Saturday 26 May 2012

Population Census DRC

Jaynet Kabila, sister of the President and Member of Parliament put Prime Minister Matata on the spot last week. She raised the question in Parliament how the government plans on implementing its social and development objectives without knowing how many people live in the country. Matata’s five-year plan outlines six objectives. Deputy Kabila (representing Kalemie in Katanga) called for a comprehensive population census to be added as a seventh objective. Her question and recommendation obviously make sense.

It is assumed that Congo’s population is 67.8 million, that there is a 2.6% growth rate and an urban population of 35%. But these figures published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) are ‘guesstimates’. The last population census in DRC dates back to 1984 so no one really knows.

What has been the impact of HIV/AIDS? The two Congo wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2003) are reported to have resulted in an estimated 5.4 million ‘excess deaths’ according to the International Rescue Committee. How accurate are these casualty counts? Again we simply do not know.

A major obstacle to free and fair elections is the absence of reliable demographic data. According to demographer Léon de Saint Moulin, Kinshasa’s population was 9.7 million in 2010 whereas the CIA World Factbook placed it at 8.4 million (2011). When it comes to voter registration and constituency forming in a hotly contested arena like that of Kinshasa, this discrepancy is not trivial. 

The census is long overdue. The UN recommends that population counts be done every 10 years. Again, according to the UNPF, DRC is the only African country to have not carried out a census in the past 20 years. In post-conflict situations, efficient development, security and infrastructure planning depend on realistic population data. The data is fundamental for private sector investors and the land use planners who need to establish where to build schools, hospitals, roads, water pumping stations, electricity grids and government builds.

Census data is by its very nature sensitive: how many people live under a roof, age, sex, level of education, in some cases biometric information, etc. A reliable census is consequently based on trust. There is no guarantee that the necessary degree of trust between government and citizen currently exists in Congo to gather such comprehensive data.

The cost of a census in DRC is estimated at $173 million.

The United Nations Population Fund jointly with other UN agencies is supporting the Government of DRC in conducting a Population and Housing Census (PHC) planned for 2014. The fund's strategy is to enable national technical and management capacities in DRC to plan and implement high quality census taking. Another UN agency, UNOPS, is building regional offices to house the census work. Results of this census could be used for development planning, good governance and poverty alleviation.

Carrying out this population census is a major priority. Without reliable data, development planning will remain arbitrary, politically biased and ad hoc.

Sunday 13 May 2012

Matata's Five-Year Plan

Prime Minister Matata Mapon presented his five-year Programme d’Action du Gouvernement: 2012-2016 to the Congolese National Assembly last week.

Building on President Kabila’s new mantra ‘revolution and modernity’ the programme outlines six ambitious objectives: (i) institutional reform and reinforcing the efficiency of the state, (ii) consolidating macroeconomic stability, accelerating growth and creating jobs, (iii) improving and developing infrastructure, (iv) improving living conditions for the population, (v) stimulating a sense of civism and (vi) improving Congo’s international relations and image.

The programme stipulates – but only in very general terms – how the realization of these objectives is to be financed. Three sources of funding are emphasized: (i) national fiscal revenues, (ii) public-private partnerships and (iii) support from bi- and multinational partners.

The 57-page document provides for very interesting reading. There are examples of critical realism: “L’économie congolaise a enregistré durant la décade 2000-2010 un taux de croissance moyen de 5%. Cette performance ne s’est malheureusement pas traduite par une amélioration correspondante de l’emploi et du bien être de la population” (section 3.1).

Some passages seem more likely to be read in NGO reports or academic papers than in a major official document: “L’amélioration de la gouvernance demeure un défi majeur pour le pays. Faute d’une volonté politique clairement affirmée pour le changement, la révolution mentale que requiert la situation restera un leurre” (section 4).

Last year’s agricultural law stipulates that only Congolese have the right to own land. Foreigners cannot be majority holders. In section 4.2.4 of Matata’s programme a similar constraint is announced. In the aim of promoting the middle class and protecting small shop-owners, “il est prévu de … interdire l’exercise du petit commerce et des petites activités aux étrangers…”.

Other items seem rather far-fetched in a five-year plan: providing villages with more than 500 inhabitants with wells (section, building factories to produce pharmaceuticals (section or investing in the production of silica sands for solar panels (section 4.2.2).

The document is admittedly an outline and doesn’t have the ambition of developing in detail its points. Some ideas do nonetheless require clarification. What does this mean? “establish compulsory public service for people over 18” (section 4.5.2) or “humanize living conditions in prisons and make prisoners productive” (section 4.1.5).

Just days after Matata announced this ambitious programme, the President sent it back to the drawing board. Kabila asked the Prime Minister to rethink the ranking of his priorities because his ‘priority of all priorities’ is establishing security in the east.

From a development perspective, the five-year plan makes sense: implementing it however is going to be an uphill battle.