The international community is supporting programmes to build a stronger state in the run-up to presidential and legislative polls scheduled for Nov. 28. But those efforts have been undermined by a long history of corruption, kleptocratic rule and unaccountable elites, according to the report published this week.
Only a few violent incidents have marred the electoral process so far, the report says. "Yet, there are strong fears that further instability may result if the elections are not perceived as fair and impartial," it adds.
A statement issued last week, signed by more than 40 local and international NGOs, warned that pre-election violence is already on the rise, Reuters reported. Eleven candidates are vying for the presidency, with President Joseph Kabila favourite to be re-elected, and more than 18,000 are due to run for parliament.
The DARA report - based on field interviews and surveys, and produced as part of a series on donors and crises - identifies the elections as an opportunity to reflect on the impact of the "massive amount" of aid provided to Congo, and how best to move the Central African nation from a persistent state of chronic humanitarian crisis to stability and recovery.
At least 5.4 million Congolese have died since 1998 from violence, hunger and disease, caused or complicated by a war that officially ended in 2003. As of July this year, around 1.7 million were still displaced inside the country's borders.
IS AID REALLY HELPING?
Congo has received more than $3.3 billion in aid over the last decade, consistently ranking among the top 10 destinations for humanitarian assistance in that period. Donors have provided additional billions for development and peacekeeping activities.
Yet violence perpetrated by armed groups and the military, often involving brutal sexual abuse, remains widespread, undermining efforts to reduce poverty, malnutrition and disease.
The DARA report says that it isn't yet possible to fully explain or measure the impact of years of humanitarian assistance for people in crisis areas. One unnamed survey respondent asked, "Are we really assisting those people in terms of potable water, rape prevention, preventing child recruitment, etc?”.
Aid workers on the ground point to a gap between efforts to respond to humanitarian crises in some parts of the country and longer-term development and peacebuilding activities, saying donors have not done enough to support the transition between the two types of work.
Some also think donors have focused on Congo’s conflict zones at the expense of needs in its other regions, according to the report. One participant in the research said people in the country’s relatively stable west are asking whether they should take up arms so they can attract more aid.
The disconnect between humanitarian, recovery and development agendas could undermine steady but uneven progress towards more coordinated and effective aid responses in Congo, especially in the areas of gender and protecting civilians, DARA warns.
Another threat to gains over the past five years is the declining level of humanitarian funding for Congo since 2009, the report says.
The joint 2010 Humanitarian Action Plan (HAP), which appealed for $827 million, was 64 percent covered, with nearly half coming from three donors - the United States, the European Commission and Britain. By mid-October this year, the 2011 HAP had raised just over $481 million, or 58 percent of the $721 million requested. U.S. funding has dropped significantly, from $154 million in 2010 to $89 million in 2011.
Regardless of whether Congo becomes more stable following the upcoming elections, the report urges donors to throw their weight behind a more integrated approach to transition and recovery, as well as greater local involvement.
WANTED MILITIA LEADER STANDING FOR OFFICE
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has called on Congolese authorities to immediately arrest an armed group leader who is running for political office even though he is wanted for crimes against humanity, including mass rape.
Mai Mai militia leader, Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, is standing for the National Assembly, despite a Congolese warrant for his arrest issued in January. His group operates in remote Walikale territory in eastern Congo's North Kivu province, where he is registered as a candidate.
In July, a U.N. report documenting the rapes of at least 387 civilians - including girls and boys - in mid-2010 in 13 villages in Walikale territory named Sheka as one of the leaders who carried command responsibility.
"The failure to arrest someone who is out publicly campaigning for votes sends a message that even the most egregious crimes will go unpunished," Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.