International meeting on the Republic of the Congo: A country in transition

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 06 Jul 2000
The meeting was jointly organised by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with the participation of the World Bank. Participants included representatives of the donor community, UN agencies, the World Bank, other international and bilataral organisations, NGOs, representatives of the Government of the Republic of the Congo and representatives of the National Resistance Movement and the Committee de Suivi (Follow-up Committee).
The objectives of the meeting were:

To provide an opportunity for dialogue on sustaining the peace process in the Republic of the Congo;

To outline the international community's plans to support the transitional process - including emergency relief, reintegration of internally displaced persons and refugees and demobilisation and reintegration of ex-combatants; and

To review developments since a cessation of hostilities agreement was signed on 29 December 1999.

The meeting presented the United Nations Transition Appeal for the Republic of the Congo for US $28 million for the year 2000 - shifting from purely relief to a mixture of relief and transitional assistance.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Ross Mountain, UN Assistant Emergency Relief Co-ordinator and Director of OCHA Geneva, welcomed all participants to the meeting and expressed thanks to the special guests who had arrived from Brazzaville:
H.E. Mathais Dzon, Minister of Economy, Finance and Budget (and leader of the delegation;
H.E. Jean-Martin Mbemba, Minister of Justice;
H.E. Leon Alfred Opimbat, Minister of Health, Solidarity and Humanitarian Affairs;
General Mokoki President of the Follow-up Committee on the cessation of hostilities accords; and
Colonel François Bouesse, Representative of the National Resistance Council and Head of Administration of the Follow-up Committee.

Mr. Mountain highlighted that since the signing of the "Reinforced cease-fire and cessation of hostilities agreement" on 29 December 1999 there had been impressive changes in the humanitarian situation in the Congo. Population return had accelerated dramatically and humanitarian access had been opened to the affected interior. More than 630,000 of the 810,000 displaced persons and refugees had now returned to their home areas. Malnutrition and death rates had dropped.

The role of the humanitarian and development agencies was to ensure that the needs of the population were addressed. This was the reason why a special mid-year revision of the UN Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for the Congo had been undertaken by the country team and was now being launched. It was important to keep up with the pace of events in an integrated approach involving all UN agencies and closely cooperating with NGOs, the Government, international and bilateral partners, and particularly the World Bank.

Mr. Omar Bakhet, Director of UNDP's Emergency Response Division and co-chair of the meeting highlighted in his opening remarks that there was an urgent need to prepare a comprehensive, wide-reaching demobilisation programme that would include the rehabilitation of the social infrastructure, such as health facilities, schools, water and sanitation. He stressed that in order to stabilise the current situation, such programmes should start as soon as possible to avoid a possible relapse of hostilities.

Mr. Bakhet stated that UN agencies in Congo supported the Government's Transitional Post-Conflict Programme and would focus on four sub-programmes:

1) community action for reintegration and recovery; 2) justice and rule of law for durable peace; 3) human rights, reintegration of former combatants; and 4) gender equality. Mr. Bakhet underlined that UNDP would coordinate rehabilitation and development activities on behalf of the donor community and provide support to the Government in the formulation of a comprehensive capacity building program.

H. E. Mathias Dzon, Minister of Economy, Finance and Budget in the Republic of the Congo and the leader of the delegation, stated that the Government's comprehensive post-conflict program with IMF aimed at building and rehabilitating schools, hospitals and administrative structures and re-establishing essential services such as sanitation, electricity, water and railroads which had been discontinued due to the second war. Currently, investment was insufficient to address all the needs and the Minister appealed to the international community for immediate support.

He emphazised that the country was embarking on a vast programme of transition to a market economy. The Government priorities were servicing the debt and the restoration of security and stability in the country. The electoral process, which had also been interrupted by war in June 1997, would be resumed and a new constitution drafted. A population census as a first step was planned at the end of the year 2000. It was, however, at the heart of the problem to further assist the return and reintegration of displaced persons and refugees and to reinsert demobilized youth militia into society. This was a tremendous challenge for the Congo and the effectiveness of the Government would depend on the help and support of the international community.

General Gilbert Mokoki, President of the Executive Committee of the Comite de Suivi (Follow-up Committee), stated that the conflict in the Republic of the Congo had been resolved through an innovative method that favoured direct contacts between the combatants, without the direct intervention of the international community, leading belligerents to sign the cease-fire and cessation of hostilities agreement. Thanks to the tireless efforts of President Bongo of the Republic of Gabon, who had acted as mediator, two cease-fire and cessation of hostilities agreements for the Congo had been signed on 16 November 1999 in Pointe Noire and on 29 December 1999 in Brazzaville. As a result hostilities in the entire country had stopped.

