The Democratic Republic of Congo needs to make better use of its natural resources to adequately support its growing population, says Eustache Ouayoro, Country Director at the World Bank
The signs are there, although they are still somewhat tentative, that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) may be emerging from its many years of conflict and instability and navigating its way towards a new development era. It cannot come soon enough.
DRC’s ‘lost years’ of war and havoc devastated its economy and took the lives of more than 3.5 million peopled since 1998. For millions of others who survived the bloodshed, their lives were confined to makeshift refugee camps, without jobs and hope, while the social fabric all around them unravelled.
It is little wonder that, years later, the people of the DRC still experience poor health, little education, and high levels of poverty. The DRC ranks last among the world’s 187 countries in the Human Development Index. Poverty is widespread, with 71 percent of the population living with less than $1.25 per day.
Political uncertainty also persists. The situation in eastern DRC, where a rebel group called M23 is battling government troops, is a clear reminder of the country’s vulnerability to external and homegrown crises. The country will need to address the root causes of the repeated conflicts and significantly improve the poor social and economic wellbeing of its people to create the space to generate development, dramatically lower poverty, and create opportunity for all – not just the lucky few with the right connections.
Building alongside partners
Over the past few years, the DRC has been able to make significant progress to restore security across most of the territory, political reconciliation and economic recovery with the support of international partners, including the World Bank. Against the headwind of a tough global economy, the DRC has been posting solid economic growth figures, while inflation was under control and in single figures in 2012, compared to 500 percent in 2001. With economic growth of 7.2 percent in 2012, and 8.2 percent expected in 2013, the DRC is among the countries experiencing some of the fastest levels of economic growth in the world.
Debt relief to the DRC under the World Bank and IMF’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) has provided the largest amount of debt relief ever granted to a country, estimated at approximately $16bn. This debt write-down has improved the country’s fiscal position and has allowed it to invest its debt savings in more development opportunities.
Consider that the DRC has massive deposits of the world’s most strategic metals and precious stones such as copper, diamonds, gold, tungsten, coltan, and many others; but on the other hand, it also has some of the world’s worst poverty, education and health prospects. The DRC can certainly seem like country of great paradox. And yet it has great opportunities to create significant growth and jobs thanks to these very same abundant natural resources, huge tracts of fertile land, a large population, and a commanding location in the centre of the continent.
Potential for development
Only 10 percent of its huge area of arable land is farmed, and only 13,000 hectares are irrigated against a potential of four million hectares. The DRC is currently importing at least 30 percent of its food needs, when proper farming of its land could feed a billion people. With 100,000MW of hydropower generation capacity, the DRC has 15 percent of the world hydropower generation potential but only nine percent of the population has access to electricity, and even then it is not always reliable.