UN Plan - Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) 2001-2002

from UN Country Team in Republic of the Congo
Published on 01 Jan 2001

Executive Summary
Congo's decade of political violence has worsened a trend of stagnated development. The massive displacement caused by the last of three civil wars in 1998-1999 led to epidemic levels of malnutrition. Directly or indirectly, up to 50,000 lost their lives.

Peace, however, has been restored. Talks throughout 1999 and an amnesty in August led to the signing of a cease-fire. The Government has started a process of political reform, to include a constitutional referendum in 2001. UN activities all support the development of a culture of peace.

While life-saving emergency needs are down, the civil wars have left a wake of poverty. The forced flight, the destruction and the looting caused people to lose savings, assets, tools -- in short, their capacity to withstand shocks and respond to changing circumstances. Poverty levels already stood at 70 percent in urban areas prior to the latest round of violence. Today, poverty is a near-universal phenomenon in Congo. Congo's human development index has not improved since 1985.

In response, the UN Country Team in Congo has drafted this UN Plan, 2001-2002. It bridges the relief-development "gap" reviewing remaining (and new) humanitarian needs, but also taking a snapshot of the Congo's development situation, presenting an analysis for medium-term recovery and long-term development.

The UN goal during this period is to support the population in the consolidation of peace and in the reduction of poverty, especially through: i) reviving productive and income-generating activities; ii) re-establishing basic social services and infrastructure; iii) meeting emergency needs and establishing early-warning systems; iv) supporting efforts to promote democracy and human rights.

Re-starting productive activities -- supporting people in their efforts to earn a livelihood -- is a fundamental challenge. Activities focus in particular on women, youth and the formerly displaced with training, credit, seeds and tools. During the recovery period, labour-intensive infrastructure projects will help reintegrate those looking for employment and re- monetise the economy. The agricultural economy is severely underdeveloped in Congo, which is a net importer of food. Less than two percent of arable land is cultivated. The rural transport system is dysfunctional. The informal economy needs to be recognized and supported as a principal source of livelihoods.

Social services have decayed throughout the 1990's, neglected, looted and destroyed. In education, enrollment rates are down. In health, maternal health indicators have worsened. The massive displacement into forests has engendered the re-emergence of diseases previously controlled or eradicated. For most of the objectives and indicators established at global UN conferences, Congo has made no progress or has worsened its situation.

Although there are virtually no remaining concentrations of displaced requiring life-sustaining assistance, extended humanitarian needs remain, particularly for vulnerable populations. In addition, as the scenario of renewed violence cannot be completely ruled out, efforts will be made to improve early-warning and increase capacity for response to new emergencies. Governance. The management of Congo's oil-wealth, amounting to one third of measured GNP (depending upon the global price), is key to Congo's future. Legal frameworks -- and their enforcement through an effective judicial system -- and social policies define the context within which Congolese struggle against poverty. Women's rights, recognized in the law, need to be put into practice more.

While Congolese struggle to overcome the effects of the war, a new humanitarian crisis is unfolding along the banks of the Oubangui and Congo rivers. Refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), amounting already to more than 100,000, are fleeing continuing violence and instability. So far, most of those refugees have fled into northern Congo, but this could spread southward should zones of instability enlarge within the DRC.

I. Context and Goals

The 70's and 80's: A One-party State

Gaining independence in 1960, Congo turned towards Marxist-Leninism in 1963. In consequence, the development strategy that was subsequently implemented during the 1970's and 1980's centered on government-owned enterprise and free social services, notably in health and education. The latter part of this single-party era (from 1979 until it ended in 1992) was ruled by President Sassou-Nguesso. This centralized, public development was financed by a combination of oil revenues (production began about 1980) and external borrowing.1 The strategy achieved some of its goals, particularly in education. In 1990, literacy rates were considerably higher in Congo than the Sub-Saharan average (Figure 1.). The Congolese could also expect a slightly longer life, 53.7 years, compared to 51.8 for the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.2

In the mid 1980's, however, the strategy soured. The large debt combined with reduced income (dropping global oil prices) provoked a financial and economic crisis. A structural adjustment programme ensued (1986), with its required austerity, including reductions in spending in social sectors, and the shutting down and/or privatising of state-owned enterprises.3 But by 1990 the situation had only worsened. The economy continued to decline in real terms for Congolese citizens , particularly in comparison to the region as a whole (Figure 2).

The faltering economy spurred on social and political unrest. The government felt forced to abandon certain aspects of its structural adjustment programme, for example by increasing salaries. But in 1991 the Government completely ceased paying creditors, signaling major crisis. The social unrest resonated with -- and was influenced by -- the end of the cold war and the world-wide shift towards democracy. In Africa, "national conferences" emerged as a powerful tool in the hands of reformers and non-governmental opposition, forcing single party regimes to abandon their monopolies in favour of more democratic systems. During the unrest in Congo, this model became the objective of those advocating reform.


1 World Bank, "Congo Poverty Assessment, 1997", p. 3.

2 UNDP, Human Development Report, 1991.

3 République du Congo, Ministère de l'Agriculture et de l'Elevage, "Stratégies Nationales et Programmes pour le Développement Agricole et la Sécurité Alimentaire", (DRAFT), August 2000.

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