Jean-Benoît Falisse: The Tuungane project is probably one of the biggest projects of community-driven reconstruction (CDR) never implemented. Could you tell us how things started? Why has IRC chosen such approach?
Vera Quina & François Defourny: In 2006, the Democratic Republic of Congo turned a page of its history. The first free elections since its independence meant the end of a difficult transition process that ended a long period of unrest which ultimately took the lives of nearly 5.4 million people; the deadliest conflict since World War II. The program 'Tuungane' was designed to fit into the context of post-conflict reconstruction. The initial objective was to improve the stability and living conditions of communities affected by the war in eastern Congo.
The approach chosen was to work on village-level reconstructions but to have them managed by the communities themselves (Community-Driven Reconstruction – CDR). The communities would decide which type of reconstruction was a priority. A key assumption of this approach is that people know best their priority needs. Through the CDR method, Tuungane sought to respond appropriately to the basic needs of a large population affected by the conflict, but still taking into account the particularities of each community.
A second key element of this approach is called 'learning by doing'. By working together to identify, setup and manage the reconstruction projects, communities discover the virtues and demands of good governance. They experience the democratic mechanisms of representation, procurement, accountability and transparent collective management. The exercise aims to both strengthen cohesion within communities by bringing people together around a common project and further stimulate the population’s demand for good governance from service providers and government.
It is therefore through a community-led reconstruction approach that Tuungane has sought to meet priority needs of communities while promoting social cohesion, democratic governance and local economic recovery.
JBF: There were several phases of Tuungane, how is that different approaches were, what lessons have you learned from the first phase?
VQ & FD : In 2007, Tuungane began working in three eastern provinces of Congo (South Kivu, Maniema, Katanga) and this first phase lasted until 2010. The second phase began in 2011 and will last until 2014, adding the province of North Kivu as a new location for the program. In both phases, Tuungane mobilizes communities to develop local governance structures, establish development plans and organize resources for the implementation of their priority projects. Through this process, the program aims to contribute to stability in the region and promote a better understanding and practice of the principles of good governance: transparency, participation, inclusion and accountability.
During the first phase of Tuungane, from 2007 to 2010, communities received two grants: the first was $ 3,000 for rapid impact projects at the village level and the second was $ 50,000 - $ 75,000 at the community level, which grouped several villages together. Each of these grant amounts was designed to meet the needs identified by the entire population. In all, 1812 rapid impact projects were undertaken at the village level and 346 were developed at the larger community level. In both cases, education was chosen the most often, ahead of health and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects.
The program learned a lot in its first phase that informed the design of the subsequent phase. For example, in phase II the program works exclusively at the village level, which is considered more "natural" grouping than the larger community groupings previously covered. The amount of funding to the village level has significantly increased; from $ 3,000 to $ 24,000. New projects are supposed to be more integrated into the indigenous structure, more sustainable and more comprehensive. In the second phase, the reconstruction of infrastructure is only a part of the effort to improve services. The new approach is both more holistic, it is also more aligned with national policies, and with DRC local development and decentralization strategies. In the provinces of Katanga and Maniema, a new component was launched in Phase II which was specifically designed to work with decentralized local governments and stimulate interaction between them, communities, and decentralized technical services.
JBF: With Tuungane, villages create a new development committee. Isn't this creating yet “another committee” in these communities? How does the Tuungane program coordinate with existing community participation initiatives in the field (committees of parents / students, health committees, etc.)?
VQ & FD : First it is important to note that while DRC is in the process of decentralization, this process is far from reaching fruition. Local elections have not taken place yet. This means that at the local level, there is no truly representative body that can benefit from the support of the program. This is the reason why Tuungane organizes elections where people vote by secret ballot, to ensure that the “Village Development Committee” is truly representative of the whole community.
In its second phase since 2011, the Tuugane II program continues to work through village committees but they are now integrated with existing players involved in the provision of public services. These include supply-side service providers such as the school principal or the head nurse, and the demand-side health and education committees which already exist in all communities and are supposed to represent the interests of the population in these sectors. For example, if health or education is chosen as the priority sector by the community, the Tuungane elected Village Development Committee (5 members) is now joined by the existing health or education sectoral committee members to form a hybrid committee of 10 members.
These sectoral committees, the Parents Committee (COPA) and the Health Development Committee (CODESA), are recognized under Congolese law. Their mandate is to co-manage the social infrastructure in the sector (e.g. schools, health centers) and monitor the quality of service that these institutions offer. In principle, they must also be accountable to the community. However, even if COPA and CODESA are formally recognized by law, their capacity to represent the population’s interest is sometimes inadequate (e.g. their terms in office have lapsed or their members are co-opted by providers, etc.). Overall, they do not always play the role assigned to them in monitoring service provision, and making demands of service providers to render account and improve the service. In such cases, when the COPA or CODESA is not really fulfilling its role as a representative of the population, Tuungane liaises with the authorities in the sector to organize new elections and restart the committee on solid ground.
After the experience of Tuungane 1, the program decided it was essential to continue having a committee elected by the people to ensure a 'social contract', an accountability relationship, to promote good governance. With this in place, if the committee does not respond to the community’s needs, or siphons funds meant for the community project, the population is in a position to question, sanction or remove the committee. In fact, Tuungane as a program requires that that the population as a whole responds to any instance of missing funds. The community must convene a general assembly to discuss the situation, and if they do not take appropriate action to recover funds including dismissal of some or all of the committee representatives responsible for the mismanagement, the community as a whole can be excluded from the program.
Finally, the first phase of the program also showed that village leaders had a high degree of acceptance of the elected village committees. They saw them as legitimate and recognized it as useful to have a committee chosen by the community to manage the funds.
JBF: The impact study conducted by Columbia University and published in June did not find much impact of the program. At the same time, a recent article by Tim Harford (The Undercover Economist) published in the Financial Times highlights Tuungane's achievement in bringing assistance to beneficiaries. What is your perspective on the impact and success Tuungane after several years in the project?
VQ & FD : The Columbia University study confirmed above all that the program had been implemented correctly, in accordance with what was originally planned. It showed that the funding from DFID, together with IRC’s technical supervision, had successfully worked with communities to rebuild infrastructures they considered important for their development. In total, 1531 committees were elected and trained to select and manage priority projects. This led to the construction or rehabilitation of 2,297 classrooms and 241 health centers, drinking water 1014 facilities, etc. Given the particularly difficult context of eastern DRC, this is no small achievement.
Then at the impact level, the study focused primarily on the whether Tuungane had changed certain behaviours for long term effect. It is true that the study found relatively little evidence of significant program impact on the practices of governance, social cohesion and economic recovery. But to be honest, this is not so surprising. The evaluation focused on effects after an intervention period of about 18 months in each community. It was probably a bit presumptuous to think that such fundamental changes could happen within Congolese society in such a short time period.
On the other hand, the evaluation highlighted some shortcomings in the design of the first phase; the level of investment per capita reflected in the grant sizes given to communities was rather low, and arguably too low induce a real change. The program may also have focused too much on rebuilding infrastructures rather than on improving the basic services, meaning the quality aspects of the service that come with the infrastructure. We have taken this feedback on board significantly adjusted the program in the second phase, launched in January 2011.