Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Tony Cunningham.]
I thank Mr. Speaker for granting this debate on UK Government assistance to the post-election Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is now more than three months since Joseph Kabila was sworn in as the first democratically elected President of the country since Congolese independence. Those elections have been described by some as the most important in Africa since the election of Nelson Mandela.
The registration of 25 million voters and the smooth running of a national election in a country that has only 300 miles of paved roads but is nearly the size of western Europe, was a major achievement. Those of us who were privileged to act as election monitors can testify to the basic fairness of the process. The verdict of the international and national observers on the presidential and national elections was that there were some hiccups, but that the process was basically fair, although there have been some questions since on how some of the provincial governorships have worked their way through.
I salute the bravery, maturity and determination of the Congolese people, who have suffered so much and who we saw behave with the most extraordinary dignity in those elections. They would walk miles and miles to the polling stations to cast their votes and queue overnight to play their part in the process. Now, of course, they are filled with expectations for the future, which we cannot afford to betray.
I am also proud of our Government’s role in recognising the vital strategic importance of the DRC by moving to become the largest European bilateral donor and by giving major support to the elections. I am proud of the personal commitment to the country shown by our Secretary of State for International Development.
The DRC is in the heart of Africa and is emerging from a civil war that has been called Africa’s world war, involving six neighbouring countries and leaving 4 million dead from conflict, disease and starvation, and more than 3 million people displaced. Rebel groups from other countries have rampaged over its land and continue to do so; members of the Lord’s Resistance Army have been camping out there. That has been a continuing problem.
All that follows a century and more of the exploitation and plundering of the DRC’s resources and longer still of its people being taken into slavery overseas, a fact that I am sure will be highlighted this year as we celebrate the ending of slavery, although it has continued in a modern form. The DRC is rich in resources. It has huge potential, but also huge difficulties. It is astonishing that it has not been given more prominence in our national and foreign affairs debates. If we could bring stability and development to the DRC, the effect on the rest of Africa and international security would be immense.
Like other hon. Members who visited the DRC for the elections or to look at the problem of street children or more general issues of international development, I have been profoundly affected and moved by the experience. I hope that the debate gives us the chance to focus on the future of the Congo and its people, and on the role of our Government and the international community.
As Mr. Speaker knows well, I have been seeking this debate ever since the elections; I put in for it on a number of occasions and have only just managed to secure it. I have three main reasons for raising the subject. First, the DRC has emerged from the peace process, the transitional Government and the elections, as a country that remains politically fragile and very volatile. It could hardly be otherwise, given its history. Between the two rounds of elections and since, we have seen sporadic violence break out, and the country could always disintegrate into violence again. I have been concerned about the recent violence in Bas-Congo and how it was brutally dealt with, and about the disturbances that continue in the east of the country. It is a very fragile country. Of all times, now is when it most needs support. The international community cannot afford to let its focus on the Democratic Republic of the Congo slip.
We need to reassert the statement made in June last year by the Secretary of State in evidence to the Select Committee on International Development’s inquiry on post-conflict reconstruction. He said clearly that we are in the DRC for the long term. We need to reassert that. The DRC has not been afforded the priority that it should have been in our public debates, although we have recently done better in raising questions in Parliament. However, we need to reassert that serious commitment and to maintain it in the long term.
As the International Crisis Group sets out graphically, there is no point in going somewhere and feeling that we have done our job because the election has happened. The danger time is during the next couple of years. During the election, the focus was on all the work going on around it. In the following period, it will be very easy to fall back into the conflict that we seek to avoid if people feel that nothing has been achieved.
The Secretary of State put the problem well in his evidence to the Select Committee, when he said:
“If this goes wrong again in the DRC, then the knock-on consequence for the whole of the Great Lakes region really does not bear thinking about. Given the scale of the loss of life there has been because of violence and disease, a very good question is why did not more people do more about it earlier.”
I would like to hear it reasserted—I know that the Secretary of State has made this assertion already—that our Government are committed to keeping their eye on the ball and being in the DRC for the long term, and that we will not be diverted by the next most high-profile issue in the news, important though things in other parts of the world and the continent are. My most important point is to reassert our country’s commitment and our involvement in trying to engage other countries in their commitment to the DRC.
My second reason for raising the debate is that we have to commit ourselves to helping and supporting the DRC on the hugely difficult issues that confront it. I would like to get a sense of where we are on some of those, although I cannot possibly cover them all. No doubt other hon. Members will want to raise other matters. There is a huge range of complex issues that we should assist and persuade the politicians of the DRC, civil society and others to tackle: governance and democracy; the role of civil society; corruption and what happens to revenues that are spirited away; natural resource extraction and the role of companies and mining contracts; development generally; the provision of basic services; and security. The agenda is massive. The Government have helped on some of those, but we have to keep our eye on the ball.
My third reason for being concerned is that I feel a very personal debt to Christian Aid, which sponsored my visit and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and of Stephen Carter, the co-ordinator of our group. I am also indebted to the civil society organisations that hosted us.
On the banks of the Congo itself, we were read a wonderful declaration by the organisation Dynamique Interactive de la Société Civile du Bas-Congo et du Maniema. You may wonder how civil society in Bas-Congo and Maniema managed to come up with a wonderful joint declaration, given that they are several provinces apart. The declaration came out of the discussions that we had during the two rounds as monitors in those two provinces. The first round was in Bas-Congo, where Jean-Pierre Bemba’s support was strong, while the second was in Maniema, where Joseph Kabila’s support was strong. We felt able to speak with some authority about the fairness or otherwise of the elections and we saw what people were thinking in two contrasting parts of the country.
The declaration was developed, and I should like to pass it to the Secretary of State. It sets out a number of concerns. For example, it starts by describing the DRC as a “country belonging to others”—a good description. It talks about how, given the history—the explorations of Stanley and Livingstone, the colonisation, the dictatorship, the moving into the form of a UN protectorate and how the country had been plundered by others—it would be difficult to claim that the country had ever belonged to Congolese citizens. The organisation is concerned that that should not be the case in future, when the country should belong to its citizens. However, it also pointed out ways in which the British Government had made a great contribution, and it gave a plea for continuing attention to the various issues that it raised, including the development of civil society as an essential part of the democratic process.
I warmly congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. She mentioned the challenge of good governance, an important part of which is accepting responsibility for protecting human rights. Recently Marie-Thérèse Nlandu, a former presidential candidate with close links to Jean-Pierre Bemba, was arrested in circumstances that many would regard as highly dubious, to put it mildly. Does she agree that it is important that when we talk about being “in there” we should be in there not only financially but morally, and that it is important to encourage respect for good practice, which is to be a lynchpin of the effective governance of the country long into the future?
