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UN, World Bank Say Development is Key to Congo Peace

  • Nick Long

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim (r) during a press conference with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Goma, eastern Congo, May 23, 2013.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim (r) during a press conference with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Goma, eastern Congo, May 23, 2013.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been visiting the war-weary city of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), accompanied by the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim. Both men stressed they see investing in development as the way out of Congo’s conflicts.

The front lines outside Goma were silent on Thursday morning as Ban and Kim conducted their visit. The M23 rebels who battled government troops for three days this week had said they did not wish to put the visitors’ lives in danger.

First stop on the visit, after meeting the local authorities, was a hospital where the two men met women who are victims of sexual violence and have been treated there for injuries they suffered.

Speaking to local media, Ban said he had been deeply moved by the stories the women had told him.

"I am every angry that women and girls have to endure such barbarity - here and anywhere. This must stop. And I am humbled by their courage I told them have a strong courage. The United Nations stands with you, we will always support you to overcome your wounds," said Ban.

The secretary-general spoke of the more than 3,000 additional African troops that the United Nations will be deploying in DRC to fight the many militia and rebel groups active in the east.

He said they would be operational within one to two months and would have a more robust mandate than the 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers already in Congo - but he stressed they were not the whole solution to the conflicts.

"The intervention brigade will address all this violence and will try their best to protect human lives, human rights and human dignity - but you should also know that this is only one element of a much larger process. I think a peace deal must deliver a peace dividend, health, education, jobs and opportunity," he stressed.

It is the first time that the U.N. secretary-general has conducted a joint mission with the World Bank president and their speeches suggested they see peacekeeping and development as a joint or twin track process in Congo.

The World Bank announced on Wednesday that, besides providing $1.3 billion directly to the DRC, it will be investing another $1 billion in the countries of the Great Lakes region.

Speaking in Goma, Kim said it’s hoped this extra money, to be spent on hydro power projects, cross border trade projects, health and education, will underwrite peace.

"The focus is all these things that we think are at the root of the conflict - lack of energy means the private sector doesn’t invest and there are no jobs, lack of health care and education, lack of trade across borders so that people can run their businesses," said Kim.

Asked if the investment would reach its targets, Kim said the World Bank would follow the money closely. It would not go directly to the DRC government, he said, but would be followed into project areas, and he added that this approach has worked even in war zones like Afghanistan.

The World Bank has been heavily criticized for failing to monitor its spending on demobilization programs in Congo, and for being relatively absent from other areas of development in the east of the country.

Kim stressed the Bank is now ready to fund development without waiting until the guns fall silent.

"What we’re doing is something truly unique in the sense that while the peace framework is in the early stages and while the Intervention Brigade is even not quite here, we are moving aggressively and saying more money needs to go into development in the hopes that that will decrease the likelihood of continuing violence,' he said.

It had been planned for Ban and Kim to meet some demobilized soldiers during the visit but this was canceled.

The M23 rebels announced a ceasefire just hours before Ban and Kim arrived in Goma. There had been three days of artillery exchanges this week between the rebels and government forces on the outskirts of Goma. The government says at least 20 people were killed.