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Strategic policy support for post-conflict reconstruction in the D.R. of Congo (RDCO)

Research project TA/00/16 (Research action TA)

Persons :

Description :

This project plans to study the potential for international aid to restore effective public service delivery in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

By the end of the 1990s, the New Aid Paradigm is being formulated by the major actors of the so-called International Community. Though the debate between them is not completely closed, all of them adhere to an international consensus, based on clearly defined development goals and specific targets to be reached by 2015, and political dialogue on identification of the main institutional weakness to go ahead: the focus is on the re-integration of national-level governance structures to increase 'ownership' of international aid policy. In the case of the Congo, this paradigm is set into motion already mainly for political-military reasons. After recent presidential and general elections, post-conflict reconstruction in the DRC is seen as a key strategic objective by the International Community for stabilising the entire Central-African region. The peace agreement of Sun City (2002) marked the start of an increased flow of funds to the country, either to sustain the process of political democratization, the process of military demobilisation or the process of socio-economic reconstruction.

The project wants to focus especially on the way in which everyday reality is reflecting this new situation. Over the last decades, marked by an unprecedented retreat of the state from its ordinary functions, people have come to an arrangement with, around and against local institutions of public service delivery. Per hypothesis, these arrangements are locally specific, reflecting the existing configuration of local state actors, local civil society organisations and popular actions. In this situation the present situation must be looked at as a new phase in an as yet unfinished, fragile and reversible process of state formation. The capabilities of local state representatives are thus highly dependent on the way in which they ‘fit’ within the local power configuration. Consequently, while the New Aid Paradigm moves the donor community to ally itself (again) with State agents and official interlocutors of private and Non-Governmental Organisations, at the internal level these official development actors have proved very fragile vis-à-vis other local interest groups -themselves acting partly in response to a deep and continuing crisis situation. The way in which the aid flow will be absorbed and translated into accountable public services and changed livelihoods will thus critically depend on the existing local power configuration and/or on the way in which this configuration will itself be renegotiated.

A major question is therefore if it is possible to 'buy' sustainable development with donor money in the case of Congo. Development experience demonstrates that this question has no unambiguous answer: The role to be played by international authorities vis-à-vis states in crisis or vis-à-vis states emerging from a war situation is highly dependent on the way in which development agencies do resonate with the local institutional configuration. There are no universally applicable tools available, or rather, the way in which development initiatives are given local form is a crucial determinant of their success.

In this research, we want to study the way in which the recent re-emergence of aid towards the Congo and towards the Congolese state is 'translated' into changing institutional practices. We want to draw on on other recent African experiences with the aid industry to embed the Congo-case in a wider literature on the subject, but the case is limited to the Congo itself. The importance of the peace and democratization process for Congo in particular and for Central Africa as a whole, and the role of Belgium in this process, warrant the selection of Congo-Kinshasa as a highly relevant case in itself.

The project proposes to explore these issues through a comparative case-study analysis allowing us to compare localities at varying distance from the political center (urban and peri-urban communes nearby Kinshasa, and in the former economic capital of Lubumbashi) The research team will be composed of experts from Belgian and DRC's universities and experts from Africa Museum (Belgium) and Lasdel (an African scientific research centre located in Niamey, well-connected to Euro-African socio-anthropological research networks). The involvement of Lasdel researchers, with internationally acknowledged experience in research on public goods provisioning in West Africa in a context of decentralisation, guarantees methodological backup and embeds the Congo-case in a wider set of African experiences. In this case-study analysis, the focus will be on the sectors of education and natural resource management in at least two research sites per sector.
A major value-added of this project setup is that quantitative and qualitative data sources will be combined. The composition of the team (economist, sociologist and anthropologists) allows engaging in such a project.

In doing this, the research project wants to provide bi-lateral and international donors and other policy makers with the conceptual and analytical tools needed to design and implement more efficient environmental and educational programmes ensuring greater local-level embeddednes of externally funded programes and projects in Congo-Kinshasa.

The following objectives and hypothesis are used in this project. The first objective is to study, document and analyse the complex series of hybrid, ambiguous and conflictual accommodation that regulate international donor funds in support of local environmental governance in urban and peri-urban areas
The second objective, related with the first one, is to study, document and analyse the articulation between donor agencies, the state administration, civil society and communities at the local level with respect to primary and basic education in urban and peri-urban areas
Several hypotheses underpin this research project. Our first hypothesis is that the state of the Congo is extremely fragmented. Local power holders therefore enjoy a relatively large margin of autonomy even in the outskirts of the capital ans others big cities. This hypothesis is largely descriptive, but important as an empirical critique of the ‘methodological nationalism’ implied by a large chunk of aid literature. It also checks on the deepness of the ‘fragility’ of the Congolese state.
Our second hypothesis is that the fragmented character of the country does not suggest that public service delivery has invariously failed; rather, local solutions may or may not have been found for overcoming particular problems of base public service delivery. Comparison between the two arenas (local environment and basic education) will shed new light on the role of institutional arrangments or specific power-holders.
Our third hypothesis argues how a crucial element in overcoming problems of public service delivery is the possibility of local power holders to shield themselves off from outside influence and hence maximize their own room of manoeuvre against the outside actors. This may, or may not help them in becoming more, or less, accountable vis-à-vis the local users of the public service.
Our last hypothesis argues that the international non-state actors’ role depends on the way in which they can ally with local interests.

Documentation :

Quelle Reconstruction? Acteurs et enjeux de la reconstruction post-conflit en RDC : rapport final     Bruxelles : Politique scientifique fédérale, 2010 (SP2231)
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