The Follow-up Committee was responsible for the implementation of the agreements. The committee was composed of Coordinators and an Executive Committee with Regional Committees and Specialised Commissions at the territorial level. The main tasks of the Coordinators were to pursue and consolidate work in favour of peace and national reconciliation outside of the Congo, to organise international observer activities throughout the Congolese territory and to manage finances and logistics of the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee was responsible for pursuing and consolidating the work in favour of the peace and national reconciliation inside the Congo, and ensuring that agreements are respected. The programme of the Follow-up Committee revolved around the following essential activities: following up on the applications of the agreements, re-deploying the armed forces, collecting weapons, ammunitions and explosives, census-taking and reintegrating ex-combatants into the armed forces and civilian life

General Mokoki concluded that the main problems of the peace process were the presence of large numbers of weapons still in the hands of ex-combatants, which constituted a permanent threat to peace and the challenging task of reintegrating ex-combatants. He explained that the possession of weapons by ex-militia was considered by them as a guarantee of survival in the absence of alternative occupational activities. This was a main concern and needed to be addressed with the support of the international community through a comprehensive reintegration programme. Only then, national dialogue should start leading to an interim transitional period.

Colonel François Bouesse, Representative of the Follow-up Committee and the National Resistance Council, explained that in September 1999 the resistance movements of Pool, Niari, Lekoumou and Bouenza regions had formed the National Resistance Council and began a military struggle to overthrow the establishment. After two years of armed struggle, the National Resistance Council stopped the fighting and signed the Brazzaville agreement of 29 December 1999.

Since then, the national Follow-up Committee had made progress in encouraging the return of populations coming out of the bush to their homes, restored confidence in conflict areas through re-deploying forces composed of both government troops and resistance ex-combatants, opened humanitarian corridors and encouraged the free movement of people and property and supported a general amnesty for all acts of war occurring between 5 June 1997 and 29 December 1999. However, the peace could only be consolidated if current problems would be addressed, particularly the integration of 30,000 ex-combatants to be followed by a true national dialogue. This national dialogue should be facilitated by President Bongo.

Colonel Boesse supported the appeal of the Congolese Government for assistance by the international community to rebuild the country, while referring to Europe after the Second World War, which had also been rebuilt with the help of the international community.

In the following discussion, France expressed its full support to the Congolese peace process and encouraged the Government to fully engage in a national dialogue without any hesitation. The consolidation of peace would require that elections be held in 2001. France was prepared to further assist the Congo and hoped to convince its partners to also support this effort. Congo was at a crossroads facing two main challenges, i.e. restoration of law and sustainable development of the country. In this respect, it was pivotal that the Government ensured a balanced development strategy and established a structure for bilateral and multilateral funding. The Congolese banking system needed to be reformed, arrears paid, public services restored and projects set up for economic reconstruction.

Finland, while fully supporting the French statement, expressed concern over the gap between humanitarian and development assistance asking how best to bridge this gap. He commended OCHA and UNDP for their efforts in linking relief and rehabilitation activities as outlined in the UN Transition Appeal for the Congo. Finland was pleased to see all UN agencies cooperating in this process, setting common priorities and developing a joint strategy. The appeal was appreciated as a user-friendly document, which would be closely reviewed by Finland and upon which possible funding would be based. However, donors needed to be further reassured of the solidity and durability of the peace process by the Congolese leaders.

The United States, represented by the US Ambassador to the Republic of Congo also supported the French position and emphazised the tremendous changes and positive developments in the Congo since the beginning of the year. He was particularly impressed with the increase of access throughout the country, which had enabled him to travel freely without military escorts. It was now important that the economy be build-up along with transportation, public welfare and the reorganization of the military, the justice system and public administration. There was an urgent need for the international community to help consolidate the Congolese peace process.

Norway agreed that there was a need for international assistance to consolidate the peace process. Norway had allocated substantial funds for the Great Lakes region, particularly to Norwegian NGOs working in the health sector. The Transition Appeal would be carefully reviewed and served as a basis for possible new funding The question was asked whether OCHA anticipated more transitional appeals such as the one for the Republic of Congo.

