable peace, initiating and supporting the fundamental changes that are needed in the ‘way things are done’ in the country.

Ostensibly, with a view to improving state leadership in tackling the country’s economic malaise, the Ministry of Planning took an important step in July 2006 when it presented a fully fledged poverty reduction strategy paper to the donor community. This Document de la Stratégie de Croissance et de Réduction de la Pauvreté (DSCRP) was based on the outcomes of an extensive donor-funded process of participatory poverty diagnosis. The Analyse Participative de la Pauvreté (AAP) highlighted popular perceptions of the main causes of poverty and gave a poverty profile by region and socio-economic group.9 However, reflecting the fractures that exist within the political sphere, national and local economic systems (including as regards the distribution of, and access to, land) remain conditioned by relations, prejudices and commercial rivalries among identity groups. These divides have become further entrenched during the years of widespread violence and periods of open war. An economic growth agenda per se, as exemplified by the focus of the DSCRP as well as international orthodoxies on development, will do little to transform these obstacles to structural stability.10

The territories of Ituri and South Kivu (the focus areas of this report) illustrate how the endeavour of building sustainable peace in DRC (and ‘fragile’ states more generally) remains beset both by underlying obstacles to peace that affect the country as a whole as well as by problems caused by the specific impacts of conflict in those areas. In both territories, the impacts of the cycles of violent conflict have been profound. With appalling regularity, farmers have had crops looted, pastoralists have had entire herds slaughtered or stolen, houses have been robbed, patterns of land ownership have changed and social solidarities transformed. Part of this transformation reflects the breakdown of trust and changing patterns of authority in communities. It also has involved a staggering level of violence against women in the region, which continues to devastate today.11 Moreover, perceptions of belonging, including nationality, and of the interests of neighbouring countries have become even more polarised in the aftermath of the wars with significant consequences on political, social and economic relations. Furthermore, the regional dynamics and implications of these conflicts have local-level impacts, both above and beneath the surface, and represent seemingly intractable barriers to regional economic cooperation. Insecurity, to a greater or lesser degree, is still pervasive, with major consequences for livelihoods and the functioning of local economic systems, as well as development efforts themselves.

In Ituri and South Kivu, as with much of the east of the country, the presence of readily exploitable and profitable natural resources has given added impetus to ‘violent economies’.12 The continued armed control of the mineral-rich areas of the Kivus is a graphic illustration of how warlordism in the region represents a means of securing immediate economic gain, as well as the failure of the current regime to both control its territory and secure its own resources – as was evident during the country’s wars. Furthermore, as is succinctly argued in the Pole Institute’s report, Rules for Sale: Formal and Informal Cross-Border Trade in Eastern DRC, ‘political and military power struggles in eastern Congo are in part an expression of commercial rivalry, but commercial rivalry in turn is an expression of competition around means of ensuring one’s own and one's community’s physical survival in an area of profound and prolonged conflict.’13 The attendant economies of the region and the ethno-political processes that shape them are characterised both by continuities as well as variance from those that were dominant prior to the wide-spread occurrence of conflict in the east. Indeed, in DRC, the post-conflict condition is not so much one whereby the state has been made ‘fragile’ by violence or economies made predatory by conflict.14 The country’s fragility is, in fact, itself an underlying driver of both insecurity and sporadic (but immensely destructive) outbreaks of violence. The country has never been well-ordered nor able to fully administer its territory. Governance is weak not only because government is weak but because civil society is weak, reflecting the limited notions of collective citizenship in DRC. The continued dominance of vertical systems of authority where relations are based on kinship, ethnicity and other forms of identity make for limited constructive participation by citizens in the way the country is governed. Likewise, current patterns of economic relations reflect and perpetuate these underlying fractures in society.

Within this complex web of interrelationships and interactions, donors face immensely complex challenges in their engagement in DRC, particularly in the east of the country. Here, well-laid plans can become impossible to implement if open violence breaks out in their areas of operation. More generally, local and expatriate staff have to operate in situations where corruption and interference by state agencies, armed forces and other combatant groups throw up obstacles to humanitarian and development activities. Civil society partners also can be affected by the same cultures of power and ethno-political fractures that characterise the operating environment.

Efforts by donors to address such difficult contexts are, however, underway. In the east the European Commission (EC) – representing one of the biggest donors in the country – has initiated a programme known as ‘Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development’ (LRRD). The programme is designed to be transitional, aimed at filling the ‘gaps’ that often exist between emergency interventions and longer term development work. With €65 million in initial funding, the programme encompasses a significant geographical and thematic spread, reaching Katanga, Oriental and the Kivus and covering a range of issues from infrastructure rehabilitation to health care delivery. Given the scale of the challenges, there are a number of positives in the LRRD programme. First and foremost, perhaps, the principle of bridging emergency relief with longer term development work is of critical importance, particularly where the in-country EC delegation (rather than Brussels) is itself managing much of the programme.

The LRRD programme is designed to balance the competing demands of flexibility (in order to adapt to ever-changing needs in the east) and of longer term state-building (with the intention of increasing state capacity to eventually manage public works and the delivery of public services). Under the LRRD programme, the possibility of utilising fast-track tender processes, and thus avoiding costly delays in the implementation of urgently needed projects, means that it can respond to evolving situations. As situations stabilise, LRRD can use more competitive tender processes that, in principle, facilitate cost-effective implementation by NGOs and private contractors.15 Consultations between the Congolese government, the EC delegation in Kinshasa, and the administrative office in Brussels on how the funds available under LRRD will be allocated often reflect government-defined priorities as articulated in its poverty reduction plan. Once projects are agreed upon, the programme is designed to involve relevant government ministries in tender processes and project implementation. While the mix of flexibility and longer term approaches are critical, the LRRD also has selected vital targets for assistance on which DRC’s long-term economic development depends.

