Ministerial visit to the DRC – Kasai Occidental

Here’s my second blog from my ministerial visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo:

Kasai Occidental, a landlocked province in DRC, seems cut off from the world. I flew into Kananga, its capital, this morning on one of the two flights a week. We flew over the railway, but didn’t catch a glimpse of the train that runs once a month, give or take. Potholed road access isn’t an inviting option. It’s little wonder that the business leaders I met with later identified transport as one of their biggest problems. Kananga, a city of around one million people, seems an island.

And this landlocked island has its problems. Conflict in the East of DRC has been making the headlines, but on some measures the situation here is worse. Malnutrition levels are high, in a malnourished country (all the harder to understand when the soil is fertile); conflict has been partly to blame. There is a lack of basic services like electricity and water, gender violence is all too common, the literacy rate for young women is around 35%, and lack of formal employment the norm.

So, where do you start? There is no easy answer, when each problem demands your attention and all are in some way connected. DFID is already investing in health, including the ASSP launched on Monday, which will work in many parts of Kasai Occidental to provide access to much-needed primary healthcare; and in police training, in a country where policing is not adequate to keep people safe.

And DFID is in the early stages of engaging with a new provincial government who appear committed to making things happen. The governor is credited with bringing electricity online – the six hours a day is a massive improvement on the zero hours previously. With the political will here to deliver for the population, perhaps Kasai Occidental can start to move in the right direction.