Poverty and issues of women discrimination and violence are some of the greatest problems facing the Democratic Republic of Congo. Poverty has worsened since 1980 following the conflicts associated with the Cold War.
The UN report indicates that half the population lives below the poverty line. The report further indicates that the country is struggling to resolve issues related to economic inequalities whereby the rich are becoming while the underprivileged are languishing in great poverty.
The country has a population of over 64.8 poor individuals, who live in rural areas. Studies indicate that women are most affected because the social structure does not favor them in any way. A report released in 2006 indicated that over a third of children were suffering from malnutrition while women are subjected to inhuman conditions, such as giving birth under poor sanitation that predisposes them to diseases.
In many rural areas, access to women is a problem since a UN report indicated that only 11 percent of the households could actually access clean water. In Urban areas, which are populated by the ruling class, an estimated 75 percent of households could access clean water. In the country, unemployment is ever increasing because the government does not have a clear developmental plan that would give the locals employment opportunities.
An estimated 50 percent of the locals are unemployed yet they have necessary qualifications that could land them decent employment. In this regard, youths and women are affected more as compared to other categories in society (Makana, & Sean, 2006).
The poverty rates and gender inequalities in Congo are attributed to the country’s tumultuous history. The country came up with a transition program, which was meant to transform the economic system from a centralized Marxist planning to a market oriented economy. This program is accused of bringing about gaps that led to economic mismanagement and military coups.
The shift from Marxist economic program destabilized the lives of many people and brought about tension among various groups. In the 1990s, the country witnessed a brutal civil conflict that was attributed to struggle for power and the interest of the foreign powers. Because of civil wars, the country’s railway line was badly affected rendering a majority jobless.
Moreover, the civil war displaced quite a number of the local population, women being the worst affected. During and after the 1990s civil wars, the financial crisis in the country was persistent. To the new government, it was perceived that development meant shifting from communism to capitalism, which was never the case. It was based on this idea that market oriented economy was preferred over Marxism.
The ongoing conflicts have generated problems, which are interfering with the developmental goals of the country. The ruling class is now engaged in trade with the bourgeoisie from the west. Natural resources are being exported to the western countries for processing while the locals get nothing in return.
The external forces are accused of fuelling conflicts because it is believed that peace and stability in the Congo region would interfere with their interests. The country is endowed with natural resources, among them Coltan, which is used in the manufacture of phones. From this analysis, world systems theory could be employed to explain the poverty in the Congo region.
The theory states that development in the core (developed countries) leads to underdevelopment in the periphery (developing countries). Regarding sexual violence and discrimination against women, the country still lags behind in terms of gender equality. The society still believes that women are superior to women given the fact that they possess masculine features.
In this regard, women are incorporated in the financial system as underdogs because they are misrepresented in the labor market. This has affected the development of the country because an important section of society is not involved in policy formulation.
Congo is an expansive state found in central Africa, with an area of 2345410 square kilometers. This means that Congo is the largest country in Africa without a desert. However, the size of the country is perceived to be a curse because the government has never been able to manage it effectively. Various militia groups, who unleash terror to innocent citizens simply to control natural resources, control the country.
The country has a number of resources, including Gold and Copper. Analysts observe that resources in Congo are the major source of conflicts because each group would wish to control some. Regarding the population, the country has a huge population, with unskilled and semi-skilled labor. This means that the country does not have a skilled labor force that could contribute in eradicating poverty.
The population is predominantly rural implying that the major economic activity is peasant farming. Even though farmers engage in agriculture, the government has never been able to provide adequate markets for their produce. This has worsened the economic chances of many farmers. In Congo, access to land is not a problem to the locals because there is a low population density in the rural areas.
However, land has become a scarce resource in urban areas because of the influence of the ruling class. In fact, people living in towns are the poorest. Youths and women, who are the most vulnerable groups in society, mostly practice peasant farming.
Women engage in small-scale agricultural production and processing, but their products do not have ready markets. Poverty in Congo is most severe in rural areas because people, especially women and youths, are isolated and little investment opportunities are accessible (Semazzi, & Song, 2001).
In Congo, the populace in rural areas is the most vulnerable because the government has never provided microfinance services. Women and youths cannot access critical financial services that would empower them economically. Since farmers employ traditional farming methods, their production is usually low. Most farmers have no access sufficient inputs such as farm seeds, fertilizers, and machinery.
Moreover, the road network is another problem facing the population in Congo because roads are impassable during rainy seasons, which leads to delay in supply of farm inputs and agricultural produce.
In the country, the population does not have a clear distribution and collection organization that coordinates the buying and selling of agricultural produce. All these have worsened the economic capabilities of the population, leading to abject poverty.
The form of government in Congo is also a problem as far as poverty and gender inequality is concerned. The form of government is purely presidential whereby the president is the head of state and government. The president makes policies without consulting other actors. Under such systems, the population does not have a say as far as foreign policy is concerned.
Before the 1997 civil conflict, the system of government adopted in Congo was similar to that of France. However, the election of Sassou-Nguesso brought about changes. The president suspended the constitution and adopted a form of government that would give the president more powers.
The judiciary has never been given room to check the powers of the executive and the legislature. Lack of a clear system of checks and balances has been a contributed to poverty and gender inequality in Congo. This has in turn affected development because the cabinet is not subjected to public scrutiny.
Poverty, gender inequality, and violence against women are not new issues in Congo. These issues have been there since the colonial era (Vlachova, & Biason, 2005). Due to poor governance and external interference, these issues have continued to haunt the people of Congo. The government has come up with various strategies aiming at stamping out poverty and gender violence.
