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The voice of Africa was undervalued at Cop26, says Jeanine Mabunda

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The voice of Africa was undervalued at Cop26, says Jeanine Mabunda

Jeanine Mabunda Lioko Mudiayi, Member of the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) talks to New African about the results of Cop26 for Africa and progress on ending child soldiering, sexual violence against women and abuse of worker’s rights in the country’s mining sector.

Jeanine Mabunda Lioko Mudiayi has been a Member of the National Assembly of the DRC since 2011. She was the first woman to be elected as president of the assembly, serving from 2019 to 2020. She has been active in combating gender violence and successfully worked to end the practice of recruiting children as soldiers.

As Public Enterprises Minister (2007-12), she put in place several much-needed reforms and as the Executive Director of the Fonds de Promotion de l’Industrie (FPI), a public development bank, she made key improvements including to the loan recovery rate, and increased credit to SMEs.

She holds a law degree from the Catholic University of Louvain and a bachelor’s degree in business sciences from the Catholic Institute of Higher Commercial Studies (ICHEC) in Brussels.

You attended some side events at the COP26 meeting in Glasgow. What is your overall impression of the meeting?

I think there was some dissatisfaction but, in my opinion, the fight to protect the planet against climate change is a global fight, a long-term race – and progress was made at COP26 even if it was not as much as many would have liked.

Remember, when we started on this project, there was a total lack of consensus – but that is not the situation now. Some major differences related to fossil fuel (particularly coal) have been reconciled.

We need greater energy justice between the countries that are developed, and generally more polluting, and the least polluting countries which are also providing solutions through their rainforests and minerals.

How well were African issues represented?

I feel that the voice of Africa, given what it contributes to the stabilisation of CO2 levels as well as minerals and resources that are needed for new cleaner technology, is undervalued.

The new generation of Africans observe the well-being of other nations whilst being told to stop cutting down the trees they need for firewood and to create space for agriculture. Slow development impacts their daily lives and their future, while their forests and natural resources are discussed thousands of miles away without them.

On the positive side, we saw more support for Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale, the Chair of the African Group of Negotiators on Climate Change; and we must praise the initiatives and advocacy for Africa. However, we must also continue to raise the developed world’s awareness of the role Africa has to play, allied to the need for development. 12m Africans enter the labour market each year, they need jobs.

Was there any progress on fulfilling the pledge of $100bn made to Africa to mitigate against climate change?

It’s fair to say that there is still dissatisfaction and confusion about the pledge of $100bn that was committed in 2015 by the rest of the world in favour of Africa.

While we have to welcome the renewed focus, the progress being made is not keeping up with the challenges, the constraints and the impacts on African agriculture, infrastructure or economies. The flooding in Mozambique and the drought in Sahel, as examples, remind us that time is against us and there is an ever-growing sense of urgency in making this pledge real.

Deforestation, or reforestation, has become an urgent issue worldwide. What is the position in DRC? Are the rainforests still healthy?

Our forests are less damaged than many others but preserving them is a complex task. Our forests are a resource for those living there, crucial to their basic survival and to make a living. Forestry products are used for cooking, housing, subsistence farming, energy, etc.

There should be compensation given to countries and communities for preserving the rainforests, the lungs of the planet. That monetary compensation can then be used to develop these communities whilst minimising the impact on the rainforest.

You have been very active in working to stop sexual violence against women – a subject that has come up again in regard to peacekeepers. How serious is the issue and what can be done about it?

I strongly believe that providing early education for girls but also, and especially, boys at the beginning of their long journey to adulthood can make a difference – as does the tone and actions of leaders.

As Congolese citizens we decided to work together to address the issue. Civil society took the lead, but we also needed public bodies and policies to be impactful and transformational.

To have been part of this fight is something I’m proud of, but it continues for many, and we must continue to do everything we can to stop it.

You have also been involved in combating child soldier recruitment. Is your work focused on the DRC or the wider region and what is the situation at present?

My mission was limited to DRC; the geography made it difficult, but we were successful. For many children, the lack of full-time education and the ability to pay for basic living necessities made the lure of being a solider attractive. A gun gave them power, a sense of worth and money, which was too tempting. We found child soldiers with both the rebel and DRC armies.

DRC made a public statement, setting the tone at the top. We recognised we had a problem, admitted where we had failed, but we made a clear statement and took real action. We passed laws ensuring punishment for those found guilty, including in the army; and it was the state taking action that convinced rebels to work with the public authorities to resolve the issue.

In 2017 we were taken off the UN’s list of countries where there is recruitment of child soldiers.

You were in charge of reforming the DRC’s publicly owned enterprises. How successful was this and what is the current situation?

It has been very successful; we have been able to draw on private sector experience and boost revenues coming to the state. When we audited DRC public enterprises in 2000/2002, we discovered that there was no regular accounting or clear governance and their revenue contribution to the state was symbolic at best.

We modernised, setting rules that allowed public-private partnerships, increasing transparency. We encouraged management contracts and joint ventures. The state retained ownership but was guided by the private sector. This enabled and encouraged private investment in DRC public companies and their experience enabled companies to grow and expand.

Sectors like transport, energy and mining can have a huge impact on growth in the DRC, but we have to ensure that this is all done with the aim of improving the standard of living for all citizens.

There have been accusations recently that some large mining companies – especially in copper and cobalt – are exploiting workers and even denying them their human rights. What is the truth of the matter?

Mining is complex; it generates large revenues and often in poor areas but this is no reason or excuse for poor working conditions. We have acted against some abuses that have been reported and had sanctions against certain organisations.

We have also introduced new laws in certain industries but where exploitation happens, we must take action to eradicate it.

The African Development Bank, World Bank and UNICEF have assisted the DRC in getting better and are working with poor communities to teach them new skills so they can work for themselves, and we continue to learn from these programmes.

Finally, have you already felt the impact of climate change in DRC?

DRC, like many countries in Africa and beyond, has been hit by the consequence of climate change which has destroyed homes and infrastructure, and the impact is doubled in parts of Africa where conditions are already challenging.

Where there is a weaker economy, it is harder to recover. The funds are not available in certain parts of Africa to repair the infrastructure, build new homes, businesses etc. This challenges the community, impacts on livelihoods, which results in people leaving those areas, further weakening the local economy and community. 

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