DRC Fast-Tracked for World Bank Funding

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, March 12, 2007 (ENS) - Funding for water supplies and roads for the capital city of Kinshasa will be the first grant of a new streamlined funding process the World Bank has approved for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC.

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz and EU Development Commissioner Jean-Louis Michel urged the international community to move quickly in supporting the reconstruction efforts of the DRC's new government.

At a news conference in Kinshasa Friday, Wolfowitz and Michel emphasized the critical importance of translating the dividends of peace into concrete changes in the lives of those who live in this resource rich but poverty stricken nation of 66 million people.

"We need to move fast, much faster than we normally do in long-term development programs," Wolfowitz said. "The people of this country have suffered too much; they need to see the results of peace. They need to see it in six months, not in six years."

Wolfowitz said the World Bank's board had approved new procedures in order to be able to respond much more rapidly than in the past to countries in emergency situations.

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EU Development Commissioner Jean-Louis Michel confers with World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz in Kinshasa, DRC. (Photo © Yves Kumuamba courtesy World Bank)
He said the first grant under these procedures would be one this month for US$180 million to build roads and provide water in Kinshasa, creating jobs in the process. This is part of what could be as much as US$380 million in grants to the DRC this year from the World Bank.

"We're already beginning to plan projects for 2008 and our overall horizon would be $1.4 billion over the next three years," the World Bank president said.

"There's a good deal of money that is committed to Congo that we haven't been able to disburse because in many areas there is weak capacity to administer programs," Wolfowitz acknowleged. "It's important where we have money to build roads or build schools or provide water to find mechanisms to deliver that, and if the government institutions are too weak to do it then sometimes we have to improvise."

"But the important thing," he said, "is to try to speed up the speed with which these projects are implemented so that people can see real results on the ground."

To help fight corruption, Wolfowitz said that in applying this new process the Bank would use "the very highest standards that we are able to apply to ensure that procurement is honest and contracting is transparent."

During their visit, Wolfowitz and Michel met with Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga, and his cabinet and with President Joseph Kabila, the country's first democratically elected president in 40 years after many years of war.

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World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz meets with DRC President Joseph Kabila. March 8, 2007. (Photo © Flavien Nzazi courtesy World Bank)
Kabila became president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo after the assassination of his father Laurent-Désiré Kabila in January 2001. On November 27, 2006, he was confirmed as the first Congolese president to be democratically elected by universal direct suffrage.

During an official dinner organized by the government, President Kabila emphasized the importance of this high-level visit for Congo.

Wolfowitz and Michel also met with Jean-Pierre Bemba, the main contender during the recent election.

Wolfowitz and Michel held a meeting in Kinshasa that brought together the country's 15 main development partners where they underscored the need of coordinating assistance and moving with speed. The donors were from the United Nations, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Holland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Commissioner Michel, representing the DRC's other major development donor besides the World Bank, said that the EU is donating 161 million euros in 2007 towards reconstruction across many sectors of the economy.

"The Congo is rich with potential and human resources, and we are here to help the country and its new government in its work, and I think that other donors will follow our example, said Michel.

"In order for the people of Congo to succeed in meeting the very daunting challenges this country faces we must work together like never before," said Wolfowitz. "We can only ask the people of Congo to do more if we the donors are ready to ask the same of ourselves."

Before coming to Kinshasa, Wolfowitz visited Kisangani, scene of fighting between Ugandan and Rwandan forces in 1999 and 2000 as well as more recent outbreaks of violence.

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Emery Mumbere Matembela, left, an ex-combatant who is taking training courses to reintegrate himself in civilian life, meets World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz in Kisangani. (Photo © Yves Kumuamba courtesy World Bank)
He met with a wide range of people including ex-combatants starting a new life of demobilization and reintegration, business leaders, and women activists.

With fears lingering that a relapse into conflict is still a possibility across the country's far east, several of the former soldiers told their personal stories to Wolfowitz at a regional center of the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration in Kisangani.

"None of the people I met along the way wants to go back to warfare," said Wolfowitz. "Each of them wants to build a better life for themselves and a better future for this country. Everyone has great hopes that the peace can be consolidated and the democratic process extended."

Though the country's formal economy collapsed in the last 40 years of fighting, the DRC is rich in fertile soils, ample rainfall, and mineral resources. Mining of copper, cobalt, diamonds, gold, zinc and other metals, as well as petroleum extraction, once accounted for 75 percent of its GDP.

A major peace dividend may help to improve the sustainable management of and protection of the country's natural resources, including the forests of the Congo Basin, the second largest rainforest in the world.

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Surrounded by security guards, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz is greeted by students at a school in Kisangani. (Photo © Yves Kumuamba courtesy World Bank)
Some warn, however, that peace and new roads may bring chaotic development to the forest belt, harm biodiversity, or lead to conflict over traditional rights if efforts to reform forest management do not take hold.

In 2002, acting on advice from the World Bank, the DRC canceled illegal forest concessions affecting over 25 million hectares - an area as large as the United Kingdom.

Last month at a conference in Brussels the new Kabila government pledged to boost the country's conservation efforts by maintaining a moratorium on new logging, implementing a legal review of existing concessions, and providing legal recognition for the rights of indigenous people.

Some 40 million people rely on the Congo forest for their food, medicines, energy and income. Indigenous groups rely almost entirely on the forest.

The World Bank, which administers the Multidonor Forest Trust Fund on behalf of the European Commission, Belgium, France, and the UK, plans to support the DRC's reform efforts with a new project, financed with International Development Association funds, to strengthen the forest department, the nature conservation institute, and civil society organizations.

The International Development Association is the part of the World Bank that helps the world's poorest countries by providing interest-free credits and grants for programs that boost economic growth, reduce inequalities and improve people's living conditions.

Wolfowitz said the presence of the World Bank and the European Union in the DRC at this critical period is both "practical and symbolic" and is meant to help rally the international community to help the people of DRC.