Donor-funded development programmes in five extremely poor regions – two of which are post-conflict – in Africa have benefited mainly the rich.
An African Investigative Publishing Collective team that went to north Uganda (post Joseph Kony), Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kibera township in Nairobi, western Ivory Coast and northwest Cameroon found that the aid projects had all been captured by the elites, while the poor were no better off and, in some cases, were actually poorer.
The locals are scared
“You won’t find anyone talking to you about these programmes,” says Amadi Sidiné, whose shop in Duékoué sells everything from cans of tomatoes to light bulbs. Duékoué is the main town in Ivory Coast’s war-damaged western region earmarked for dozens of donor-aided “reconstruction and development” projects.
We find that Sidiné is, largely, right. Two nongovernmental organisation (NGO) acquaintances go AWOL when we want to interview them, and not one intended “beneficiary” will talk to us.
A local journalist tells us that the hundreds of millions of dollars in “post-conflict assistance” and “presidential emergency plan” funds have mostly gone into contracts for state officials to deliver goods or services through their own companies.
“As soon as these ‘big men’ appropriate the contract, they run away with it,” Sidiné says, either to implement it in their own home region or not implement it at all.
An audit report by the Ivorian National Regulatory Authority for Public Procurement in 2014 confirms a total of 58 of 60 such “development” contracts were “irregularly awarded”. Government’s anticorruption agency, the High Authority of Good Governance, says they are “fully aware” of the situation and that people “should report the corruption” to them.
But local pastor Oboué Armand explains that “whistle-blowers are victimised”.
“The locals see how the elite and officials distort the system to their advantage. But they are too scared to talk. Community leaders are enticed or pressured to excommunicate the snitch,” Armand says.
A spokesperson at the palace of the traditional leader in Nkwen, near Bamenda in Cameroon, says he is happy with the tree planting project in his community. When we tell him that we are in the area where the trees ought to be, but that there are no trees, he hangs up on us.
By his own admission, municipal head Augustine Fortisah Che in Bamenda’s Atuazire area, has also seen things that aren’t there. He shows us a document for delivery of six World Bank-funded water wells in his area, which he signed in 2009, though he had only seen four wells – two of which were already broken at the time. “I signed because I can’t read French,” Fortisah Che says.
The World Bank delegation had come from the francophone capital Yaounde, while Bamenda in the northwest province is Anglophone. But we are left with a nagging suspicion that both Fortisah Che and the Nkwen traditional authority may have received an “enticement” in exchange for their signatures.
According to several academics and legal professionals we speak to, this is common practice in “development aid monitoring” in Cameroon.
Like in Ivory Coast, the aid projects are captured by government officials.
“I see those payments to government officials and their relatives in the projects,” an auditor confesses. “But we give clean audits, otherwise one is in trouble.”
The auditor and his mother phone our reporter that night, crying, begging us not to mention his name.
We try one more large World Bank and Western donor-funded project – the Livestock and Fisheries Development project, which has supposedly helped farmers with cattle breeding since 2014.
But Pius Mbipe, the project’s coordinator, is not inclined to communicate any results so far.
“We don’t give information on the phone,” he says. He says no when we ask for an email address, then hangs up.
“The farmers had some training,” says Ful Joy, editor of the monthly magazine Farmer’s Voice. “But it’s always those who manage the projects who benefit more.”
Asked what happens to the money poured into the region by donors, he says it “disappears in the hands of people who have big farms. They end up presenting more competition for small farmers.”
The water and the wood
The invisible trees of Bamenda are child’s play compared with what Gervais Ntariba, director of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s state water company Regideso, claims to see in Kinshasa, the town where he and our reporter Francis Mbala live.
“Two thirds of Kinshasa’s citizens have clean running water by now,” is Ntariba’s opening remark during their interview.
When Mbala expresses surprise – Ntariba must know that people here walk around with buckets, often for kilometres, at all hours of the day and night – the water director gets angry.
“You can’t count all of Kinshasa,” he grunts. “Of course, we can’t do all of it. This population doubles every two years.”
