A European Court of Auditors report says that the effectiveness of the EU’s €1.9 billion aid to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between 2003 and 2011 has been sorely limited, with less than half of programmes likely to deliver the intended results.
While Europe’s involvement in the mining business – diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt and zinc – has helped fuel conflict in the Congo, the auditors says that its aid has done little to stem the resulting tide of human misery.
“Progress is slow, uneven and overall, limited,” the report says. “Fewer than half of the programmes examined have delivered, or are likely to deliver, most of the expected results.”
EU support to the DRC is currently focused on peace, security and policing projects, particularly in the Congo’s troubled east, along with good governance, public sector reform, health, environmental protection and ‘sustainable stabilisation’.
But “sustainability is an unrealistic prospect in most cases,” the report says.
The auditors outline a litany of reasons for the failures, including an absence of political will, the donor-driven dynamics of many aid programmes, and a lack of absorption capacity for aid that does arrive.
The Congo has hardly any roads or rail infrastructure, and its health and education systems are in tatters.
More than five million people are thought to have died in the conflict – some say genocide – that has wracked the DRC since 1994, leaving it one of the world’s poorest countries, with a UNDP human development index ranking of 187th out of 187 countries.
Around 70% of the population lives below the poverty line. The same percentage lacks sufficient access to food, and average life expectancy stands at 48 years.
Starting from zero
Andris Piebalgs, the EU’s development commissioner welcomed the auditors’ report in a statement, but noted that it was “premature to draw conclusions” about ongoing EU programmes which could be at an early stage of implementation, or had “started from zero”.
The EU had, for example, supported the first country-wide census of the Congolese police and set up a database providing information about the number of police recruited, their rank and activities, he said.
“The Court has recognised the ‘serious obstacles’ we face in trying to improve governance in the country and these challenges need to be taken into consideration when looking at our achievement,” Piebalgs insisted.
But as well as questioning these achievements, the Court has criticised the way the EU has responded to the obstacles.
“The Commission did not take sufficient account of these challenges when designing EU programmes,” it says. “Risks have not been adequately addressed, programme objectives tend to be overly ambitious, conditionality has a weak incentive effect and policy dialogue has not been exploited to its full potential and adequately coordinated with EU member states.”
Better to try and fail…
The EU says that its work should be judged over the long term, and that it is better to fail to reach over-ambitious targets – in fields such as justice, democracy and good governance – than not to have them at all.
“Our support cannot aim for partial democratic elections,” Piebalgs said, adding that the risks of working in places such as the DRC would increase if the EU ended its intervention.
But if the bloc is to continue to financially support the DRC, “it needs to improve significantly in its aid effectiveness,” the report goes on to say. The Commission must be “more realistic” about what can be achieved – and about the design of EU programmes – and more demanding of the Congolese authorities meeting monitoring compliance commitments.
The Court recommends that the EU improve its cooperation strategy with the DRC, its risk assessment programmes, establishes achievable objectives, and strengthen its use of conditionality and policy dialogue.
Sophia Pickles, a spokeswoman for the campaigning NGO Global Witness called on Brussels to take action that would prevent European companies from trading minerals supplied by Congolese warlords.
She said: “To ensure that European businesses aren't inadvertently funding the conflict in Congo – while EU taxpayers money is being used to try to prevent it – the European Commission must introduce legislation that requires businesses operating in the EU to check their supply chains and the impacts of the natural resources that they purchase.”