A Better Future for the Congo
Both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have criticized the excessive generosity of the deals provided for foreign investors in mining, despite having designed and pushed them. The US Treasury Department has accused one foreign investor of gaining $1.3 billion – more than five times total government health financing in the DRC – through “opaque and corrupt” deals.
The lack of government revenue is directly reflected in under-investment in public services. Parents seeking treatment for a malaria-stricken child, or a place for that child in school, must pay from their own pocket – an impossibility for many. As crowded as the Rubaya primary school’s classrooms are, every child I spoke to there had a sibling not attending school, because their family couldn’t cover the fees – around $10 per term.
Political turbulence has further disrupted development efforts. The election that President Joseph Kabila was supposed to have called in 2016 is now scheduled for December 2018 – a delay that has intensified grievances and spurred violence.
Last year, some two million people in the DRC, half of them in the previously peaceful central province of Kasai, were forced to flee their homes. The total number of internally displaced people now stands at 4.5 million – second only to Syria in current conflicts – while another 750,000 have fled to neighboring countries. These displaced people and refugees are living in desperate conditions, without adequate shelter, nutrition, and health care, and with virtually no access to education.
Boosting productivity and creating jobs for the more than 1.5 million workers entering the labor market each year are essential to put the DRC on a different, more hopeful path. Here, education is critical. Each additional year of schooling is associated with a 9% increase in income. Expanded opportunities for learning would thus go a long way toward reducing poverty, especially given that almost half of the DRC’s population is under 15 years of age. But improved access to education must go hand in hand with strategies to combat child malnutrition and poor health.
Education for all and universal health provision hold the key to a better future for DRC’s children. Progress will require the next government to take urgent action to build a tax base. More immediately, unless an effective response to the DRC’s escalating humanitarian crisis is mounted this year, the level of suffering will be immense – and not just in the country itself. As neighboring countries know all too well, what happens in the DRC often doesn’t stay in the DRC.
An emergency summit planned for this week in Geneva is an opportunity for donors to stave off the worst, by providing the $1.7 billion the United Nations estimates an effective response will require. That will require donors to abandon their short-sighted and wrong-headed perceptions of the DRC as a lost cause, and instead help the country build the future that its children deserve.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2016.