This year on June 6-7 the World Bank is sponsoring the first Annual Kinshasa Conference on Economic Growth and Governance. The blurb for the conference starts:
In recent years the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has put in place important foundations to move to a new stage of development. The consolidation of peace and stability, and the strengthening of the macroeconomic framework are major accomplishments, including lowering of the annual inflation rate from 500 percent (2001) to 10 percent (2012). Thanks to these advances, economic growth accelerated to an estimated 7.2 percent in 2012. Progress, though from a very low base, has been registered in the social sphere as well. The infant mortality rate has dropped significantly, several endemic diseases have been eradicated and school enrollment has risen sharply. In terms of infrastructure, rehabilitation of road infrastructure has been launched across the country, telecommunications have made considerable progress, and the energy sector is increasingly becoming a focus of investments.
You’ve got to admire their optimism. Many might have looked at the recent or more distant history of the Congo, a country trapped in desperate poverty despite its fabulous wealth in natural resources, and reached a gloomier conclusion.
The readers of Why Nations Fail will recall that we trace the long 500 year history of extractive institutions in the Congo. Should we be gloomy?
All that history notwithstanding, things do appear to have started changing, and the World Bank has been enrolled in this change, trying to find ideas for how to move forward recognizing the many institutional problems that exist in the country.
One thing they did was to engage in a massive data collection and analysis of many different aspects of the Congolese economy. The results of this came out in French in three thick volumes, but the findings were summarized in the 2012 book Resilience of an African Giant edited by Johannes Herderschee, Kai Kaiser and Daniel Mukoko.
Reflecting the huge potential of the country, the theme for the first conference is “Harnessing Natural Resources for Development”. The optimistic focus is on trying to propose better ways for the Congo to use it’s natural resource wealth in socially desirable ways.
The conference includes such luminaries as Paul Collier. Why Nations Fail’s own James Robinson will also be there addressing the issue of “Governing Natural Resources for Shared Prosperity: Getting beyond the Resource Curse.” Gulp!
But perhaps we should first ask: is there really a “curse of natural resources”? And if so, what is it and what can the Congo do about it?
We’ll try to think this through over the next few blogs in anticipation of the conference.