Which Big Funder is Coming to Congo’s Rescue?

Some refer to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as Africa’s first world war. The conflict is, indeed, one of the deadliest since World War II, killing between 3 and 6 million people since the mid-1990s. Ongoing human suffering on such a large scale should certainly garner the attention of a multitude of humanitarian organizations around the world, but sadly, it really hasn’t.

For all the good that international humanitarian organizations and governments do for funding peace and security efforts around the world, these groups collectively falter when it comes to humanitarian crises in conflict zones. DRC is just one case in point. However, the area does have a key funding ally in its corner—the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

The foundation has given around $100 million to support projects related to peace, economic development, and democracy in North Kivu, DRC. The foundation is now focusing on the DRC's chronic power problems by financing the multi-million-dollar construction of hydroelectric plants around the country.

Related: Meet the Unlikely Funder Who Actually Cares About Congo

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation is working alongside Congo’s national parks authority and the U.K.-based Virunga Foundation to bring power to DRC in order to spur economic development. The Buffett Foundation has already dedicated nearly $20 million toward the construction of a hydroelectric plant in North Kivu, and has promised an additional $39 million toward the cost of two more plants in the region.

Over the past few years, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation has stepped up work on its African Great Lakes Peace Initiative. When we spoke with Howard Buffett and foundation President Ann Kelly recently, he talked about the hydroelectric project at length, explaining how the plants can serve as a missing piece to the DRC's post-conflict reintegration problem, saying,

Every time it (the conflict) gets resolved, it’s never really resolved. Obviously it’s a very politically charged thing but the missing piece really was you couldn’t reintegrate people where there were no jobs.

Ann Kelly went on to explain that the feasibility studies the foundation conducted indicated that each plant has the potential to create 800 to 1000 jobs per megawatt. Kelly went on to say, “The way that we’re looking at this is that this is a job creation strategy to create economic development that basically crowds out conflict.”

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation has dedicated some $200 million toward Africa’s Great Lakes Region, supporting efforts in conservation, agriculture and economic development. The Virunga Foundation is hoping that Buffett’s latest big investment will attract an additional $166 million to support the costs of building an additional seven hydroelectric plants along with hotels and vocational schools.

The foundation began funding the construction of its first hydroelectric plant in DRC during an ongoing conflict. The hope was that it would provide a demobilization and reintegration strategy when the fighting ended. Things didn’t quite turn out the way they had hoped, but the foundation remains a staunch supporter of peace and economic development in the area.