On 31 December 2016 a deal was reached between the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and major opposition parties for elections to take place in 2017. This is a hugely important and welcome moment for DRC and its people. It is widely accepted that three decades of mismanagement, followed by two decades of severe conflict and instability, have left DRC as one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. DRC suffers from poor governance and infrastructure, weak basic services, ongoing conflict and one of the longest-running humanitarian crises in the world. It is one of the Department for International Development’s (DFID) highest priority countries, with a planned bilateral budget of £147 million for each of the next two financial years and an imputed UK share of multilateral net ODA of £124.75 million going to DRC in 2014.
Planned elections in DRC for 2016 have been delayed, with many observers accusing President Joseph Kabila of pursuing a strategy of ‘glissement’ (the French word for slippage), finding technical reasons to delay the elections, in order to stay in power.
DFID has set aside £11.4 million for support to the electoral process, but has delayed disbursement due to the political climate and chances of timely elections worsening.
We support its decision to delay its disbursement, but now that a deal has been reached which makes elections likely to occur this year, we recommend that DFID be ready to provide support rapidly. We encourage DFID to work with UNDP and the international community to ensure that elections can take place effectively.
DFID’s support to peacebuilding activities and humanitarian assistance in DRC is substantial. We urge DFID to continue bilateral programming on peacebuilding, in order to diversify its efforts and work with local communities to understand and address the local drivers of conflict. We also recommend that the UK advocates at the international level that MONUSCO, the peacekeeping force in DRC, be more proactive in protecting civilians and to ensure that it remains properly resourced, in the face of possible reductions in US contributions to peacekeeping globally. Given the protracted nature of the humanitarian crisis in DRC, DFID should work to close the gap between humanitarian and development work, by embedding consideration of the humanitarian crisis into all of its other programmes. Infrastructure is crucial to providing humanitarian support, peacekeeping and stabilisation activities, access to services and livelihoods. While DFID has had difficulties in its previous road-building programme, we recommend that donors should work towards providing further support in the future.
The low status of women, and violence against women and girls, are both serious issues in DRC. We acknowledge that DFID incorporates gender into all of its programmes, and has incorporated support to victims of sexual and gender-based violence into its health and WASH programmes. Nevertheless, we feel that there is more that it could do in this area. It only has one gender-specific programme, La Pépinière, which is focused on the empowerment of adolescent girls but is currently small in scale. DFID should carefully implement the lessons learned from this programme, and also make the political empowerment of women a core part of its work. Despite our predecessor Committee recommending that violence against women and girls should be DFID’s top priority in DRC, this has not happened. We strongly reiterate that recommendation, and add that DFID should be funding standalone outcome focused projects on this issue.
DRC has high levels of corruption and a weak private sector. Suspicious mining deals signed between 2010–12, which cost DRC $1.36 billion in potential revenues, included the alleged involvement of the UK overseas territories and London-listed companies. These are serious allegations to which DFID was not alert, and from which lessons must be learned. Policy coherence, between domestic UK laws and the UK’s development agenda, is of the utmost important, and we expect a full review by the UK Government of the power it has to hold to account companies registered in the UK. We also reiterate our previous recommendations on corruption; especially that the UK Government should be doing everything it can to persuade the overseas territories to increase transparency by creating public beneficial ownership registers.
We expect confirmation that DFID’s private sector development work is truly helping the poorest and most marginalised. We believe that we should see much tighter return on investment criteria in economic development programmes. We recommend that DFID undertakes an immediate evaluation of its Essor programme and close it if its remains ineffective.
We have been very impressed by the work that DFID is doing on healthcare, especially its Access to Primary Healthcare programme, which DFID should be ambitious in expanding to more areas. It should, however, put in place a way of measuring the sustainability of its WASH programmes beyond the life of the programme.
The development context in DRC makes it a highly complex and difficult environment for DFID to work in. Despite this, it has to be generally commended for the way in which it is working, although we hope to see increases in the priority it gives to both anti-corruption and violence against women and girls. The changing circumstances have made the flexibility and resilience of programming of the utmost importance, as well as the use of civil society and strong local partners with good local knowledge.
There are lessons to be learned from DRC for DFID’s work in other fragile states, and a high level of flexibility should be a core part of this.