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Great Lakes (Africa)

Volume 530: debated on Tuesday 5 July 2011

I want to say a few words, in opening, about the nature of the debate. It is a little unorthodox, in the sense that normally there would not be several hon. Members speaking in such a short debate; however, there was great interest in the subject. The all-party group on the great lakes region of Africa went to the Congo recently. I was not on that trip. There is a great deal going on there, of course, and I am sure that the Minister will say more.

Although most hon. Members who are present are aware of the broad context and much of the detail, it is worth setting out some of the things that are happening. Some things that are happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are very important, one of which is that very soon, we hope, there will be an election. That is planned for November, which is a little later than it might have taken place. Nevertheless, it is a good sign. The UK was very involved the last time round, and sent several official observers. Members of this place and the other House went with non-governmental organisations to observe the elections. It was a very successful election process for the region, all things considered. There was a good, high turnout at the last presidential and prime ministerial elections in the DRC, and an independent commission ran things. International observers from all sorts of NGOs, UK bodies and Governments thought it went pretty well. There was a pretty good tick in most of the boxes.

Some years later, there is a rather different backdrop to the elections. The cost of the elections last time was about $225 million. One assumes that the cost is similar this time, but the international community was more reluctant, understandably, to find the large amount of money needed to run such a large-scale election in a place as difficult as the DRC, which is the size of western Europe but covered in tropical rain forest, making the logistics very complex. The election was well run last time, but this time there are one or two question marks. That is not to say that the election will not be legitimate. However, political development in the country over the past five years has been modest.

I have met Mr Tshisekedi, the person who would probably be considered the leader of the opposition, in so far as one can be considered to exist. He is an important figure in Congolese politics, and he is capable of putting together an alternative platform in the presidential re-election campaign. At root, however, it seems to be a fairly basic offer. One assumes that unless the elections are run tidily and independently, there will be questions about the process.

The elections have been put back a bit, and the constitution has been changed to take out the second round in the presidential elections. That is significant, as some think that President Kabila may not win a second round. Nevertheless, he will certainly get the majority of votes in the first round; so many people stand as presidential candidates that it is hard to prevent that, but who knows? What gave the last election considerable legitimacy was the fact that it was a tightly run process; the result was 57% to 43% in the second round, which was a clear result for everyone. It was clear that there was a genuine opposition, albeit the chap who was the opposition is now banged up in The Hague. That is a pity, but there it is.

This time round, the electoral commission is being run by an ally of the President, which is cause for concern. This is primarily a Foreign and Commonwealth Office issue, but although the Minister may have a view, my instinct is that he will want to wait and see how it goes. It is fair to say that we should let the processes take place and express our judgment after the elections. The elections are important, because they change other things that are happening at the same time.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the formation of an integrated and professional army that does not abuse the people, but gives them the chance to express themselves, is important? It is essential that people can use the ballot box unhindered.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that profound point. We cannot do anything in countries such as the DRC unless we have security. We cannot have justice, effective infrastructure, hospitals and schools if people are too frightened to leave their houses or move around the place safely. In parts of the east—not only there, but significantly in the east—that is very much a fact of life for many. They live in dour conditions, and security is of the first order.

The FARDC, the army, has a history of having some competently trained people—trained in conjunction with the UK and the French. I do not want to say anything pejorative, but it does not have a high capacity, if I could put it like that. It has one or two people who are perfectly competent, and a large number of people who are not. First and foremost, the DRC needs a proper security regime, but in a good way; in effect, the country needs the army function, rather than a policing function. At a different stage of development, we would be talking about police, but it is a case of the army trying to maintain law and order.

There are some programmes, particularly from the United States, and there is a common European effort to assist in building capacity, but it is a long-running process. One of the early things that has to be done is to get the army to behave decently towards its own people. Poor discipline—it often breaks down, particularly in the east, where deployment of the army is coincidental to the mining operations—is a matter that should be scrutinised by us and international authorities, but the hon. Gentleman makes a profound point.

I turn to the question of minerals. The DRC is enormous, and its mineral reserves are unbelievably huge. One thing that prevents their full exploitation is that many companies are still concerned about the environment and corruption, and the damage that that does to their brand. The DRC produces about 18% of the world’s diamonds, but mainly in an artisanal manner; they are not produced industrially, as one might imagine it being done in South Africa, because the big companies are reluctant to play in the DRC. Some companies have invested in proper infrastructure—they have built proper mining operations—but they find things quite unstable at the moment.