Luxembourg agreed with the statements made by France about fully supporting Congo in its efforts. It posed the question as to how many child soldiers needed to be demobilised. Mr. William Paton, UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator in the Congo, answered that during the war there had been between 2,000 to 2,500 child soldiers. Many had begun as children and were now young adults.

The United Kingdom requested more details on the disarmement process and whether lessons learned from demobilization programmes in other countries, such as Sierra Leone would be applied.

The European Union remarked that the situation in the Congo was an evolving one. Recent missions by EU representatives had confirmed impressive changes and significant improvements in the overall situation. As a result new EU offices had been opened and a head of delegation had recently arrived. In 1998 and 1999, ECHO had provided substantial amounts for post-conflict needs, but more assistance was required. Focus of EU programmes was now micro-development and environmental protection projects.

Mr. Salomon Samen, Senior Economist at the World Bank focused in his presentation on i) the relationship between the World Bank and the Government, ii) the macro-economic situation and related challenges and iii) how the World Bank is planning to support activities in the Congo. He stated that the Congo was at a turning point and that this meeting and future meetings currently planned by the World Bank should help to provide optimum support to the Congo. Mr. Samen explained that due to the fighting, WB programmes had been suspended in 1997. In 1998 the WB returned, but a planned post-conflict recovery programme was again disrupted by renewed fighting. Following various missions, most recently an inter-agency mission with the participation of UNDP and OCHA, new programmes were currently being prepared within the World Bank's transitional support startegy for the Congo.

The overall assessment of the macro-economic situation was timidly optimistic. The economic indicators such as population growth, inflation, employment and payments were closely monitored by the WB. While the war had had serious negative impacts, the economy was now picking up. The balance of trade showed a rough surplus and inflation rates were at an acceptable level, while the structural deficit stood at 20 percent and unemployment ranged at 70 percent. The resources of the country were overloaded by the weight of excessive debt, which if not addressed by the Government, prevented the World Bank from any major involvement. A solution could be found to the debt problem by permitting the Congo to profit from the new instruments under consideration within the framework of debt reduction initiatives for countries coming out of conflicts and Highly Indebted Poor Countries. Cancellation of a large portion of external debt could occur in compensation for reorganisation of the macro-economic framework, strengthening of structural measures and an increase of public resources channelled into social sectors - particularly health and education.

The challenge was to shift from a war economy to a sustainable economy. This included, according to WB assessments, a substantial restructuring of the economy and the privatisation of the financial sector and public enterprises. Incentives had to be established to promote the development of the private sector - including youth reintegration and training. Lack of transparency would influence the overall privatisation program and scare away potential investors. Mr. Samen informed the audience that more details could be found in the Aide Memoire prepared after the most recent World Bank-led inter-agency mission to the Congo. The document was available at the meeting.

In the coming 6-12 months the World Bank would support humanitarian and rehabilitation activities within the UN system framework. The World Bank's transitional support strategy would then focus on macro-economic reforms, structural measures, strengthening of social security and governance programmes to ensure more transparency in managing public resources.

In the afternoon, the meeting proceeded with a PowerPoint presentation by Mr. William Paton, UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator, wherein he outlined the challenges and constraints of international assistance in the Republic of the Congo. He stated that between July to October 1999 high mortality rates had prevailed from malnutrition and related diseases. At its peak, the crisis had been one of the worst in the world in 1999 and yet assistance to the displaced had been the lowest.

After the cessation of hostilities agreement people started to return rapidly with hundreds of thousands in only two months. Malnutrition dropped remarkably in only a few months. The speed and vitality of the return process had been remarkable. In parallel, access to the affected interior opened rapidly and as of July 2000 access was possible to 99 percent of the country, mainly without military escorts.

Mr. Paton explained that the UN strategy in the Congo was to assist the consolidation of the cessation of hostilities and support to the reintegration of returnees, youths and ex-militia, re-establishment of social services, restarting productive activity such as agriculture and income generation at the community level and promoting the rule of law. He outlined a coordinated approach between all UN agencies and NGOs present in the county which included coordination meetings, sectoral meetings, joint offices in the interior of country, inter-agency missions and shared information systems.

Mr. Paton noted that while the UN was not a signatory of the cease-fire and cessation of hostilities accord, it supported the peace process through its operational activities on the ground.

The constraints of the UN system in the Congo was a lack of sufficient operational partners, the continued speed with which developments continued and a severe lack of funding for relief and rehabilitation activities. In 1999, all UN agencies combined had only received USD $1.6 million through the UN Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal.

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