Infrastructure rehabilitation is crucial in eastern DRC, and the LRRD’s focus on this area is welcome. The infrastructure’s poor condition has a major impact not only on factors such as community economic security, but also individual nutritional well-being. Experience has shown that improved transport links have enabled displaced civilians to re-engage in economic activities, including the sale of agricultural products, with attendant decreases in food prices and increases in the nutritional status of the population. Indeed relief officials associate the declining rate of malnutrition in certain areas in the east partly with the re-establishment of relevant transport links. Furthermore, infrastructure projects can be used to multiply employment opportunities for community members (including returning ex-combatants and displaced people). Depending on the type of building required and the nature of the contracting process, construction activities can create a significant degree of short- and medium-term employment for individuals as well as a source of revenue for local companies. Moreover, a specific focus on secondary road rehabilitation not only facilitates access to critical services and markets for local communities but it also has the ability to represent an opportunity for labour-intensive construction and maintenance activities.

LRRD’s livelihood-centred projects, such as microfinance initiatives for vulnerable communities or rural development projects designed to support small-holder agricultural activities, have taken a variety of forms. The implementation of this diverse range of small projects has revealed a number of issues. For example, in the light of immediate day-to-day needs and the economic realities of the context (including informal taxation, extortion and road blockages caused by militia activity), quite a number of households receiving credit have not been able to make any medium- or long-term investments. Repayments on the credit then become difficult or impossible, at times leading to an increase in economic insecurity rather than its reduction. As such, micro-credit schemes that aim to support livelihoods in the region, including those funded through LRRD, need to ensure that they have longer time frames and are linked up with efforts to foster a conducive business environment in terms of developing relevant markets, legal frameworks and infrastructure in particular. The multitude of conflict impacts and insecurities on the efficacy of such projects demand that project design and implementation take them into account from the outset.

As with all donors, it is essential that the EC, in deploying the LRRD approach, minimises risks of negative impacts, including in relation to conflict. For example, overambitious projects may strengthen neither community cohesion and participation nor the capacity and effectiveness of decision-making institutions. Both of these are fundamental to the realisation of effective and sustainable outcomes. Projects should be formulated in such a way as to require a two-way communication between communities and implementing partners, be they UN agencies, NGOs or private enterprises. Without this, the work risks not being responsive enough to the needs of local stakeholders and that such stakeholders will not feel ‘invested’ in its upkeep. There is also the danger that access to information is so limited or distorted that rumour and speculation will, on their own, severely undermine the delivery of equitable benefits to the population, despite a project’s intentions. Providing clear and detailed information to the communities affected by the projects concerned is paramount. All available means of communication need to be mobilised or rumours and misinformation will quickly fill any voids.

Meaningful local-level participation, and conflict-sensitive development in general, requires that sufficient and skilled human resources (as well as financial ones, of course) be made available in the project preparation, implementation and follow-up phases. The process, moreover, must be built on a proper understanding of the conflict dynamics and on scenarioplanning as to what might happen during the implementation period. The ability of donors to effectively respond to changing situations, ensure the sufficient accompaniment of implementing partners and manage the often significant sums of aid money available requires an expert labour-intensive approach and budgetary arrangements that are ‘fit for purpose’. Only such a comprehensive approach can ensure that economic (re)construction will be able to support the complex process of peacebuilding.

Summary of Report Recommendations

  • The creation of shared and decent income opportunities, including jobs, must be a core element of peacebuilding efforts in eastern DRC, including those targeting economic recovery.
  • Civil society and local stakeholders need to be actively involved at all stages of decision-making and implementation in economic recovery initiatives, including the LRRD programme.
  • The LRRD programme should focus on ensuring a strategic engagement in its support for economic recovery processes in eastern DRC in order to maximise their peacebuilding potential.
  • In order for the LRRD programme to become a truly accountable initiative that builds the capacity of state and non-state institutions, financial resources must be matched by human resources and expertise in the delivery of aid.
  • The LRRD’s focus on infrastructure rehabilitation should prioritise the improvement of roads that provide the most benefit to local communities and promote shared economic opportunities. These are often secondary and feeder roads.
  • The EC should prioritise the widespread dissemination of information related to LRRD activities and funding to all communities concerned. Such information is critical to the ultimate impact of donor engagement in supporting citizen-state relations in DRC.

Underpinning this argument is the conviction that, whether in the economic sphere or elsewhere, thinking in terms of reconstructing the ex ante situation in DRC will result in little change to the drivers of conflict and fragility that are adversely affecting the country’s development prospects. Interventions of that kind will only delay the next round of violence. True transformation in the attitudes, behaviours and structures prevalent in DRC is urgently needed if the root causes ofconflict are to be addressed and equitable economic recovery to be realised. While external support must be judged using realistic yardsticks, it also must be designed and steadily implemented in such a way as to bring about these profound changes that support a broader peacebuilding process. The international community must not imagine that its support for such processes can be done ‘on the cheap’ – signing large cheques but without being prepared to bear the high transaction costs, particularly in terms of staff on the ground and longer time frames. It is because interventions in such fragile settings can actually increase instability and conflict that donors cannot afford to take a ‘business as usual’ approach to development in conflict contexts such as DRC. While progress has been made, there is still a long way to go before the international donor community responds to the full implications of this in their ways of working.