Tuesday 19 July 2011

World Politics Review on U.N. in DRC

Congo experts will not learn much from this posting which is an email interview I did for World Politics Review. It may however introduce you to an interesting web platform on international relations.

Global Insider: The U.N. Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

By The Editors | 18 Jul 2011

In late-June, the U.N. Security Council renewed the mandate of the peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), despite calls by DRC leaders for its withdrawal and fierce criticism of the mission's failure to halt the country's rape crisis. In an email interview, Theodore Trefon, senior researcher at the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Belgium and author of the forthcoming book "Congo Masquerade," discussed the U.N.'s peacekeeping mission in the DRC.

WPR: What are the main challenges facing the U.N. in the DRC?

Theodore Trefon: Powerlessness is the word that best captures the challenges facing the U.N. in this Western Europe-sized country of 70 million people. Congo is a fragile state with overwhelming macroeconomic, security and governance troubles. The territory is fragmented, with no real central government. Those in power lack political expertise and tend to be driven more by personal gain than the common good.

After decades of dictatorship, state collapse and war, both the state and society need to be rebuilt. Public health, education, infrastructure, security, the economy and establishing trust between government and people are all priorities. But the U.N. has neither the financial means nor the conceptual or operational capacity to deal with these fundamentals in a coherent way.

There is no master plan to piece the country back together. The reconstruction agenda is a series of isolated actions by partners with diverging perceptions and objectives. This is exacerbated by the fact that Congolese authorities see their sovereignty undermined by the U.N., and so have not accepted the relevance of the imported state-building agendas.

WPR: What successes has the U.N. Mission in the DRC achieved?

Trefon: It makes more sense to start with failures. The U.N. Mission in the DRC (MONUC), as it was originally called, is powerless to protect civilian lives. It has been accused of sexual abuse of children, gold and diamond smuggling, arms trading and running away from rebels. It has formal links with the national army, which is the major perpetrator of human rights abuses.

Nonetheless, the mission can claim some tenuous achievements. It participated in peace building and the transition toward democratic rule by overseeing the Lusaka Agreement and the Sun City national dialogue. It provided logistical support for the 2006 elections and helps coordinate humanitarian aid while monitoring human rights abuses. MONUC has monitored cease-fires between foreign and Congolese forces, brokered local truces between rival groups in the Kivu provinces and disarmed and repatriated thousands of foreign combatants.

The mission's aviation sector plays a major role in reuniting the country through the transportation of goods -- electoral kits for example -- and people. Its Radio Okapi is one of the best sources of nonpartisan information.

WPR: How have the mission's objectives changed over the course of the mission, and what impact will the recent one-year extension have?

Trefon: There has been a shift from a military approach toward a political one. The mission's military strategy was justified in the early years because of the illegal exploitation of natural resources, institutional weaknesses, ethnic rivalries, land disputes, the perpetration of human rights violations and the presence of heavily armed rebel groups.

The world's largest U.N. mission had 20,573 uniformed personnel in early 2010. But 2,000 troops withdrew in July 2010, and the operation was rebaptized the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in in the DRC (MONUSCO). "Stabilization" implies development work and political support, along with the ongoing priority of preparing for this year's presidential and legislative elections.

Withdrawal will not be easy. By staying, MONUSCO continues to artificially replace the state, perpetuating dependency. When it leaves, a security vacuum could result with the likelihood of renewed armed conflict.

Monday 4 July 2011

Urban and peri-urban agriculture, credit, fuel, food and hunger

Peri-urban farm plot - Maluku

Congo Masquerade is a critique of how reform initiatives and development projects have done little to help ordinary Congolese improve their well-being. Despite the book’s harsh assessment, I agree of course that there are numerous counter examples – in other words, real Congolese sucess stories. Agriculture is a good example of how positive change is emerging thanks to peoples' committment, adaptability and creativity. Agriculture is also the sector par excellence that highlights the interconnectivity of wide ranging development priorities.

The Congolese are amonst the hungriest people in the world. The urban poor are particularly hard hit. A $10.4 million FAO programme was consequently set up in five large cities to fight against malnutrition. It has increased daily intake of greens, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and other vegetables.

Farmers have seen their incomes increase dramatically. In Kinshasa and Lubumbashi for example, annual income of each farmer has increased from around $500 in 2004 to $2,000 in 2010. In Likasi it rose from $700 to $3,500. There have been similar increases in other cities.

The programme has also created jobs, providing work and income for 16,000 small-scale market gardeners and more than 60,000 people that form the links in the horticulture chain from field to table.

The first thing FAO did was to put in place institutional structures to link FAO, government and local authorities with horticulturists and farmers’ groups. It supplied seeds for new food varieties and invested in repairing irrigation infrastructure which had a side benefit of providing safe and clean water for the communities. The programme also introduced Integrated Production and Protection Management to help reduce reliance on synthetic pesticides.

Improved food security initiatives have also been supported by the Alliance Agricongo. The NGO platform has documented grassroots efforts in a beautifully illustrated book, highlighting the realities of what can be accomplished despite overwhelming challenges. The book provides powerful testimony to the ability of people – mainly women - to get things accomplished at their own micro-levels.

Intiatives to transform the urban unemployed into productive urban and peri-urban farmers have benefited significantly from greater farmer accessibility to micro-finace schemes. The FAO programme has been supported by FINCA which provides group loans to over 11,000 poor clients in urban and rural DRC.

Cell phone availability and food production is an important but understudied phenonemon. In a country with practically no landlines, cell phones contribute to improving the efficacy of food trade networks. Urban buyers can place orders directly with rural or peri-urban cooperatives, transporters share information about road conditions (and security/administrative hassles) and credit based on social capital and trust can be arranged thanks to direct communication without going through intermediaries. This also has an impact on establishing prices.

Peri-urban charcoal traders
Peri-urban farming is a concern that needs to be analysed in close conjunction with peri-urban charcoal production.  Food production and consumption and access to makala in and around Congo's big cities are also interconnected priorities.