In this regard, the government has established poverty reduction strategies, which are believed to be effective enough to end poverty. At least five strategies exist, but this article will simply discuss the first strategy because its main aim is to end poverty and gender violence. However, a snapshot of other strategies would be highlighted. The second strategy aims at promoting microeconomic growth and stability.
In this case, the government will focus on improving the oil sector, forestry, agriculture, mining, supporting the private sector, formulation of policies to boost the crafts industry, promotion of tourism, and transport. In the third strategy, the focus would be on improving access to basic social services such as primary and technical education, healthcare, sanitation, research, culture, and sports (Witte, 1992).
The fourth strategy entails social protection and integration of the vulnerable groups into the main economic sector. This means that the government would strive to protect the youths, women, improve employment and working conditions, and protect the indigenous people. The fifth strategy is related to eradication of HIV/AIDS in the country, which has claimed the lives of the able individuals.
As early noted in this article, the main problem in Congo is poverty, which is caused by poor governance. Due to this realization, the government, with the assistance of other stakeholders such as World Bank, IMF, and the concerned UN agencies, came up with strategies to address the problem. Some of the strategies have been discussed in the previous paragraph, but the main strategy was related to improving governance and consolidating peace and security.
For economic development to flourish in Congo, it was agreed that peace and tranquility had to be prioritized. Through good governance, the government would facilitate capacity building in the public sector, which would enable the country to run the institutions in the most cost-effective way. The country endorsed the Paris Declaration as one way of supporting development and eradication of poverty.
The endorsement showed the country’s commitment to a political will that would be synchronized, visible, comprehensive, and more efficient. Under the strategy, the first agenda would be to improve political governance whereby the political leadership would undertake important structural and administrative reforms. The political class would be expected to come up with laws aimed at improving capacity building for institutions established under the acts of parliament.
Moreover, it was perceived that democracy and peace were the major pillars of any economy hence political leaders were urged to come up with laws regulating the behavior of leaders. Political power was to be sought through political parties meaning that political parties and interest groups were to be recognized as genuine actors in the development.
As one way of ensuring gender representation, the political class was urged to come up with an affirmative action aiming at giving women an advantage in political affairs. The media was to be given freedom to air any views that were critical to nation building.
The second agenda under the first strategy aims at promoting peace and security. Under this agenda, the role of government is to ensure that people coexist freely, irrespective of their tribal affiliations and political party affiliation. Again, the government ensures that people move from one place to the other without acquiring necessary travelling documents.
It can be concluded that the aim of government is to strengthen security and prevent conflicts, which are brought about by resources. In Congo, the government burned the importation of weapons after establishing its own gun racks and munitions depots. This gave the government a chance to control the weapons held by the military and the police. Regarding gender, the government came up with a law that criminalized discriminations based on gender.
Women were encouraged to take part in economic and political development, both in the public and private sector. In this regard, policies were drafted aiming at punishing those who unleashed terror on women. In 2008, the government adopted a policy on gender that would give women an advantage in socio-economic life (Nsokimieno, Shouyu, & Zhang, 2010).
Theoretical and Practical Solutions
Theoretically, the ideas of Marx could be used to define and resolve poverty and gender inequality in Congo. Marx found out that capitalism was responsible for massive economic growth in most parts of Europe. Since capitalism had taken root in Europe, workers underwent some form of suffering since their services were not needed. Marx differed with Malthus on the role of capitalism as regards to population increase.
Malthus had earlier noted that population increase was a result of biological pressure whereas Marx noted that surplus population was caused by capitalism. It is interesting to learn that capitalism is responsible for the increase of population. States would want its people to multiply in order to obtain a large workforce, which would push the economy forward. Marx referred to this sort of population increase as the reserve army of labor.
Before Marx conducted an analysis on economics, Ricardo had suggested that any good is priced based on the cost of labor. However, Marx went against Ricardo’s postulation to suggest that a product is valued more as compared to the worker in the capitalist society. This is a shocking revelation, which might be hard to forget in Congo.
The working class in Congo has been forced to live under deplorable conditions because of the greediness of the ruling class. Theoretically, the working class should rise against the ruling class and claim for its share in society. This would force the ruling class to incorporate the poor into production (Puechguirbal, 2003).
Practically, the strategies discussed in the previous section should be applied to address the problems facing the poor in Congo. In this case, democracy is the most important factor when considering the application of the strategies.
Congo is one of the countries in Africa that is endowed with natural resources. However, political instability has affected the exploration of resources to an extent that foreigners have taken over the mining process. The locals are languishing in great power while the ruling class cooperates with foreigners to exploit the poor.
The only viable solution to the problems facing Congolese is related to political governance. Through political governance, the institutions of government would have the necessary power to offer opportunities to the local poor.
Makana, J., & Sean, C. (2006). Impacts of Selective Logging and Agricultural Clearing on Forest Structure, Floristic Composition and Diversity, and Timber Tree Regeneration in the Ituri Forest, Democratic Republic of Congo. Biodiversity and Conservation, 15(4): 1375–1397
Nsokimieno, E., Shouyu, C., & Zhang, Q. (2010). Sustainable Urbanization’s Challenge in Democratic Republic of Congo. Journal of Sustainable Development, 3(2), 242–254.
Puechguirbal, N. (2003). Women and War in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Signs. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28(4), 1273-1290.
Semazzi, F., & Song, Y. (2001). A GCM study of climate change induced by deforestation in Africa. Climate Research, 17(2), 169–182.
Vlachova, M, & Biason, L. (2005). Women in an Insecure World: Violence against Women—Facts, Figures and Analysis. Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, 2(1), 109-119.
Witte, J. (1992). Deforestation in Zaire: Logging and Landlessness. Ecologist, 22(2), 58–64.