I have waxed rhapsodic endlessly in the main Chamber, and in Westminster Hall, about a deal that involved First Quantum Minerals. It is a quite famous case that also involved ENRC, a FTSE 100 company, but I do not want to bang on too much about it and bore all who have heard me talk about it before. The essence of the case is that if there is an unstable trading environment, a company’s reputation could be damaged by one or two decisions that a Government may make in places such as the Congo, which may make it difficult for companies to invest properly.

First Quantum was the largest taxpayer in the Congo, which collects very little corporate tax and almost no income tax per annum. At the time, First Quantum was employing several thousand people at a mine in Kolwezi near the Zambian border. The mine was effectively expropriated by the Government, sold on for a small amount and then sold on again for a large sum. The question is where the bit in the middle went. No one knows, but we can guess. That, of course, makes it hard for other mining organisations, who saw that mine being expropriated, to invest in DRC. Sadly, that mine is an exemplar of what can happen; it sits empty, basically rotting, with no work going on there. There are no jobs. Companies that can provide several thousand jobs are a rarity all over the Congo, but particularly in the east and south, where jobs are a lifeline for the extended family. Those jobs have gone; there are no operations, and of course no tax is being paid.

As other Members wish to speak, I shall conclude by mentioning PROMINES. I am speaking without notes, so I am not sure whether I have mentioned it already, but ProMines is an excellent effort by the British Government, working in conjunction with other Governments, to increase transparency in the mining industry, and to make it legit so that people can invest with confidence. I understand that things were held up briefly at the time of the First Quantum deal, because the World Bank was concerned about that expropriation. The project stalled as a result, but I believe that it is on the go again. It is an essential developmental issue and a super idea. I hope that Minister will speak about it when the debate concludes.

I am delighted to serve under your stewardship, Ms Osborne. I congratulate the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) on securing this most important debate.

I shall highlight some of the ongoing problems in the DRC, and particularly the eastern region. Time will not allow me to go into the topic in great detail—I am sure that everyone is aware of the complex and wide-ranging problems that the country faces—so I shall speak instead about women in the DRC, and the frightening and dangerous situation that many women face.

In a recent survey by leading gender experts, the DRC was named as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. Sexual violence is widespread there, and there are instances of it being used as a weapon of war. I am encouraged that, in recent years, the international community has highlighted the problems of women in the DRC and has campaigned against sexual violence. However, as news reports show, the issue is ongoing, with hundreds of women—and also men, I understand—being sexually assaulted.

To empower women, we need to ensure that stability and peace are brought to the region, a point made by the hon. Gentleman. I was disappointed to learn from news reports yesterday that violence has marred the registration process for the elections. It is important for the international community to ensure that elections are free and fair, and that everyone is able to vote—most importantly, of course, women. If better governance is to be created, it is imperative that the elections be conducted correctly.

I was encouraged to read the Foreign and Commonwealth Office action plan to implement stricter legislation on sexual violence. Progress has been made in recent years with the Congolese law on rape in 2006, coupled with a better understanding and legal qualification of what constitutes rape, and the introduction of UN Security Council resolution 1888. Stability is essential, but we must work to tackle the attitudes and conditions that allow such violence to take place. Training and education for the army is essential, but it must be coupled with a strong legal system that will bring those who commit such crimes to justice.

Tackling corruption is vital. We must also ensure that high-level officials are brought to justice for crimes committed. Government aid to local NGOs, including that provided by the UK, is imperative to ensure that those organisations have the funding to allow them to reach people in towns and villages across the DRC. Such organisations can also encourage women to speak out, empower them to be involved in public life and help to reconcile them to the past. They can also address the issues at a local level. The NGOs will remain after the conflict ends and help to ensure that women’s rights continue to be protected. Those are short-term measures, so let me address more long-term issues.

Sexual violence should not just be seen in the context of the instability in the eastern areas. It did not originate from the conflict; the conflict intensified an existing problem. Discrimination against women is of long standing and will need to be tackled, alongside promoting peace, to ensure that women are in a better situation in the years ahead.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) on securing this important debate and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal) on his contribution. The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), Lord David Chidgey for the Liberal Democrats and I were part of an all-party parliamentary group that had the privilege to visit the DRC in May. The two speeches covered some of the issues that we addressed and I want to say a bit more about each of them.