I agree absolutely, and I shall return to that. The prisoner in the case that the hon. Gentleman mentions has been adopted as an Amnesty prisoner of conscience and an early-day motion has been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, which has been signed by a number of us. We certainly hope that the Government will take up her case. I do not want us to try to run the DRC as it has been run by foreigners and others over the centuries, but at the same time we have a huge responsibility to keep on the backs of the elected politicians and to try to make them behave in a way that enables the processes to go forward. If we are to invest a great deal in the DRC, as we do—it is expected that a substantial proportion of its revenue will continue to come from international donors—those politicians have a responsibility to adopt good governance and human rights. Our Government have an important role to play in that.
The declaration said that
“democratisation is a long process in which elections represent only a single step”,
and that is absolutely right. The declaration is wonderful. It was read out in ringing French, and it does not read nearly so well when it is translated into English; the whole thing was rather magnificent. One of the speakers said that
“derailing the process of democratisation is untenable, it could disintegrate in to a situation where the country is ungovernable. It could be catastrophic.”
A number of issues were raised, from resource extraction to how food is dumped on the DRC, the international trade rules and what has happened to the agricultural industry, as well as a number of other issues that the group wanted us to promote. That was an important reason why I wanted the debate to promote the subject.
My first question concerns the Government’s commitment to the DRC and my wish to ensure that we reassert the commitment to working in the Congo and with other countries around us. To illustrate some of the difficult issues, I want to talk about one of the most moving parts of our work. I talked about the Congo, that mighty river that has woven its way through the tragic history of the country. We are told that it could provide electricity for the electrification and industrialisation of the whole of Africa and also export some through a southern Mediterranean connector to southern Europe. We do not know what that will do for development and the environment of the Congo, but we do know that a large part of the population does not have access to safe drinking water or electricity. Those are the sort of contradictions that we face.
Does my hon. Friend recall when we stood with others in a small village in Bas-Congo that had no electricity and no water, and the only thing that we could see were huge pylons above us taking electricity over the villages? Nobody could afford to connect to that supply; it is simply a crazy situation.
I remember that. I remember, too, that in the last polling station that I visited in Maniema, my most useful job as a monitor was to hand over my torch to the people who were trying to count the votes. They had one lamp, which they could hardly read by. That is an illustration of the issues. It shows the contradiction in the fact that there is an amazing river, which could provide all that electricity, when the people do not have electricity or even safe water.
We decided to go over to the other side of the river, as other monitors would not be doing that, and to go right down to visit polling stations in Maniema. We perilously, and rather nervously, took the Christian Aid jeep across on two boats made from hollowed-out tree trunks tied together with bits of rope. I must admit that Stephen and I sat on the edge, watching the process and waiting for the jeep to fall in, before we got into the boats without it.
We successfully reached the other side, and we then went up the one road or track, calling at about 10 polling stations. On our way, we called on a Christian Aid project that revealed a number of the difficult issues that we need to tackle. We had to go on motorbikes on a track off the main road miles from anywhere to go and visit the project.
We arrived and were greeted rather beautifully by 40 women singing to us in Swahili. They pointed out to us that they were concerned about education, as it was difficult for their children even to get to school until they were old enough to be able to walk the distances. They had been displaced by one of the rebel groups, the Mai-Mai; their houses had been burnt out, and they had been subjected to the sexual conflict that so bedevils the Congo. A practical issue in trying to develop our commitment to education is dealing with the distances that the children would have to travel. They asked whether it would be possible to get somebody out to the project to educate them. Of the 40-odd women, only five had been to school. That was a practical difficulty in education.
We have made a welcome commitment to immunisation through the international finance programme for immunisation against the five killer diseases around the world. I am proud of that; it is a wonderful commitment. How easy does the Secretary of State think it would be to bring that programme into a country such as the DRC? Of every 1,000 live births, 205 die before the age of five. We asked whether anyone at the project knew of children who had died before the age of five, and they immediately said, “Oh, that woman’s child died two days ago.” That is common. According to UNICEF, more children die each year in the DRC than in the whole of China, which is 23 times bigger. That is a massive problem.
We went to one Department for International Development-supported Merlin hospital, which was unusual. I was amazed to find a child with meningitis who was clearly going to live. Children in my constituency have died from meningitis because they did not get to hospital in time, so that case was rather remarkable given the distances. It brings home how difficult it is to engage in such programmes. I would welcome hearing what we can do through our education and health programmes.
I am aware that another early-day motion has been tabled about the way in which resources go into conflict-afflicted zones. The statistics from Save the Children show that a smaller proportion of our resources go into non-conflict zones than into conflict zones. I understand that an international donor day on education is coming up, and I hope that we will express the importance of getting education into conflict zones and post-conflict zones, because that is difficult. The early-day motion supports Save the Children’s request that 50 per cent. of our international education resources should be put into conflict and post-conflict zones. Obviously, that is a difficult area, but I would appreciate some comments from the Secretary of State about our education programmes.
I realise that I have not thanked all the people whom I should have thanked. I thanked Christian Aid, and I should thank the other organisations that were involved with the various projects that we saw. Andy Sparkes, who is our ambassador, and Phil Marker, who is head of DFID in the DRC, were both extremely helpful to those of us who went out to the elections, and they have been helpful since—particularly when I have phoned the ambassador to ask what is going on in the DRC, when I have been asked to do radio programmes and have not wanted to land him in it by saying the wrong things about the situation. They have been helpful and play an important role. I also thank our support staff on the all-party group on the great lakes region and genocide prevention—Stephen Carter and Hazel Rogers—for all the assistance that they give us, without which we would not be able to do our work.
I wish to touch on three main issues before I hand over to other hon. Members, who, I am sure, will go into some of them in greater detail. The first issue is security sector reform. Without security, nothing else can happen. We know only too well that the security situation continues to be difficult. Integrating the forces and forming a national army that does not have a large presidential guard under the control of the President clearly is a major issue. It is generally agreed that some overall co-ordination of the international contribution is needed. It has been suggested that MONUC—the United Nations mission in the DRC—may be able to take on a short-term training role, but several observers have said that the overall co-ordinating role should be given to EUSEC, the European Union security sector reform mission in the DRC. I would appreciate comments from the Secretary of State on the matter.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on initiating this debate. I went to the DRC some four years ago. One of the key issues then was the command structure. MONUC has had some problems with sexual abuse by some of its forces, and it will function properly only if an appropriate command structure is in place. Obviously, that is a key requirement. We saw British officers there, and it would be good to hear from the Secretary of State what we intend to do to maintain our role. On that issue, could my hon. Friend say something about what she saw when she was in the DRC?
