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"There has been impressive progress over the last year, and results are here," said Callisto Madavo, World Bank Vice President for Africa, adding: "We are also encouraged by the continued commitment of the Government to move the economic reforms further ahead and we wish the Congolese people great success in this endeavour, together with their efforts to bring about peace in the country".

Mr Madavo was speaking on the status of the economic programme in the D R Congo and the peace process in the aftermath of the inter-Congolese dialogue at a World Bank-chaired meeting in Paris on May 21 between the government and the country's official development partners.

Briefing the press just after the meeting, which he described as "very successful and constructive", the World Bank official noted that the donors were very pleased with the implementation of the economic reform programme, agreed to increase economic assistance to the D R Congo and provided assurances to fund the economic rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes.

But there was bad news-the debt situation that the DRC faces-which he said preoccupied the donors and other participants at the meeting. Modavo warned that "action needs to be taken first to clear the arears so that the DRC could normalise its financial relations particularly with the multilateral and financial institutions including the IMF, World Bank, and the African Development Bank (AFDB)".

He welcomed the " re-engagement by the Bretton Woods institutions assuming arears can be cleared", which, he says, should translate into action to accelerate the pace of the disbursements to sustain the peace process. He observed that the DRC's arears to the AFDB are partucularly large and that special effort would need to be made by the donor community to assist in settling these arears.

"We also discussed the fact that with arears cleared the issue of debt service by the DRC would continue to be a heavy one and that the donors should try to find a way, perhaps by a multi-donor-administered trust fund to help DRC meet its debt servicing problem", said Modavo.

Fielding questions from the press, Mr Madavo pointed to the dramatic drop in inflation which he described as the enemy of the poor hitherto flying hyper and the creation of an enabling environment for private investors as central to the success of the government's reform programmes.

Modavo showered a bucket full of praises on the D R C government for the structural measures that have been taken to creat an environment where mining can kick in and make a contribution. "We know that the D R Congo is a natural resource-based country and those resources should be used for the benefit of the congolese people", he added. The World Bank official expressed optimism for the progress in formulating a programme for re-construction and recovery with particular emphasis on infrastructure, agriculture and other social sectors such as HIV AIDS.

Modavo observed that the success of the economic reform programmes was reinforced by the recent inter-congolese dialogue snowballing into the recent peace accord at Sun City which he largely attributed to the open door policy of the government in Kinshasa.

On the question of what would happen if things don't work out as planned in the implentation of the economic reconstruction programme, Modavo said : "I think the donors know that post conflict situations are not easy situations and the donors are willing to accompany the process of building peace and stability; they are willing to take risks for peace-peace and stability is not cheap". Modavo however warned that this would largely depend on the genuine commitment of the government to both "economic reform and peace and reconciliation".

But for Modavo and the World Bank that was far from all. Speaking on the bank's role in influencing the governments of Uganda and Rwanda, whose troops are still fighting in the D R C, Modavo said: " this is not an area in which the bank has a mandate but something that the UN has, and has in fact taken the lead you know a mission from the UN Security Council was recently in the area and it dealt precisely with foreign troops fighting in the DRC."

"What the World Bank thinks and does is really what the concensus by the international community is. That is why I said earlier that this meeting has been a very useful meeting because the donors as a group are looking at the situation, agreeing on what needs to be done to take the case forward. Yes we play our part, but in concert with others-we would handle economic issues together with the International Monetary Fund and other bi-laterals and the UN Security Council", said Modavo.

Modavo was however bold to admit the need to approach the problem in the DRC regionally "as stability in one of the countries is going to depend very much on stability in the sub-region".

"What have we been doing to support this stability", he asked rhetorically, adding: "We have been in discussions with some of the countries in the sub-region and under the New African initiative-NEPAD-the Africans are infact making a commitment to try to resolve some of these conflicts and we would like to see them make contribution to the Great Lakes area as well."