As the Department for International Development is responding to this debate, may I begin by praising the excellent work that it is doing in the DRC and the great lakes region more broadly? It was encouraging to see that the work that was started under the previous Labour Government is continuing under this Administration.

I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk said about the elections. Will the Minister tell us what progress has been made towards free and fair elections? My hon. Friend also mentioned the importance of monitors in the previous election. Clearly, monitoring will be even more vital if the election is to be run by the Congolese themselves rather than by the international community, as has happened previously.

I echo what the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West said about the role of women in the Congo. Although we met some amazing women politicians in the region, women are sorely under-represented in Congolese politics. When we were in Goma, we met women who had survived rape and other forms of gender-based violence. An incredibly courageous five-year-old girl who had been the victim of a rape calmly told this group of strangers from the United Kingdom the story of her ordeal, which she had already had to describe in court.

I ask the Minister to say something about progress towards the millennium development goals. There is real concern about the continuing high levels of infant mortality in the Congo and low levels of primary school enrolment.

A major focus of our visit was the minerals question, which my hon. Friend rightly focused on today. Perhaps the Minister will update the Chamber on progress at a European level to some kind of European version of the Dodd-Frank legislation that has been adopted in the United States.

At the end of the visit, I had the opportunity briefly to go to Kigali in Rwanda, which has made remarkable progress since the genocide in 1994. The United Kingdom has played an important role in supporting that progress. Clearly, there are concerns about relations between Rwanda and the DRC, especially in relation to the impact of the Rwandan Government’s wish to invoke the cessation clause in December 2011, which might exacerbate tensions in the Kivus. I would be grateful to the Minister if he were to say something about that today.

Clearly, there is concern about lack of freedom of the media in Rwanda. I had an excellent meeting with the UK high commissioner in Kigali, and I recognised that the British Government are supportive of efforts to see an opening up of the Rwandan media. I want to put it on record that I appreciate the efforts that are being made by the UK high commission in Kigali.

The hon. Gentleman has raised his justifiable concerns about Rwanda. Having been to Rwanda myself with RESULTS UK earlier this year, one of the things that came home to me are the great strides that have been made there. Kagame might have his critics, but if he was being toted around Africa as part of a transfer system for political leaders, he would probably be No. 1 in the African transfer want league.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. In the five years when I was out of the House, I worked with the Aegis Trust, which established the Kigali memorial centre to the genocide. As friends of Rwanda, we should put it on record that incredible progress has been made under President Kagame, but we must also be candid when we have concerns. I want to put my concerns on the record without in any way detracting from the truly remarkable achievements of that country since 1994.

I thank the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) for securing this debate and for giving me the opportunity to reply. I am glad that DFID has been chosen to reply, because it will give me a chance to cover some of the development issues. Much of what is relevant to the DRC is Foreign and Commonwealth Office business, but hopefully I will be able to cover both areas.

The hon. Members who have recently returned from their visit to the region will have had a rewarding and informative visit, as indeed I did when I went with the Minister with responsibility for Africa on a joint visit to the DRC. I went to Rwanda last year. Great challenges remain in all the areas that we visited. The overriding priority is to continue to bring sustainable peace and prosperity to the great lakes region.

There are also an enormous number of potential opportunities, but many of them are choked off, because the conditions for them to be usefully explored are simply not yet in place. Much of the potential is still largely untapped. Let me address the points that have been raised by setting them in the appropriate context. I want to take this opportunity to explain how her Majesty’s Government, through DFID in particular, are trying to help to unlock the potential in the DRC and the great lakes region.

The DRC is still recovering from the shock of Africa’s first inter-state war in the modern age, which was laid on top of decades of corruption and misrule. Recovery is hampered by continuing lawlessness and armed violence, particularly in the east. The country is physically disconnected, and politically highly disjointed. The hon. Members for Falkirk and for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) have mentioned that the elections must be seriously monitored. That monitoring process will be welcome, because it will encourage independent verifiability At the same time, we must work with civil society organisations to enable them to use their voice and express the various views across the DRC. We all welcome the broad sentiments that were expressed. We hope that the elections go well, and we will do everything that we can to assist the country at this time. It is important for the credibility of the Government that the elections go well. At the same time, though, we must not rush to judgment, and we must enable the process to go through rather than assuming the worst.