The matter needs to be taken up, and there is also an issue about not winding MONUC down too quickly. If there were views that we should move our resources elsewhere, it would be a real tragedy if the MONUC role were diminished before stability had been brought back to the country. There have been criticisms of MONUC’s behaviour, but we saw it giving political support. Uruguayans from MONUC turned up on MONUC transport with the printers that were needed for the compilation centre in Bas-Congo. The printers had failed to turn up from Kinshasa, but suddenly soldiers turned up bearing two. Without them, the election could not have proceeded.
MONUC has a valuable role, but further co-ordination of security reform is required, and it is also necessary to deal with all the children who were co-opted as child soldiers. They still have not been integrated back into society.
The second issue has already been referred to by the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). Good governance is critical. Prime Minister Gizenga has made several extremely positive statements about commitments to deal with security, to tackle corruption—he said that it would be a no-go area in the future—and to develop a positive programme for the country, but that will not work unless there is good governance.
Several concerns have been highlighted by organisations and by people who have visited us from the DRC or who are part of the Congolese diaspora in this country. When someone says that the election was not fair—that it was stolen from them—I think of what I heard the Secretary of State say: we all think that when we lose elections. I believe that the national election produced a fair result, although there are some doubts about the way in which provincial governorships seem to have gone so substantially to the ruling party.
There are also issues about proper opposition, which is essential. It seems that the Opposition are being kept out of posts in Parliament that one might expect them to be able to have. The danger is that if the Opposition are not allowed a proper role, they will be tempted to say, “This does not work. We will go back to our old ways. We will go back to conflict and get out the arms and soldiers again.” That is a serious issue, and we and other countries must play a major role in keeping the pressure on.
I would also like to know more about what we are doing about governance and education. I know that education work is going on in relation to the Parliament, and there may be a role for some members of the all-party group to go out there and do some work on that.
Rwanda now has the highest proportion of women in Parliament of any country in the world. That has also happened in some other post-conflict situations, but it has not happened in the DRC. That is a great shame, because if women are engaged, they are more likely to deal with the whole range of issues that need tackling.
The hon. Lady has been generous in giving way. She mentioned education. There is the sensitive but challenging matter of rampant allegations of child witchcraft—an issue that other hon. Members and I encountered when we were in the DRC. Does she agree that we must keep that within our sights and do what we can to try to demythologise the subject? However sincere the believers in child witchcraft are, sometimes the effect of their belief is to trample on the human rights and stability of the children in their care.
I agree. We heard from children and talked to pastors about tragic cases of children who had been accused of witchcraft. The subject has been dealt with by other hon. Members in the past.
I shall be brief, because I know that other people wish to speak, but I just want to make a few more points. Without the development of civil society organisations and their role in education, how will the people know that they have the right to call to account those whom they have elected? That is crucial, and I am concerned about any suggestion that resources to civil society might be diminished in a DFID restructuring. It is a subject of some concern, and it has been engaging some of the organisations in the DRC that have been asked to get involved. It would be a real tragedy if we were to cut back on that in any way.
Similarly—this may be a point that the Secretary of State would wish to hear—it would be a huge mistake if DFID staffing were to be cut because of financial pressures. In a fragile post-conflict situation, the best people are needed to deal with the issues, to give support, to assist in the process and to give the right advice to our Government and to other Governments.
My final question is whether we will ensure that there will be a post-CIAT mechanism for donor countries. CIAT is the committee in support of transition in the DRC. President Kabila may not like it—he would like to have the aid without the pressure—but even though we do not wish to interfere in how the country is run or carry on in an imperialist way, if we are putting in money, resources and assistance, we have a responsibility to ensure proper governance, and that requires some mechanism for donor countries to be able to work with the country, the institutions and civil society.
There are huge problems and difficulties but also huge potential. If we let this opportunity go by, the country will move back into a conflict that could engulf the whole of that part of Africa. It would not be good for our security, for Africa or for the people who we enjoyed meeting so much when we were in the DRC and who we seek to help in the future.
Thank you for calling me, Mr. Jones. I shall ensure that I finish on time so that my colleagues may also speak.
I start by congratulating my Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) on securing the debate. I know that she has tried very hard to get it for some weeks, so well done her. This proves that persistence has its reward. I echo everything that she said about all the people who supported the delegations of monitors and observers for the presidential election in the Congo, of whom I was one. I was sponsored by Christian Aid, and I give a big thank you to that organisation and all the other non-governmental organisations for the help and support that they gave during our visit. I also thank Stephen Carter of our all-party group.
I believe that I am the only Member who will contribute today who has a substantial Congolese community in his constituency. This is a long-standing community that goes back to the 1960s, following the death of Patrice Lumumba—some of his family came to live in the area. A great deal of support is given to the community on asylum and immigration matters, and social and pastoral support is provided by the local Catholic church, St. Mellitus. I pay tribute to those who are involved, and to Father David Ardagh-Walter for the support that he gives to the community.
I could say a great deal, but I want to be brief and ensure that we get points across for the Secretary of State to respond to. One needs to understand the sense of tragedy in the history of the Congo, going back to the times of colonial intervention, slave traders, Belgian rule under King Leopold and then under the Belgian Administration themselves, and finally the process of independence in 1960. It is salutary to recall that this week we celebrate 50 years of Ghana’s independence. Congo became independent slightly later, and although no African country has had an easy ride since gaining independence, the tragedy of the people of the Congo must stand in a league of its own. The number of deaths caused by civil conflict in the Congo has been astronomical, even by the standards of African wars of the last few years, during which several million people have died.
We should also recognise that during that period a great deal of mineral wealth was extracted from the Congo, from which a great deal of money was made by people all around the world. There is something deeply sad about the appalling lack of facilities for the people of the Congo, and enormous challenges lie ahead for the new Government. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State and the Government for the support that they have given the Congo, particularly with the electoral process and the building of institutions.
I shall concentrate first on the importance of supporting a democratic process and an accountable form of government in the Congo. The last genuine election was probably that of 1960. Since then, during the period of dictatorship, a series of rather strange referendums and other such things were held, followed by last year’s elections. However, an election results only in the election of individuals—either to state governorships, Parliament or the presidency. It is not the beginning and end of the political process. That process must be ongoing. That is why any support that can be given to civic education and civic rights for the entire population and to the development of the education system as a whole is so important.
