The Democratic Republic of Congo: Taking a Stand on Security Sector Reform


The 2006 elections were a moment of great hope for the DRC, as the country and its people moved out of the shadow of one of the most destructive conflicts the world has known. Official development assistance since the end of the post-war transition totals more than $14 billion. External funding makes up nearly half of the DRC’s annual budget. The UN peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, costs more than $1 billion a year.

  1. The 2006 elections were a moment of great hope for the DRC, as the country and its peoplemoved out of the shadow of one of the most destructive conflicts the world has known. The international community has invested heavily in the years since. Official development assistance since the end of the post-war transition totals more than $14 billion. External funding makes up nearly half of the DRC’s annual budget. The UN peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, costs more than $1 billion a year. The international financial institutions have buttressed the DRC’s economy, most importantly through writing off $12.3 billion debt and granting access to IMF loans. Trade deals, notably the one struck with China, push the aggregate figure up still further.
  2. Taking stock of progress as the DRC moves through its second post-war electoral cycle is sobering. Investment has not resulted in meaningful change in the lives of ordinary Congolese. The country is now in last place in the annual UNDP development rankings, 187th out of 187 countries. Despite slight improvements, life expectancy and child mortality are below average for the region. National income per capita is less than 50 cents a day. The DRC will miss all of its Millennium Development Goals. 1.7 million Congolese are displaced, a further 500,000 refugees outside the country. There are worrying signs of renewed conflict in the East. The investment of billions of dollars has had little impact on the average Congolese citizen.
  3. The central cause of this suffering is continued insecurity. The Congolese government’s inability to protect its people or control its territory undermines progress on everything else. An effective security sector - organized, resourced, trained and vetted - is essential to solving problems from displacement, recruitment of child soldiers and gender-based violence, to economic growth or the trade in conflict minerals. This is not a new finding. The imperative of developing effective military, police and judicial structures has been repeatedly emphasized. Yet, far from showing sustained improvement, Congolese security forces continue posing a considerable threat to the civilian population rather than protecting them. The recent allegations of an army Colonel leading his troops to engage in widespread rape and looting of villages near Fizi in 2011 underscores the fact that failed military reform can lead to human rights violations. The military – the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) - has been accused of widespread involvement in the most serious human rights violations. Police corruption is endemic, and almost any form of judicial protection out of reach for the vast majority.
  4. The root of the failure to implement security sector reform (SSR) is a lack of political will at the highest levels of the Congolese Government. Rather than articulating a vision for Congolese security and marshaling assistance to achieve it, the Government has instead encouraged divisions among the international community and allowed corrupt networks within the security services to flourish, stealing the resources intended to pay basic salaries or profiting from exploitation of natural resources. Unless this is changed, sustainable reform will be impossible. The investment made by Congo’s partners could be wasted, and Congo’s people will continue to suffer.
  5. The international community also bears significant responsibility. The DRC’s international partners have been politically incoherent and poorly coordinated. Little has been spent on security sector reform, despite its paramount strategic importance - official development aid disbursed for conflict, peace and security totaled just $530 million between 2006 and 2010, roughly 6% of total aid excluding debt relief. Spending directly on security system management and reform is even lower, $84.79 million over the same period, just over 1%. A lack of political cohesion after 2006 undermined effective joint pressure on the Congolese government. Poor coordination resulted in piecemeal interventions driven by competing short-term imperatives. The resulting failures have led many to give up on systemic reform altogether.
  6. This is unsustainable and unacceptable. The DRC’s external partners, old and new, must take a stand on SSR. As the dust settles after the 2011 presidential elections, many of the DRC’s partners are reassessing their programs. The international community must take this opportunity to be more forceful in pressing the DRC government to engage in reform. If international donors acted in concert, and effectively capitalized on their political and economic investment in the DRC, they could positively influence DRC government behavior. Their full weight needs to be brought to bear.
  7. The international community therefore needs to create a new pact with the Congolese government, one that puts in place clear conditions and benchmarks for progress on achieving army reform and minimizing harm to the population in return for continued assistance and recognition. These benchmarks must be based on positive efforts to achieve change. A strategic plan for military reform must be implemented, and a high-level body to coordinate on-going programs set up. And steps must be taken to improve the protection of Congolese civilians, through minimizing human rights abuses carried out by the security forces, and prosecuting the worst offenders.
  8. This new pact must transcend traditional donors. China will need peace in the DRC for future generations to reap the rewards from its investment. South Africa also has huge and growing economic interests in the DRC. Angola has pressing issues of national security at stake. All need the stability that can only come from effective SSR. The international financial institutions (IFI) have rewarded the stabilization of Congo’s macro-economic situation with significant support. They must recognize that continued growth will be dependent on new investment, which in turn demands security. Regional organizations, most importantly the African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Community (SADC), need to play an active role in marshaling effective pressure, and providing a framework for discussion. Critically, this pact must also include the Congolese population. Congolese civil society must have a key voice in defining a global vision for Congo’s security, and connecting high-level reform processes with those that matter most, Congo’s people.
  9. And the new pact must happen now. Flawed presidential elections have been completed. The DRC’s relations with its neighbors have improved significantly in recent years. Though security in the DRC is precarious, and there are worrying signs of a resurgence of violence in the East, challenges to the Congolese government from non-state armed actors have receded. In fact, the biggest threats perhaps now come from within the army itself. The government needs effective SSR, particularly of the military, to rebuild its reputation at home and abroad, an imperative reflected by President Kabila in his speech to the UN General Assembly in November 2011. Since the elections there have been some promising signs of greater receptivity on the part of the Congolese government. The opportunity to engage in an honest dialogue with the Government must not be missed.
  10. Though the picture painted above is bleak, it is leavened with hope. There are signs that, with the right will and appropriate support, change is possible. Increased numbers of prosecutions for sexual violence (including of a senior officer and the reintegration of child soldiers show that justice can be done. FARDC formations trained by the US, South Africa and Belgium have performed well in intervening in delicate domestic environments. A census of military personnel is nearly complete. If these glimmers of hope are to be sustained and magnified, robust action is necessary. With the right political will in Kinshasa, endemic corruption can be tackled, salaries paid, and the worst abusers removed. Once the right conditions are in place, the long term and large scale work so clearly necessary – reducing the size of both police and military through retirement or new demobilization programs, vetting, reinforcing capacity and increasing the combat effectiveness of troops – can begin in earnest.