The DRC has some of the worst social indicators in the world, and it is far from achieving any of the millennium development goals, which is one of the questions that I have been asked. Violence against women is endemic and horrifying. The country is second to the bottom of the “doing business” league table. Although growth has been sustained through the past decade, the public purse is still far too small to meet basic needs, so there may well be a very small tax take on taxable transactions of value even under normal regulatory conditions. Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done there.

We must all recognise that the MDGs are way off track. That is true whether we consider the number of children being enrolled at school or the number of girls staying on at school. All of us who care about development issues need to consider how we can meet the MDGs and how the UK, through DFID, can make a transformative difference and help to deliver on those MDGs, The DRC has to be our main focus, which is something that we are determined to do.

There are signs of hope, and our new country programme in the DRC aims to build on those signs. Macro-economic management has improved, which led to international debt relief being granted last year, as I am sure hon. Members know. In addition, levels of violence are slowly dropping, although the amount of violence in the DRC is still extremely high as measured against all comparators. Nevertheless, we must recognise that there has at least been progress in terms of the trend rate. And the DRC Government are showing a greater will—the practice is a long way behind, but there is a greater will—to get the minerals sector under control. I do not mean “control” along the lines of one unfortunate recent incident, which actually amounted to sequestration. What I mean by “control” is appropriate regulation, whereby there is an appropriate opportunity for businesses to take a risk in a predictable environment and for there to be a yield to the country’s exchequer under a system of democratic and transparent accountability, which will then be used for the benefit of the people of the DRC rather than to reward any form of elite.

I am sure that the Minister is sick of the sight of me, after he spent two hours in front of the Select Committee on International Development this morning discussing this very region and specifically Burundi. I want to make a point about mineral extraction. As he knows, members of the International Development Committee have recently returned from visiting the DRC and one of the most shocking statistics that we heard while we were there is that $400 million of gold is extracted each month in the DRC, but only $28,000 is paid in tax each month for that gold. What is his Department doing to try to get greater transparency and hopefully some binding agreements along the lines of the extractive industries transparency initiative and the Dodd-Frank Act?

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to make that observation. There are various estimates about the DRC, but what he has just said is broadly what we all understand to be the case. Part of the answer lies with what the hon. Member for Falkirk hinted at earlier. He suggested that the lack of confidence among foreign direct investors—confidence they can take the risk of going into the DRC and using their world-class skills to extract the unique assets that the DRC is particularly blessed with—means that 80% or more of all the gold that is mined in the DRC is extracted by artisan extraction, as is the case with the other valuable minerals found in the DRC that are sought on world markets. Of course, that makes it almost impossible to capture the revenue from that activity within any kind of regulatory environment.

That is why we are putting such emphasis in the design of the DFID programme on considering what will create the conditions for private sector development. By that, I mean not just foreign direct investment, which is important, but measures that will help regional economic integration. That economic integration is important not only in the east of the region, which we discussed extensively in the International Development Committee this morning, but across the various corridors in the region, particularly the north-south corridor that includes the copper belt in Zambia and the Katanga region of the DRC. That corridor will be vital for the future of many countries in southern and eastern Africa as trade passes up and down it.

The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar) referred to the extractive industries transparency initiative. As he knows, we are a strong supporter of that initiative for resource-rich countries. It is absolutely the right way to ensure that, as part of the measures to build confidence and credibility, people are genuine in both countries—both the UK and the country from which the materials are being extracted—and companies must sign up to it. Both the hon. Gentleman and I welcome the DRC’s efforts fully to implement the EITI.

On the Dodd-Frank issue, I hope that the hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it clear at the G20 Finance Ministers meeting in February that the British Government support the development of new international rules that, to some degree, are prompted by the Dodd-Frank Act in the US. Such rules would require oil, gas and mining companies to report payments that they make to Governments. The UK seeks to make progress on that issue in both the G20 and, very importantly, within the EU. This process will work if we move together, so that both a combined, common purpose and combined, common standards and values are reflected in the way those reporting mechanisms are developed.

While I am discussing minerals, perhaps I should talk about PROMINES, which the hon. Member for Falkirk referred to. As he knows, the British Government are co-funding that project with the World Bank, and I was grateful for his complimentary remarks about it. It is a major minerals sector reform programme. A PROMINES agreement is about to be signed with the DRC Government, and it will tighten up regulation in the DRC’s minerals sector. Obviously, we hope that it will improve conditions for mine workers and increase tax revenues from mining, which is another issue that we have discussed. That agreement has been cleared by the World Bank’s executive board, and we expect the DRC Government to sign it within the next few weeks. That is progress.