I hope that the Secretary of State can help us in that respect by indicating the priority that the Government give to education as a whole, but particularly to the development of civic institutions and accountable forms of government. That, it seems to me, is the key to the future.
Enormous pressure must be applied to ensure total transparency in mineral dealings. Localised civil wars have been going on in the east of the Congo, which the trite reporting of some of the western media puts down as merely “tribal” conflict. In reality, they are wars by proxy, funded by mineral interests that make a great deal of money out of them. The tragedy that that has caused is simply appalling.
My second point has to be the development of education and public services. We have rightly signed up to the development goals, which we all support. We want all children to receive primary school education and a reduction in illiteracy in Africa as a whole, but particularly in the Congo.
Any dispassionate observer of the situation in the Congo would conclude that the rate of illiteracy is probably rising, not falling. The population is increasing fast and public education barely exists in most parts of the country. Teachers are not paid, so they have to charge their pupils or the families—if they can afford to pay. Church schools, insofar as they operate, do their best, but there are not many of them.
There is a large number of private schools, and parents spend as much as they can on securing an education for their children, but the quality of those schools varies enormously and what education those children receive is often limited. The priority must be the development of free primary education for all children in the Congo. That has to be the start. Otherwise, the waste of natural and human resources will remain massive.
Thirdly, the health care situation in the Congo is unquestionably bad. My Friend the Member for Amber Valley mentioned her visit to a hospital, but it is unusual for anyone in the Congo to get anywhere near a hospital. The death rate from wholly preventable conditions, such as malaria, and occasionally from cholera and other water-borne diseases is basically a product of poor standards of public health and poor sanitation. Clearing out the ditches around Kinshasa would save an awful lot of lives. It would be of enormous benefit and not be particularly costly. Such small-scale things are often very important.
Fourthly, I have tabled an early-day motion concerning the post-election situation of Marie-Thérèse Nlandu. It is important that the House recognise the importance of supporting an open, legal and democratic structure in the Congo. By any stretch of the imagination, her arrest and detention are extremely unfortunate. We should be supportive of her right to her day in court if charges are to be laid against her, but no one should condone arbitrary arrest and detention, which is effectively what has happened in her case. I hope that the Government feel able to support the points that my colleagues and I make in that motion.
My last point concerns the role of women in society in the Congo and the crucial part that they play in the development process. Last week, I had an interesting meeting with a delegation of Congolese women who came to the House of Commons. We spent an hour and a half discussing the situation in the Congo and they gave me a substantial memorandum. The advice and support that they gave were first rate and the memorandum is excellent; I shall pass a copy to the Secretary of State.
I know that the Secretary of State is very busy and under a lot of pressure, but I would be grateful if he was prepared to meet a delegation from that broad-based women’s coalition in the United Kingdom, many of whom have recently come from the Congo or have travelled there recently. They give enormous support to women’s organisations in the Congo. It would be extremely helpful if he met them, and he would probably benefit a great deal from such a meeting.
I shall refer briefly to a number of points included in the memorandum. First, it states:
“The United Nations office of gender affairs in the D.R.Congo claims that the role of women in the Congolese society has gone from full participation in the pre-colonial period, to marginalisation during the colonial period to a complete exclusion during the post-colonial period.”
The situation facing many women in the Congo is extremely serious. Rates of illiteracy are even higher among girls than among boys, and the physical abuse, domestic violence, sexual attacks and general discrimination against women in the Congo are also very serious.
I hope that the Government are prepared to do a number of things. First, I ask that they support the creation of a women’s commission office based in Kinshasa, which could give some focus to women’s rights and activities, as well as their role in civil society. Secondly, we need to work for the collection of accurate statistics on how women are denied, in many ways, participation in economic activity. I also ask the Government to support that monitoring work and, when possible, to support projects that will help with women’s education.
I support the point made by my Friend the Member for Amber Valley that we need to encourage the Government of the DRC to do far more to recognise women’s role and rights in society. For instance, there were many women candidates in the elections for the National Assembly and for other posts in the Congo, but only a small number were elected. Far more women are involved in Parliaments in Europe and in most other African countries than in the Parliament in the Congo. A great deal more needs to be achieved.
The Congo represents all the horrors of European colonialism that we meted out on Africa. The death rates, the poverty and the misery are ever present. The election has provided a watershed and an opportunity, but it is not the end of the story. Those wonderful natural resources need to be harnessed for the benefit of the people of the Congo, and the human resources of the Congo need to be liberated so that the development of the country and a high standard of living, which are eminently possible, can be achieved.
It has been enormously interesting and a pleasure to be a member of the all-party great lakes group and to have visited the Congo to observe the elections. It is up to us to do all that we can to support what ought to be a simple act of human solidarity with people who are up against it.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) for securing the debate. I am co-chair of the all-party group on street children and managed to secure a debate soon after applying for it, so I congratulate her on her magnificent effort in securing this one. I want to put on the record my thanks to War Child, which enabled myself and the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) to visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo towards the end of last year.
I will concentrate on a couple of issues and pick up on what my hon. Friend said about security problems. An issue closely linked to security problems is the lacklustre disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process. The programme appears to be winding down and so far it has had mixed results. CONADER—the Congolese body for the DDR—is renowned for widespread corruption. Its director of information says:
“disarmament was suspended at the end of 2006 due to lack of funds, and there are 150,000 people waiting to be demobilized”.
There is some dispute about whether that figure is in fact 30,000, but whatever it is, a significant number of people are still awaiting demobilisation.
There are concerns about the verification of disarmament and the quality of weapons that have been surrendered. There is an urgent need for improved vetting to prevent those guilty of serious abuses from joining the new army. Former fighters who opt for demobilisation often have difficulty supporting themselves even after reintegration programmes. One former fighter, Peter Ucan, told Amnesty:
“We are incapable of feeding our families and cannot even pay the rent. The solution is for these people to give us our weapons back.”
Frankly, frustrated as those people may be, the solution is not to give them their weapons back.
The programme has failed to deal adequately with the thousands of children in the armed forces. An estimated 11,000 are still to be demobilised, including thousands of under-age girls who are used as camp wives, servants and kept as virtual slaves. Little follow-up support has been given to those who have been demobilised into communities, which often reject them, and more funding is needed to ensure durable integration. Without a long-term commitment, the most vulnerable children can easily gravitate back to armed groups or crime. Will the Secretary of State for International Development say what plans our Government have to support the continuation of the DDR programme and the reform of CONADER? In addition, what plans are there to improve the reintegration of children and girls back into society?
