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The international community, money and 2011 in the Congo

Just a few months ago, President Kabila’s outlook wasn’t too bad. He had achieved debt cancellation, freeing up a substantial amount of money in his budget, he had made (tentative) peace with his longstanding external rival Rwanda, while his longstanding internal rival Jean-Pierre Bemba will be standing trial in The Hague in November. If the case of Thomas Lubanga is anything judge by, Bemba could be in the docket for quite some time – Lubanga has been standing trial since January 2009 – apparently disqualifying him from participating in the Congolese elections of November 2011.

The economy is set to grow by over 6% next year and the IMF continues to make rosy statements about the country’s economic outlook.

Now, the mood has changed. Violence continues in the East, and there have been three briefings to the UN Security Council already in the past few months about sexual violence in particular. The cancellation of First Quantum and Tullow’s mineral and oil concessions has affected investor confidence. And the death of human rights activist Floribert Chebeya – followed several months later by a similar death in prison of a Belgian-Congolese protester – has raised serious questions about the government’s dedication to good governance and human rights.

His foreign donors, who so amiably had canceled $12 billion in debt in July, are now balking at the cancellations of $2,9 billion of bilateral debt through the Paris Club. The World Bank is reportedly extremely frustrated with the government’s cancellation of First Quantum’s mining concessions in Katanga, which had been supported by the World Bank’s private investment branch, the IFC. The World Bank has allegedly suspended its project to reform the artisanal mining sector, called Promines. (The Bank’s official response is that they are still going through the required bureaucratic steps.)

To make matters worse, Vital Kamerhe, the president’s long term ally turned rival, has apparently finally decided to run and has begun discussions with the UDPS and MLC opposition parties, seeking their support. If he does get their support – even if just for a second round of the presidential election – that alliance between strong western, central and eastern candidates could be a serious threat to the regime.

It is within this chilly climate that the Congolese government is asking donors to supply around $346 million from donors and MONUSCO to fund the 2011 elections. They have also asked for increases in general donor budgets.

The answer has not been enthusiastic so far. MONUSCO’s budget is on the wane. The US government, according to one source there, has until now only set aside $4 million in his aid budget for the elections.

This is not good. if we do not fund elections, we will not be able to help Congolese civil society set up the necessary safeguards – election observers, oversight structures, audits – and we won’t have the diplomatic clout needed to be heard in Kinshasa. The international community loves the wring its hands about not having any influence over the government in Kinshasa, only to disburse almost $3 billion in funding to the country. While I understand that it is difficult to tie this funding, most of which goes to humanitarian and infrastructure projects and is not fungible, to concrete conditions, I think we can do better.

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