Copyright The Financial Times
The current hype surrounding the Group of Eight industrial powers might actually be right: Gleneagles could truly be a breakthrough for Africa. Tony Blair, the prime minister and this year’s host of the G8 summit, has taken a meeting normally reserved for western-oriented economic issues and turned it into a second chance for the cursed continent. Suddenly, after decades of misguided and misdirected aid, there is hope that the world will finally get smart about how to help Africa’s long-suffering people.
Mr Blair worked wonders in Washington when he secured agreement by George W. Bush, the US president, to alleviate the debt burden of some of the world’s poorest countries, mostly in Africa. There is every prospect that – whatever the fate of the 0.7 per cent target or the International Finance Facility proposed by Gordon Brown, chancellor of the exchequer – there will be agreement on more direct aid, better focused on areas of need, particularly in the health sector.
There is a risk, however, that if the G8 spotlight stays wholly on Africa’s development needs, the continent’s equally desperate security needs will be neglected. In the process, the development achievement will be undermined. Development aid and sometimes even emergency relief cannot be delivered when the security environment is chaotic. Whatever the size of the aid budget, development cannot and will not happen where the civilian population lives in constant fear. If development assistance is offered by donors without thought to its impact on conflict prevention and resolution, it is likely to be unproductive at best and counterproductive at worst.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is the continent’s most graphic example of all these problems, even more than Darfur. Nearly 4m men, women and children have died over the past decade from violence and the disease and malnutrition generated by war and its aftermath. In 2004, Congo received a paltry Dollars 188m (Pounds 104m) in humanitarian aid – Dollars 3.23 per person. With the country still largely ungoverned and ungovernable, and even emergency aid undeliverable because of the parlous situation, some 30,000 are still dying every month while the world barely notices.
The international community provides more than half Congo’s budget but has failed to link it to progress by the parties in the peace process. A key challenge to ending the crisis is the creation of a national army that can provide security throughout the country. Yet, of the Dollars 1bn in total aid provided to Congo, only about 1 per cent has been allocated to assist the creation of a new Congolese military. Donors also turn a blind eye to government corruption. Almost all the money Kinshasa, Congolese capital, sends to nascent national forces in the provinces disappears, leaving the armed men to pillage the population.
Very often in Africa, one country’s lack of security drags down the whole neighbourhood. Eight of Congo’s neighbours played a military role in its civil war, and its refugees fled across borders to many states that are nearly as fragile. One rebel group in eastern Congo, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), contains remnants of those responsible for the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda. It continues to brutalise Congolese civilians, providing a pretext for Kigali’s meddling, and contributing to continuing regional instability and limited regional development.
Getting smart about helping central Africa would mean making Congo a priority at the G8 summit and beyond. First, world leaders should commit to reinvigorating the Congolese political process and use their leverage to secure progress in the face of reluctant warlords-turned-politicians. Second, they must boost disarmament efforts – almost completely lacking to date – and help build the new national army. Third, they must press for a solution – peaceful if possible, military if necessary – to the problem posed by the estimated 8,000-10,000 FDLR forces still in eastern Congo. Fourth, they must insist on a bigger United Nations mission with a stronger mandate. And fifth, they must implement a stronger arms embargo to stem arms smuggling, a constant threat to the peace process.
Countries cannot get off their knees without a secure environment. While the latest US spending round for Iraq allocated Dollars 5.7bn to train Iraqi security forces, Congo receives just Dollars 10m-Dollars 20m for its desperately needed army. If G8 leaders really want to help Africa, they must put the continent’s security needs much higher on their agenda.
The writer is vice-president and acting Africa programme director of the International Crisis Group
NANCY SODERBERG – The Financial Times
Copyright The Financial Times