The report of the all-party parliamentary group on street children said:
“It is vital that education reform and development for women is linked to livelihood support. In this respect, education must incorporate functional literacy, practical skills training and access to enterprise nurseries as a platform upon which women will empower themselves and secure the rights of their children. We strongly recommend, therefore, that the UK Government consults closely with civil society, especially local and international NGOs and churches, the Government of the DRC, other international partners and local business networks in the development of a national strategy that will support the establishment of micro-enterprise nurseries, training and practical income-generating initiatives for women—linked to access to education—across acutely vulnerable communities.”
That is vital, particularly for children. The report goes on to state:
“This will provide the architecture through which local and international NGOs as well as other development partners of DRC can invest resources in a focused, coherent and co-ordinated way.”
Anti-corruption and impunity must be matters of concern for all of us. The DRC urgently needs a specific, visible and proactive agency involving Government, the judiciary, civil society, the international community and, particularly, the media. Above all, such an agency should involve and be led by the community and the public, as the all-party group on street children recognised.
I will quickly mention some of the key points that I believe are relevant. One of the main causes of the suffering endured by former child soldiers and street children in the DRC is corruption. There is a contempt for children’s rights on the part of politicians, officials, the police and the military, and children are regularly subjected to extortion, beatings and worse. Round-ups of street children by officials are extremely violent. Our Government are committed to action on corruption, but they now need to ensure that the relevant institution is created and action is taken. They must give greater priority to tackling not only corruption, but impunity—particularly now that the DRC has a new Government. That should be at the top of the list for our Government and for the international community, and should go hand in hand with security sector reform and a widening of the democratic space. We cannot afford to leave that process until afterwards because, frankly, nothing can succeed without it.
Targeted sanctions need to be imposed against individuals and organisations that abuse the rights of marginalised children in the DRC. Some of those sanctions could include visa restrictions or the freezing of assets, including at European level.
Our Government have a valuable role to fulfil in the DRC and internationally. We should push for a clear strategy to be adopted at all levels and mobilise support for a cross-sectoral body, involving the state, civil society and the media. We can use our influence to secure funding, and I hope that the Secretary of State will do so.
I want to raise one or two issues in relation to vulnerable women and marginalised children. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) mentioned education. When the all-party group considered that, it recognised that a no-fee schooling system would not necessarily reach all children because they often look after younger children or even work to support their families. Adolescent street children are often perceived negatively by teachers and are excluded from school. They are sometimes not happy in schools that have much younger children. However, education is vital for such children and, combined with livelihood development, it is key to providing an escape from living on the street. In the DRC, education is also crucial to combating the belief in witchcraft, which the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) mentioned. Witchcraft is the source of much trouble for many children.
I round off by saying to the Secretary of State that in the DRC and internationally our Government can play a valuable role in raising some of the issues that I have mentioned. It is important to push for the development of a strategy that can be delivered in the DRC and we should raise that with the World Bank and other agencies, particularly those involved in the reform and development of education in the DRC. We should use our influence in the DRC and internationally to secure more funding, which is vital for future developments. We should also ensure that NGOs and marginalised groups, particularly children and women, are fully involved in the delivery and monitoring of the developments that we and the people of the DRC wish to see. I hope that he will take some of those issues on board and respond to them.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) on securing the debate. I had the good fortune to travel with her in July to the DRC to observe the first round of the presidential election and the National Assembly elections. It is hard to overstate the importance of the DRC to Africa’s development. I think that, geographically, it is the second biggest country in Africa; it is certainly huge. It is situated at the heart of Africa, has a population of 60 million people and is strategically important: it is surrounded by eight other countries, and the conflict in the past decade in the DRC spilled over into many of them. Its neighbours’ borders stretch to the Red sea in the case of Sudan, to the Indian ocean in the case of Tanzania and to the Atlantic ocean in the case of Congo-Brazzaville and Angola—although, of course, the DRC has a very short Atlantic coastline all of its own.
The DRC is mineral rich, but it has virtually no infrastructure—no roads. It has poor schools, and few schools in rural areas. It has poor health services. It suffered 40 years of corrupt kleptocratic government and a decade of conflict, which, as my hon. Friend reminded us, cost 4 million lives.
The UK has been right to take the initiative of making the DRC a key partner for development assistance, despite the fact that we do not have historical links with the DRC. Despite Henry Morton Stanley’s exploration, we have not, as a colonial power, had the historical relationship with the DRC that we have with many other parts of Africa. Our Government are right to concentrate on peace building and the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of the former fighters from the conflict, because without peace there can be no progress on democracy or development.
The UK has invested heavily in supporting institutions necessary for effective governance. We have supported the transitional Parliament, for instance. When the Select Committee on International Development visited the DRC in May of last year, the speaker of the National Assembly, Monsieur Luhaka, paid a comprehensive tribute to the UK and thanked the UK for helping the transitional Assembly to draft a new constitution and to work effectively. That was a challenge, because none of its members had ever been in a Parliament or an elected institution in their lives—not that they were elected; they were appointed to the transitional assembly. The big difference and change that the elections brought was just that—people were elected.
The UK is a major donor, a major development assistance partner, for the DRC. The latest DFID statistics, which record bilateral aid for 2004, show that the DRC was our second largest recipient of aid in that year, mainly because of large debt write-offs by the UK. Last year, we contributed £63 million. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley, I pay tribute to our ambassador to the DRC, Andy Sparkes, and to Phil Marker, the head of the DFID office there. We talk in London about the assistance that we give to countries that are on the path from dictatorship to democracy and going through the process of economic development, but the work on the ground is done by very small teams of Brits, who work often in very difficult circumstances—the ambassador showed me a bullet hole in the wall of his residence. The difference that those people make to the quality of life for people in the countries where they work is enormous, and we owe them a debt of thanks.
The elections were a huge logistical achievement. About $500 million in foreign aid went into organising them, registering voters—which was a major UK exercise and achievement—training election observers and so on, although the greatest congratulations should of course go to the Congolese people, who did not have a tradition of elections. The elections last year were the first multi-party elections that they had had for 40 years, yet they rose to the occasion. They knew what was required of them; they did it, and they successfully elected a president, National Assembly and regional government. That is a huge achievement, helped by aid from donor countries, but we must not rest on our laurels and allow the DRC to slide back into chaos and conflict, not only because that would be a huge waste of the money and resources that we have put in over recent years, but because it would condemn 60 million people to a life that, frankly, is hardly worth living and that we, as fellow human beings, should not tolerate.