The rapport between the press and the world bank was unusually frank as the issue of the role of the latter in piling pressure on Uganda and Rwanda to withdraw their troops from the D R Congo and stop supporting rebel factions that are still reluctant to come on board the peace process proved too hard to be swept under the carpet. But Modavo insisted that if peace and stability is going to come to the DRC and the rest of Africa, "it ought to be the Africans who are going to drive that".

"I think the idea that outsiders, however powerful, are to impose peace and stability in environments where leaders or peope are not pushing for it is perhaps the thinking of the past and quite frankly the thinking of the future is that the people of Africa, the leaders of Africa, have their future in their own hands," said Modavo emphatically, adding: "There are international partners, including the World Bank, to assist them, but the idea that we could go and write the script is the vocabulary of yesterday. The vocabulary of tomorrow is ownership and leadership by the Africans on this isssue."

Modavo was reacting here to a question from Kenyan free lance journalist, Ruth Nabawke. But Modavo's strongly worded reply flies in the face of the role of the international community in squeezing other war lords or behind the scence actors such as Charles Taylor of Liberia by way of economic sanctions and travel embargo to stop supporting rebels fighting legitimate governments. This last observation was made by the author of this report who agreed with Modavo that Africans should indeed take the initiative but invited him nevertheless to agree with him that since the international community succeeded in pressuring Taylor in Liberia to withdraw support from the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, they can also succeed in doing the same, if they wanted to, to the Ugandan and Rwandan Presidents whose troops are still occupying territories in the the DRC.

Commenting on the implementation of the new economic programme, DRC Finance Minister and leader of the goverment delegation, Matungulu Mbuyamu-Ilankir said the recent macro economic reforms have checked inflation and stabilised the national currency thereby creating a more enabling environment to attract foreign investors. On the political front, the minister touched on the recent progress made in the inter-Congo peace process, which he said took them to Lusaka and South Africa's Sun City. The result, he says, is the Sun City accord which has restored peace and tranquility in the more than 70 % Congo territory including that controlled by the rebel faction led by Jean Pierre Bemba who also signed the accord. "That is why the budget for 2003 is more or less a unification budget that would affect the whole territory under the new alliance", the minister added.

"It is of course easy to start a war but difficult to end it", he says, " but we are optimistic about the current peace process which we believe would take time but with genuine commitment of the government and all rebel factions involved in the conflict, we shall soon get there".

But in reaction to querries from the press, neither the Finance Minister nor any member of his delegation could give a target sum they are expecting from the donors who have expressed concern to help in continuing to fund the country's economic reconstruction programme.

"It is indeed difficult to quantify the needs of the government in implementing the reconstruction programme but all we can say is that a lot needs to be raised to fund the process to the desired conclusion", said Mbuyamu-Ilankir.

Most delegations from the donor community, including France, United States, Germany, Canada, Japon indicated their intent to contribute to the Emergency Multi-sector Rehabilitation and Reconstruction programme (EMRRP) designed by the Government with the support of the World Bank and a number of other donors, and to a demobilization and reintegration project which will be developed within the broader framework of the Multi-country Demobilization and Re-integration Programme for the Greater Lakes Region.

The World Bank is contemplating on organising a Consultative Group in November 2002, to mobilize the full funding needed to support the DRC's reform programme and transition towards peace, and to ensure the consitency and the complementarity of all efforts.

Still on the debt question, the donors expressed satisfaction at efforts, including within the framework of the Paris Club, to resolve it. The following three points were discussed at the meeting:

  1. AREARS to the AFDB-which should be further discussed. Several delegations indicated their intention to make contributions for the financing of the settlement plan prepared by AFDB staff in coordination with the World Bank and the IMF.
  2. DEBT service-which may be unsustainable even after access to HIPC. Several delegations mentioned that they were considering a proposal by the World Bank to set up a multi-donor Trust Fund to facilitate service to multilateral institutions.
  3. ACCESS to HIPC. There was a broad consensus that the flexibility existing under the initiative for countries emerging from conflict could be used, and have an early Decision Point, provided there is continued strong economic performance and taking into account the track record already established.