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not comment on the particular case of First Quantum Minerals, because it is the subject of an ongoing dispute.

In recent years, we have gathered a lot of evidence about how to work effectively in war-torn and fragile states, and the key issue is ensuring that we learn from that evidence. Learning from such evidence, alongside a renewed emphasis on results and value for money, has helped us to develop the new country programme that we have now put in place for the DRC. Through that programme, we believe that we can deliver fantastic results in what is, by any test, one of the world’s most difficult aid environments. We believe that we can combine major improvements in basic services, which are much needed, with new efforts to promote trade and investment and, of course, new efforts to create wealth. If we can find ways to create wealth for the broader population, that would be the biggest reliever of poverty.

Over the four-year period of the spending review, we have a total aid budget for the DRC. For the two inner years of that four-year period, we have settled on a budget of about £147 million and £165 million respectively. We will review the progress that is made in the DRC, because we want to ensure that milestones are being identified and that we are achieving results. If progress is made, we have signalled that we want to have a total aid budget for the DRC over the four-year period of about £790 million. That would obviously mean a significant increase in the two outer years of that four-year period.

Without wanting in any sense to undo the absolutely essential element of being in a partnership with the DRC Government in this work, the modalities of delivery have to take place. Often that means that we are unable to use Government systems—for no other reason than that the Government systems do not exist. We must ensure that there is a sense of “earned increase” because progress has been banked and secured, because it is real and sustainable, because it is pro-poor and because it does not benefit those for whom aid might be regarded as being unjustified.

That aid programme will allow us to address the point that was made very forcefully by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal) about women in the DRC who are subject to appalling violence, including sexual violence such as rape and female genital mutilation, and who lack access to economic opportunities, including any form of land registration, which would give them the incentive to move into the economic sphere. We hope that we learn the lessons about all those factors.

Does the Minister have any concern about the influence of China in the region at present? I believe that there is great concern about it among a great many people in this Parliament and indeed in other countries, too.

The issue is how we all operate in the various countries of Africa. The essence of that is partnership and recognising that we can make a great contribution through development spend, giving aid where appropriate but also having a programme whereby over time we can graduate away from giving aid. Equally, China has an enormous interest in terms of capital expenditure and infrastructure development. Instead of seeing that as a form of competition, there is a real opportunity, which we hope to develop, of having more of a consortium approach, whereby we can partner and perhaps use some of our technical assistance skills allied to the resources of what is unquestionably the world’s greatest capital investor. We must also ensure that the benefits of such investment are truly mutual, because nobody enters into a contract without mutuality. Moreover, mutuality must include the poor people of the countries in which the operations take place. Those are ideas that we want to take forward.

I am very conscious that this debate is not only about the DRC but about Rwanda and Burundi, too. Although the neighbourhood issues, not least those affecting areas across the border from Rwanda, are still not sufficiently calm, settled and satisfactory, there has been enormous progress given the cycles of conflict that have played out over recent decades, both in the post-colonial period and more recently. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby in Westminster Hall today, because I know myself, having been to Rwanda, the great work that the Aegis Trust has done to find a fitting and indeed deeply moving memorial to the events in Rwanda in the 1990s—it defies belief that those events were taking place in our lifetime.

The future progress of Rwanda cannot be taken for granted. There is still an awful lot that needs to be done to build upon the successes that have been achieved so far. There must be strong and legitimate institutions, security and the rule of law to ensure that there is a more open political space, an ability to tolerate media plurality and a lessening of the strains with neighbouring countries. As is widely known, we have a plan to increase our commitment to Rwanda in the future.

I will touch on Burundi briefly. Burundi was discussed extensively in the International Development Committee this morning, but in the last half-minute of this debate I hope that I can at least summarise matters and say that we have thought very carefully about the appropriate modality of delivering continuing aid to Burundi. In particular, we can work through TradeMark East Africa, which is the operating end of the East African Community, and Burundi stands to benefit enormously from the improvements in infrastructure and lowering of costs that are necessary to participate in economic development, while other donors—particularly multilateral donors—fill the gaps.

Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(11)).