The Congo’s future, however, does not depend on aid alone. Fundamentally, it depends on the leadership of the Congolese people and the contribution of the people themselves. Economically, it depends on the growing of a private sector. A viable economy in the Congo will never be created through aid, but if livelihoods are successfully to be provided for the ordinary people—the mass of the people, the poor of the Congo—business has to break with the traditions of the past. It must not be corrupt and must operate transparently. The extractive industries and the forestry industry have to operate in environmentally sensitive ways.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, as time passes and we see, I hope, a degree of economic development in the Congo in the coming years, it will remain very important to recognise the fact that about 70 per cent. of people living in the DRC depend in some way on the rain forest, that the land rights of those people must be respected and that the work of DFID and the round table on alternatives to logging, which has begun but has more work to do, is continued and stressed as the months and years pass?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why business, especially multinational business, must observe international standards when it becomes involved in the DRC, which it is increasingly doing because of the stability that the electoral process has created. I am thinking of standards such as those set by the Forest Stewardship Council. Newspapers report that more and more companies—for instance, Rio Tinto Zinc and Anglo American—are moving back or considering moving back into the DRC.
Today, at a breakfast meeting organised by the Royal African Society, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart posed the question: is it possible for a multinational company to thrive in a corrupt environment? I think that The Economist argues that it is, so long as the company itself does not engage in bribery and pays the taxes that are due, but Sir Mark said that it is not. He told us that corruption prevents businesses from operating efficiently, because it means that they are operating in an environment of poor infrastructure, low skills and unreliable services. He also said that, in a corrupt environment, companies will be blamed for the poor state of affairs, whether or not they contribute to it, and that is bad for their reputation. Finally, he said, very bluntly, “If you are a business leader and you bribe somebody, these days you can end up in prison,” and he cited the case of a senior western executive from an oil company who is serving a prison term.
I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is the co-ordinator of the Government’s anti-corruption programme, that we need carrots—such as the Forest Stewardship Council, the extractive industries transparency initiative and the Kimberley process—but we also need sticks. The Serious Fraud Office is investigating a number of cases of alleged transnational bribery by British companies or British citizens, and we need to start bringing those cases to court, as has been done for many years in the United States and as is done in France. Three years ago, the Government brought a draft anti-corruption Bill to Parliament—a new Bill needs to be brought back.
The Congo is at an important crossroads. Fragile democracy is more vulnerable than dictatorship or mature democracy to destabilisation through violent civil disorder. We need to give further attention to the electoral system and to support the new institutions, including the National Assembly. Aid is needed for the political parties, because a weak party system makes it much easier for the Government to divide the Opposition and marginalise Parliament. Jean-Pierre Bemba needs a real role as the leader of the Opposition. He lost the presidential election, but secured 42 per cent. of the vote, which entitles him to be seen as the elected leader of the Opposition.
I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) on securing such an important debate. The elections in 2006 were indeed a great step forward, but as everyone here has said, they were only a first step—the start, rather than the conclusion of a process—and they cannot, in themselves, achieve the social outcomes that are needed. The job now is to ensure that the positive momentum continues so that the democratic process and developmental change can take place in the DRC.
Time is short, so I shall concentrate on just two key issues, which other hon. Members have raised. Education lays the foundation for lasting peace and development by providing a whole generation with the skills that they need to build their country. Post-conflict, education offers people the skills that they need to rebuild their lives, but if it has been missing for years or for generations, as happened in some cases, the skills and capacity needed to establish civil society and economic prosperity simply will not be there.
At the last International Development Question Time, the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) asked what investment the Government are making in the DRC to ensure that every child has access to the education that they deserve, and I recently had a reply to a written question on the issue. However, the answers to those questions were vague and suggested that there was no direct bilateral aid for 2005-06. Although the Government have undoubtedly given the DRC a great deal through other forms of aid, it is hard to understand what portion of the aid used by multilaterals or for budget support goes on projects to support children in education.
Save the Children and others have reported that the primary victims of the years of civil war are the children of the DRC. Recent figures revealed that more than 5 million children of primary school age are out of school, and the number of children in the DRC who are out of school is among the highest in the world. Given that the country is so fragile post-conflict, there is an ideal opportunity to introduce an initiative to demonstrate a commitment to children in post-conflict states. The Government are committed to education in the developing world, and I congratulate them on that, but less aid goes to conflict-affected and post-conflict states. We could use the issue to provide a shining example of the difference that such investment may make, as the DRC stabilises and, I hope, moves into a proper, democratic and stable environment in the years to come.
The other issue that I wish to address is the country’s wealth and natural resources. The DRC is blessed with huge potential wealth and vast natural resources, but as hon. Members have said, the need to reduce corruption is paramount if people are to have real confidence in the institutions that exist to serve them. In the recent war, fighting was fuelled by the country’s vast mineral wealth, and post-conflict a continuing cause of problems remains the desire of countries and groups to get their hands on the country’s rich natural resources—diamonds, gold, other rare metals and, in particular, coltan, which is used in mobile phones.
The challenge for the country’s Government is to ensure that those natural resources bring real benefits to all the people of the DRC, not simply to those who are corrupt. I would be grateful, therefore, if the Secretary of State outlined what the British Government are doing to address the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the country. Have they considered the link between exploitation and the continuation of the conflict?
The United Nations report issued in April 2001 noted that foreign armies were used in the conflict as an excuse to continue exploiting resources. It concluded that the illegal exploitation of mineral and forest resources was taking place “at an alarming rate”. In 2003, my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) posed several questions on the issue to the Government. I shall pose his questions again, because I would like to know how much progress has been made.
My hon. Friend stated:
“For future action, the UN report recommends, among other things, travel bans on individuals identified in the report.”
How far has that gone? He continued:
“It also recommends freezing their assets and imposing banking restrictions.”
What progress has been made on that in the DRC? He went on:
“Given the extensive business connections with this country”—
“that is an important question, and the Government must deal with that. What action are the Government taking to follow those recommendations about individuals closely connected to the UK, and what is the time scale for that action?
How do the Government respond overall to the report’s recommendations, specifically in considering how the actions of the countries involved in the conflict in the Congo will affect future grants of development assistance? Will those grants be conditional upon proper conduct regarding the DRC? On 13 November 2002, the chairman of the panel of experts, Ambassador Kassem, recommended a five to six-month grace period to allow individuals and companies to change their working practices. What is the Government’s assessment of the position three or four months on from that recommendation?”—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 5 March 2003; Vol. 400, c. 287WH.]
It is now years since those recommendations were made in the UN report, and I would be grateful if the Secretary of State said whether the Government have taken any steps to implement them.
