USAID country Profile: Property Rights and Resource Governance: Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), also known as Congo (Kinshasa), is still emerging from a decade of violent conflict. From the time that foreign-based rebel forces ended President Mobutu's 32-year rule in 1997 to Joseph Kabila's election as President and establishment of the National Assembly in 2006, the war in the DRC involved no fewer than nine foreign powers and caused the deaths of 3.5 million people (many due to malnutrition and illness) and displacement of another 2.4 million. Much of the country's transport infrastructure was destroyed or lost to disrepair. A culture of violence and conflict, corruption, and mismanagement permeated government. The new government is in the process of establishing itself, rebuilding administrative systems, regaining control of areas governed by warlords and militia groups, and is committed to setting standards of good governance. The DRC is distinguished by the diversity and scale of its natural resources, including 2.2 million square kilometers of land, an area roughly equivalent to the territory of western Europe. More than half of the country's land is forest, constituting the second-largest contiguous area of tropical forest in the world and the habitat for animals and plants found nowhere else. If harnessed for hydroelectricity, the DRC's water resources could supply the energy needs of southern Africa. The country also has abundant mineral deposits, including cobalt, copper, diamonds, and gold. In spite of these rich natural resources, the people of the DRC have realized few of the benefits. Corrupt leaders have siphoned off the wealth for personal gain. Rebelling militias have claimed resources to buy arms and fuel the conflicts for control of territory. The years of war degraded and destroyed market infrastructure, and agriculture was reduced to subsistence farming. Agriculture still contributes more than 40% of the nation's GDP, but 73% of the population is malnourished. An estimated 80% percent of the population of 64 million people currently lives on less than US $1 per day. Under the formal law, the state owns all the DRC's natural resources (land, water, forests, and minerals); people can obtain various types of use and exploitation rights under an evolving set of laws and regulations. In practice, customary law endures, and natural resource rights are subject to parallel, incomplete, and often contradictory systems of formal and customary law. Land rights are often ambiguous, usually undocumented, and tenuous. Agricultural land is subject to seizure and land-grabbing. Formal and customary institutions are often ill-equipped to resolve land disputes. A large share of the rural population relies on the forests for their livelihoods, but the encroachment of displaced populations into protected areas, harvesting of bush meat and firewood, and widespread illegal logging have contributed to the degradation of the forest resources on which they depend. Corruption, an inadequate legal framework, and lack of institutional capacity have prevented the DRC's population from benefiting from the country's substantial mineral wealth. An effort to bring mining concessions made during the years of war into legal compliance has had little, if any, impact. Some observers nonetheless predict that renewed investment in the mining sector is likely to be the DRC's best opportunity for increasing revenues within the next decade. The global recession of 2008-2009 caused a slowdown in many investments, but global demand for the copper, cobalt, and other minerals held in the country's territory is expected to return and drive the sector forward again. The challenge for the government will be to provide better governance and oversight for these important national resources and ensure that the benefits are transparent and widely shared.