Ntariba’s faith in the $190 million (R2.3 billion) World Bank project called Pemu, which aimed to give the Democratic Republic of Congo’s three major cities clear running water by 2015 (now extended to 2020) is perhaps partly informed by the fact that the company he works for “can only survive on bail outs from international donors”, as Charles Mbikayi Tshibangu of Kinshasa’s Institut Superieur de Commerce wrote in 2008. In 2014, with Pemu in full swing, the World Bank itself admitted that Regideso couldn’t even get other government departments to pay for the water they used, or get the bulk of its own meters to work.
Eighty kilometres from the capital, on the border of the Congo River in Maluku, we are invited to see the results of another World Bank project: the multibillion-dollar programme that is meant to protect the country’s majestic forests and the people who live in them. As we walk alongside the river with a state official who works for the ministry of the environment, he points at a large boat sliding by full of wood.
“That’s Equator wood,” he says. “It’s protected. But locals have started to log it because all the other wood is appropriated by the big companies in which our officials have interests.”
Forest campaign manager for Greenpeace Africa, Irène Wabiwa, confirms that “forest mismanagement” by those who are “supposed to manage them” has left both the forests and its inhabitants worse off than before.
“Vulnerable people are at the mercy of untouchables who are protected by the government. These big companies pay their labourers $2 a day.”
In Kibera, Nigeria, it isn’t wood or salaries that the rich appropriate, but houses.
“We are their labourers,” township resident Lucianna Wanjiku (58) says, pointing at new high-rise apartments across the road. Wanjiku was once promised one of these houses, but they were snapped up by the politically connected who could afford the expensive rent.
Wanjiku, a resident since the 1970s, still lives in a shack in the mud without electricity. Sewage snakes along her street and people only cross the road to do cleaning and other piece work for those who live in the apartments opposite.
Government men came in 2000 to promise Wanjiku a title deed and an upgrade. In exchange for $10 that she had saved up over five years, they wrote the number “of the title deed” on her wall. It has since faded, but she remembers it: “KS/SD/57. I think it means robbery.”
The big men of north Uganda
Outside Peyero bar on Gulu Municipality’s Langata Road in north Uganda is a car that, by the last letter on its licence plate, belongs to State House, the official residence of the president. Upon inquiring, we learn that both the bar and the car belong to Harriet Aber, the “social friend” – as she was called during a parliamentary session recently – of General Salim Saleh, President Yoweri Museveni’s brother and a veteran of the war against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.
This is the 20-year war that left the regional Acholi people landless and destitute, and therefore the object of large-scale poverty alleviation and land resettlement programmes.
But the elites in Uganda also want the land. Saleh has been the target of many protests by locals regarding alleged land grabs by himself, his friend Harriet and others.
Even land rights NGOs are scared to stand up to “those political leaders who are access points for land grabbing”, as Pamela Judith Angwech of the Gulu Women’s Development and Globalisation calls it.
Her colleague, Elly Turuho, who is also in land rights advocacy – “because land is everything here” – adds that her NGO Acord also hasn’t been able to “deal with [further] evictions” of the landless.
The appropriation by the big men in north Uganda had not upset the programme’s donors. But the fact that $14 million of donor funds was outrightly stolen by government officials did. At least for a while. The UK, Norway and Ireland suspended aid and demanded money back; the World Bank said it would review its lending to Uganda. But after the accountant of the programme was jailed and nothing happened to other high-level culprits, they all came back.
The elites are your friend
The risk that elites, either in local communities or nationally, appropriate aid to get even richer, and that this can result in a “net loss to the country’s economy”, had already been described in research by the University of Glasgow in 2006. A World Bank study undertaken in 2003 warned against “enhancement of privilege” of elites as a result of capture of aid money.
The World Bank was sent questions with details of each of the case studies we investigated to comment on. No comments were received.
By Benon Herbert Oluka, Chief Bisong Etahoben, Francis Mbala, Eric Mwamba, Selay Kouassi, Ken Opala
The African Investigative Publishing Collective is an association of veteran investigative journalists who have dedicated their working – and often also private – lives to exposing wrongs in their societies. It is inspired by a commitment to dig deeper, unearth injustice and uncover truths in the public interest, that is, in the service of democracy, transparency and development. Go to investigativecollective.com for more