Recently, thanks to the film “Blood Diamond”, we have all become more aware of the Kimberley process. Are there any plans to extend that process to other extractive industries?
To reiterate, I have highlighted those areas of concern because both are vital to the DRC’s long-term prospects. Often, the long-term vision on aid and development is swept aside by pressing short-term needs. Ironically, however, those short-term needs will never be met unless long-term strategies on issues such as education and tackling corruption are implemented.
I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) on securing the debate and on her determination. Her remarks were excellent; she covered a big issue and summarised it extremely well.
The hon. Lady was right to highlight the part played by the Congolese people, as well as their determination, and right to link that to their aspirations and hopes for the future, particularly in the context of their country’s appalling past. She was also right to raise the dangers of regression and the fragile nature of democracy in the DRC and to highlight the fact that those involved have taken only the first, important step towards rebuilding the country. Furthermore, she was correct to mention the importance of the UK’s continuing commitment to assisting with the immense and numerous challenges that the DRC faces. She summarised many of those challenges in a particularly articulate way.
MONUC—United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—also needs to be congratulated on its impact in creating the atmosphere that enabled the first elections for 40 years to take place, because it played a major role in achieving stability. It would be helpful if the Secretary of State stated the UK position on the future of MONUC. There is pressure, particularly from the United States, to wind down the MONUC force, but it still has a significant role to play, especially as there are still significant forces from other countries—in particular, Rwanda and Uganda—on Congolese soil, as well as people in displaced persons camps who require disarming and repatriation. MONUC also has a significant role to play in reforming the Congolese armed forces.
The two main presidential candidates should be congratulated. There were difficulties, but to a great extent they managed to control and limit the violence that took place during the electoral process and that has taken place since. Despite the enormous challenges and issues faced by the country, the elected Government have made some limited progress and taken some steps, including moving to liberalise the economy, freeing up the currency, lifting foreign exchange restrictions and increasing Government revenues. The Government have been successful, for example, in controlling inflation. They have also signed up to the extractive industries transparency initiative and the Kimberley process with a view to overseeing control—far better control than in the past—of the critical mining and diamond industries.
The scale of the challenges is enormous and it is worth mentioning one or two stark statistics: 80 per cent. of the population live on less than 30 cents a day; 80 per cent. have no access to safe water; 70 per cent. have no access to any form of health care. Those are enormous challenges, not just for the new Government of the DRC, but for the country’s political make-up and for the international donor community. The UK, and DFID in particular, have made a significant contribution to the electoral success in the DRC and the progress made on trying to reconstruct the country.
I want to focus on two or three issues to try to extract from the Secretary of State the UK Government’s current position. The first is security sector reform, without which it will be very difficult for the democratically elected Government to make significant progress. The army needs to be apolitical and to draw recruits from all ethnic groups. That should be a priority for President Kabila. Unfortunately, there are signs that things seem to be moving in the other direction and 80 per cent. of the human rights abuses against civilians are committed by the DRC army. That is particularly a result of irregular army pay and poor living conditions, which often make it impossible to survive without extracting additional income. That is often expropriated from local people, and the situation urgently needs to be addressed.
Funding for the security forces also needs to be tackled. It has recently been estimated that up to half the army payroll is embezzled in corruption. President Kabila retains a presidential guard of between 10,000 and 15,000, which is significantly better paid than other army units and ethnically based. Reform is needed to create an ethnic balance and financial parity, which would reduce distrust and division in the DRC.
Many informed commentators, including the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution, have suggested that the only way to tackle the problem effectively is to allocate one donor or international institution to take overall control and responsibility for the reform. What discussions have the Secretary of State or his officials had to try to progress that idea?
The hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown) rightly highlighted the issue of child soldiers, which remains a significant problem, and mentioned the figure of 11,000. Very little progress has been made by CONADER, the body charged with reintegrating child soldiers. I reiterate the hon. Gentleman’s question about what changes the Secretary of State and the Department are making to CONADER, what reforms are being put in place and how quickly the reintegration can happen to ensure not just that the children are reintegrated in civil society, but that that is done sustainably, so that they can maintain livelihoods for themselves and their future families.
Sadly, like much of sub-Saharan Africa, the DRC is significantly adrift from the millennium development goals. I gave some statistics earlier, but there are terrible health problems, including 1 million people infected with HIV. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) rightly highlighted the prevalence of malaria, which accounts for 45 per cent. of deaths among children. The DRC has the highest child mortality rate in the world.
What work is the Secretary of State doing with other donor parties, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to ensure that there is significant harmonisation with the newly elected Government to get the maximum and fastest possible impact for the benefit of the people of the DRC? I think I am right in saying that there is no DFID country assistance plan for the DRC. Perhaps the Secretary of State will say whether one is being written and, if it is, when it will be finished. It is essential that the people of the DRC who went out of their way to participate in the democratic elections—the first for 40 years—should see some benefit from those elections as fast as possible. Quick impact projects are therefore important.
The hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) was right to highlight the importance of the private sector and the development of a sustainable economy. That will provide jobs and create the wealth needed to generate revenue for the Exchequer of the DRC, enabling it to become less dependent on aid and donations from the international community. That, of course, depends absolutely on the lessening—and, I hope, the eradication—of corruption, which, sadly, is deeply entrenched at every level of society. It has been estimated that up to 80 per cent. of the customs revenue was embezzled. A quarter of the national budget was not accounted for and millions of dollars were misappropriated in the army. An important part of resolving that problem is the creation of accountability and transparency, and ensuring that the judiciary is independent, with the resources to allow it to investigate significant allegations.
As to natural resource extraction, the hon. Member for Islington, North rightly highlighted the importance of transparency of contracts, and the hon. Member for City of York was also right to point out the growing and renewed interest from the national and international mining corporations. Transparency is obviously needed in that context so that the revenue raised by the export of those raw materials benefits the Congolese people in a way that is accountable.
However, in addition to accepting the importance of those issues, the Secretary of State should encourage other types of business—not just the export of raw materials. Infrastructure is very limited in the DRC and needs to grow significantly. Assistance is needed for the building of structures to ensure that revenue is generated. I know that there is very limited road infrastructure, but electrification of rural areas is needed, as is, where that is not possible, the installation of new technology such as solar-powered systems that will enable communities to avoid dependence on national grid structures.
There has been significant concern from some NGOs that DFID may reduce its support for civil society after the elections. I hope that the Secretary of State will confirm that that is not the case.
