Op-ed on the visit of the British Minister for Africa Tobias Ellwood to the DRC.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo again recently to see how the United Kingdom can best support a better future for the Congolese people. I came away not just inspired by the beauty, dynamism and incredible potential of the DRC, but also with three main conclusions.
First, implementing the 31 December agreement is extremely important. The residents of Goma I saw registering to vote were full of hope that they would be able to choose a new President in 2017 and see their country’s first ever peaceful transition of power. They see elections in countries such as Somalia, and cannot understand or accept why voting in DRC is already the most delayed in Africa. But they welcomed President Kabila’s recent commitment to step down at the next election and not to seek, unlike some leaders, to change the national constitution to remain in power.
The UK will do all we can to support elections, alongside our friends in Angola, South Africa, China, Europe, the US and elsewhere. We will, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, encourage MONUSCO to increase the valuable support it already provides. We remain full and active members of the EU, and are collaborating with them to look at ways to support the upcoming elections. However if we do not see significant progress we will consider, with our European partners, imposing further sanctions against those who are obstructive or violate human rights. As DRC’s second largest bilateral donor we will increase funding to civic education, to bolster women’s political participation and to ensure all political parties can campaign. As President Kabila has said, financing elections is largely the DRC government’s responsibility. But the UK is ready to contribute once the political will to hold them is clear.
Second, more needs to be done to protect civilians. I saw for myself the consequences on local people of the continuing insecurity in North Kivu. I am appalled by the loss of life and mass displacement in the Kasais and in Tanganyika province. The responsibility for protecting the Congolese people lies of course with their government. But we will continue to help communities to resolve their differences peacefully, to provide support to those affected by conflict, and to encourage the UN to be as active as possible in helping to maintain stability.
Third, the private sector could transform DRC if not held back. DRC is full of commercial opportunities. I saw, for example, the Matebe hydroelectricity project in which the British Government is investing $9m, which is creating 50 MW to support job-creating local industries and provide power to Goma. The UK is the world’s 5th largest economy and one of the largest investors in Africa. Our companies have incredible strengths in infrastructure, financial services, agriculture, transport and other sectors which could help to realise DRC’s enormous potential. Such companies will of course want to see political stability through holding elections, but also action on corruption and over-regulation. This is for the DRC government, but the UK will support tax reforms which increase revenue but reduce compliance burdens, promote transparency in the mining sector in particular, and investigate corrupt business deals with links to the UK.
The lasting impression from my visit is that the Congolese people want peaceful and fair elections this year, greater security and more jobs. The British Government will do all it can to make this a reality.