Also creating trouble in Congo is the terribly corrupt government that is supported by western aid money.
A couple of stories today help explain what is going on in the Congo. First, we look at how western aid has failed the country, then a story on how corruption has kept the population of Congo hungry.
For the western aid angle, we turn to the Guardian and this commentary by Richard Dowden.
The knee-jerk reaction of Britain and other western countries is therefore to give Congo aid. And the only way of spending 0.7% of our GDP on aid is to give it to governments. But has Congo got a government? In 1997 the remnants of the Mobutu regime were pushed out by the armies of Rwanda and Uganda. They replaced him with Laurent Kabila, a former revolutionary and cafe owner, living in exile. When he rejected the Rwandans' tutelage, they had him murdered and replaced him with his son, Joseph.
To legitimise Joseph Kabila the aid donors paid for and organised two elections, each costing more than a billion dollars. In 2011 that came out of a national budget of £4.6 billion ($7.3 billion). The elections satisfied the western political need to give Kabila international legitimacy so he could now receive aid. But the elections in Congo divided rather than united. The losers saw them as fraudulent.
After the election supporters were rewarded, opponents shunned but they live in different parts of the country so a small war broke out. At the very moment when the country needed to come together, the western solution deepened the divisions. It also handed total political and economic power to a greedy elite incapable of constructing a viable state – even, as one Congolese academic said, in their own narrow interests.
What has wrecked the Congo is not lack of aid. It is politics. Aid has probably made things worse by offering development which may never be delivered. There is no state capable of delivering it. If ever there was a case for a country to be under a UN mandate, it is Congo. The United Nations' current half-baked, ill-thought-out mandate was cruelly exposed last week as UN troops stood back to allow rebels to take the city of Goma in eastern Congo.
But there was a second, even more catastrophic contradiction in western policy. After the Rwandan genocide, western governments, ridden with guilt, supported the incoming Rwandan regime, a rebel group led by the charismatic Paul Kagame. He now runs a capable state – perhaps too capable. Rwanda is a tightly controlled dictatorship, with almost no press or political freedom. But it uses aid well, it is not stolen. A succession of British aid ministers from Clare Short to Andrew Mitchell see Kagame as the saviour of Africa. They gave him money – currently £83m a year, knowing it will be spent on education, health and other good things.Next, a story on how corruption within the Congo government is causing inflation and hunger from IRIN.
The Republic of Congo, which imports over US$240 million worth of food a year, has seen sharply rising staple food and fuel prices since the beginning of 2012, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and a local consumer rights body.
A 25-litre tin of vegetable oil which sold in January 2012 for the equivalent of $32, is now going for $50, while less than 5kg of cassava has gone up from $1 to $2.6, according to Dieudonné Moussala, chairman of the Consumer Rights Association.
He also said the price of a litre of kerosene had risen from 70 US cents to $2.6 on the black market in the same period.
"I now buy a kilo of meat from the slaughterhouse for 3,500 CFA francs [$7], whereas it used to cost less than 2,000 [$4],” Carine Moutombo, 32, a mother of three, told IRIN.
"It is difficult to get by and eat one’s fill. The cooking money is no longer enough," said Moutombo.
"All the prices of imported frozen products have increased because of corruption in the supply chain [from entry at the port of Pointe-Noire to small retailers]," said Moussala.
"There are too many unofficial taxes and too many checkpoints in the supply chain. Retailers and other importers are corrupt at all levels. In the end, they pass on any losses to poor consumers - hence the surge in commodity prices," said Moussala.
"While we have not found the solution to all the problems [related to imports]… We still have a long way to go. That is why our country’s struggle against food insecurity is key in terms of public policy," said Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Rigobert Maboundou in April. According to him the Congo is a "food-deficit country".
To limit imports and ensure food security, Congo launched in 2010 a US$26 million project to build "new agricultural villages". With this project, "we have halved the import bill for eggs. We produced 6.6 million eggs in 2011, while imports are estimated at 13 million eggs per year," said Maboundou.
In 2011, Congo also leased 180,000 hectares of arable land to a group of South African farmers who have managed to plant 1,200 hectares of maize.
"The Congo imports almost half of the essential commodities it needs. You need to know this to understand current soaring prices. Imported products contain imported inflation,” André Kamba, chief of staff at the Ministry of Trade and Supply, told IRIN.