The elections were a significant step forward in the DRC’s history. The DRC has potential not just because of its natural resources, but because of the dynamic nature of its people and their aspirations for the future—given a chance. There is an enormous agenda to be discussed, including issues that we have not had a chance to talk about today, such as the President’s decentralisation agenda, legal reform and state reconstruction, the role of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission and the possible establishment of a country-specific committee. Also, regional, pan-African and international trade are important ways to promote economic growth in the DRC.
Britain must play its role in encouraging political and economic stability, as well as the all-important rule of law, to encourage inward direct investment alongside an ongoing commitment, via DFID, to the DRC. We shall support that.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) on securing the debate, and I congratulate her and other hon. Members on their interest in the Congo. I pay tribute to the all-party groups on the great lakes region and genocide prevention and on street children.
Fifteen or 20 years ago, the House of Commons probably would not have had a debate on the Congo. Britain certainly did not have a development programme there then. Those changes are testament to the fact that people have begun to understand the scale of the disaster that has affected that country, as well as its need for support and the importance of providing that support.
We heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown) and for City of York (Hugh Bayley), and from the Opposition spokespeople, the hon. Members for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) and for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), that the challenges facing the Democratic Republic of the Congo are enormous—almost beyond belief. The country has been shattered by decades of misrule and two devastating wars, in which 4 million people died.
My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley asked for clear reassurance about the degree of our commitment and whether we are there for the long term. I am happy to give that reassurance, and I point to the evidence. The first time I visited the Congo, the Department for International Development had three staff. We now have 34, and that number will rise to 35. The development programme budget has also risen from about £3.5 million to £4 million at that time to £67 million this year. It will be £70 million next year, and is one of our largest programmes in Africa. If that is not evidence of commitment, I do not know what is.
I agree with all hon. Members who talked about the hunger for peace that the people of the DRC expressed by voting in very large numbers in those two extraordinary election rounds. I pay tribute to hon. Members who went out there on behalf of the international community to help to oversee that process. I am also proud of Britain’s role in that process as the largest funder. The real challenge for President Kabila and Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga is whether they will be able to respond to the incredibly high expectations that the people have after casting their votes in large numbers. The Government have only just come into being because Ministers got to work only last week, following their appointments.
The new Government programme that was adopted by the National Assembly on 24 February is a reasonable start and says the right things. It states:
“The fundamental principle for the action of the Government is good governance. This is characterised by participation, transparency, accountability, respect for rights, efficiency and equality”.
In the end, they will, like all Governments, be judged on what they do, and not so much on what they say.
The really difficult problem is that everything needs to be done there, so the Government face hard choices and need to prioritise, as does DFID. As a significant donor—we are shortly to become the largest bilateral donor—we must work with other partners and bilateral donors, the international community, the World Bank, the United Nations, the European Commission and others to divvy up the contribution that we can make to help the Government meet those priorities.
I agree that we need a mechanism to replace CIAT, which has come to an end because there is now a sovereign elected Government. It is important that we find a way to ensure that the conversation with, and support for, the elected Government from the international community and donors continues.
I shall respond to the points that have been raised and set out our future thinking. Clearly, a Government’s first priority is to ensure the safety of their people, but, for reasons that we understand, that is not yet the case in the DRC. Its Government have to make army integration happen. We have supported EUSEC in trying to deal with the problem of money going astray to pay ghost soldiers. We have also made funding available to provide some incentive to the military forces to go through the integration process, so that they have shelter, clothing and support when they come out. However, the Government of the DRC need to take the lead. The World Bank is leading the current DDR programme on the donor side, and we are working with UNICEF to treat child soldiers as an urgent and special case to be dealt with through the multi-country DDR programme. We have contributed an additional £5 million to that project. I hope that that answers the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway and the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness. The second priority is to have a police service that provides security, and the third is to have a credible justice system. It is likely that DFID will focus on reforming both of those systems.
The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness and others spoke about MONUC. I join them in paying tribute to MONUC and to Bill Swing. As I told him when he came to see me last week, it has done an extraordinary job in very challenging circumstances. I want to make absolutely clear the Government’s position that MONUC should maintain its current troop levels for the time being, because there is a continuing need for it to oversee security. Any draw-down over time should be based on improvements in security.
While I am talking about security, I shall briefly address the case of Marie-Thérèse Nlandu. Andy Sparkes has raised that case several times with a number of people in the Government, including, most recently, President Kabila.
Another priority is to strengthen accountability, because elections alone do not make a democracy. We want to support the new independent electoral commission, Parliament and the provincial assemblies. I agree with the comments that have been made about the need to reach out to the Opposition in the DRC.
DFID’s funding for civil society and non-governmental organisations will go up, not down. It will focus increasingly on working with NGOs to provide services so that people begin to see a democratic dividend. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North about the role of women. As ever, I am happy to meet a delegation if he wants to bring them to see me.
What matters now for people in the Congo is that they see some change as a result of the votes that they have cast. The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green asked about education. I am happy to write to her with more detail, but we are currently supporting, through the humanitarian pool fund, 50,000 vulnerable children so that they receive education. We are working with Catholic Relief Services on that. We are planning a major programme, with the World Bank, to help to reduce school fees, which she will know are a major obstacle to children going to school. We are also planning a community-driven reconstruction programme to help to rebuild local infrastructure, which will include schools in rural areas.
On health care, we will be doing more on water and sanitation. In the past two weeks, one in five children in the Congo will have had diarrhoea because of the lack of clean water. One of the programmes that we will be working on will provide clean water to 500,000 people in Mbuji-Mayi. We are also working with UNICEF to extend access to clean water to a larger number of people across the country.
I was asked specifically about education in fragile states. Our spending on that has trebled in the past three years. In the White Paper, we made a commitment to do more in such states, but we need their Governments, including in the DRC, to come up with plans to improve education, so that they can be supported. We are also investing in roads, because they will help with economic development.
The DRC is blessed with great natural resources that have been raped and pillaged, and from which the people have not benefited. The hon. Lady, in particular, asked what we are going to do about that. We are going to work with USAID on a programme to encourage better corporate governance in the minerals sector, and we will support the Government of the DRC in implementing the extractive industries transparency initiative. We are also contributing to the multi-donor trust fund on forestry, and we support a continuing moratorium.
On sanctions, we have played an important role in sanctioning particular individuals, through the UN Security Council, who have violated the arms embargo. We are pushing to extend the list of those who are subject to sanctions, and the UK national contact point has made statements about three of the companies that were highlighted by the UN panel.
We will continue to offer a lot of humanitarian assistance in the Congo. This is the most important opportunity that the country has had for almost half a century to achieve something better. As we heard, it is clear that people have a burning hope for a better future. We must help them to achieve that.