THE United Nations is scheduled to assemble donors in Geneva on April 13 to seek $1.7 billion to fund humanitarian operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But on March 23, the Kinshasa government suddenly announced it wouldn’t attend. Cue dismay, confusion, and, some now say, capitulation.
Wooing new investors and shoring up its political reputation, the government of President Joseph Kabila objected to being lumped in by the UN with the likes of Yemen and Syria as a state with skyrocketing emergency needs. Following this threat to skip its own pledging event, which doesn’t help prospects for donor largesse, the UN will now upgrade Congo’s humanitarian status.
Later this month, Congo will no longer be classified as a “level three” situation: a demarcation of the worst crises in the world. A senior NGO official close to the process said the decision was rushed through in 12 hours and was “very rash”, as it sets a bad precedent. “If we can’t stand up to the government of DRC… good luck with [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad”, the official said, adding that the UN had skipped consultations with other aid groups that collectively agreed the designation last October.
However, Mark Lowcock, the UN aid chief who heads the Inter-Agency Standing Committee that decides on “L3s”, stated in a 4 April announcement that benchmarks had largely been met, and the six-month designation would not need to be renewed. An L3 designation can be agreed by the IASC to signal the urgency and priority of the most serious situations, and thereby unlock extra resources to mobilise a bigger and better response. Several NGO staffers said Congo wouldn’t be the first country to shake off the L3 designation, and that Nigeria was among several countries that had successfully lobbied behind the scenes to avoid the label altogether.
Congo is on a tense path to delayed elections while trying to ram through changes to taxes that have irked mining firms. It also has multiple conflicts, widespread hunger, and huge numbers of displaced people (numbers now disputed by Kinshasa). Whether lifting the “L3” status operationally makes much difference now, the NGO staffers weren’t sure. But they all agreed that the timing looked unhelpfully like a UN climbdown.
“With the government contesting the numbers and saying the L3 was not justified… it just looks very publicly like they are giving in to the pressure,” said one aid worker in Goma.