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New Study Shows Congo is Run as Violent Kleptocracy

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New Study Shows Congo is Run as Violent Kleptocracy

Posted by Enough Team on October 27, 2016


In-depth report shows D.R. Congo is not a “failed state,” as it functions highly efficiently for ruling elites, certain commercial partners who profit immensely; Paradigm shift is needed by policymakers to use financial, legal pressure tools to target leaders most responsible for violence, corruption, and undermining democracy.

In a major report released today, the Enough Project shows that the Democratic Republic of Congo is not a “failed state,” exposing a highly functioning system of violence and corruption structured to allow President Joseph Kabila and his close associates to maintain power and profit from natural resource deals at the expense of country’s development.

The comprehensive study that analyzes Congo’s political economy over the past 130 years, “A Criminal State: Understanding and Countering Institutionalized Corruption and Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” authored by Sasha Lezhnev, the second in the Enough Project series “Violent Kleptocracy: Corruption and Conflict in East and Central Africa,” will be presented at an event today in Washington, DC, and will be livestreamed at 10 a.m. EDT.

Sasha Lezhnev, report author and Associate Director of Policy at the Enough Project, said: “It is time for a paradigm shift on policy thinking on Congo. Supporting Congolese reformers to transform the country requires a strategy to tackle the violent kleptocratic system head-on. The U.S. and Europe must impose significant consequences for the leaders that maintain it, in particular by using the tools of financial pressure normally reserved for countering nuclear proliferation. Congo’s business deals are made in U.S. dollars, thus touching the international banking system, so the international community has powerful leverage it is not using nearly enough.”

The current crisis in the DRC, the report argues, is the latest iteration of a longer pattern of violence and corruption and urges policymakers and the international community to respond with financial pressure tools that directly target those leaders benefiting from the violent kleptocratic system.

Holly Dranginis, Senior Policy Analyst at the Enough Project, said: “For too long, Congo’s entrenched systems of theft and violence have been left to thrive. That has led to the death of millions of civilians, and now an acute constitutional crisis at the highest level of power. It has also spurred a mass popular movement demanding that Kabila must go, asserting the rights of the people to a democratic transition. There has never been a more important time for policy makers to view Congo as a hijacked — not a failed — state, and use the financial and legal tools at their disposal before this crisis reaches a fever pitch.”

Lezhnev added: “U.S. and international policy goals on Congo should be to create accountability for financial and human rights crimes; and to create new leverage for peace, human rights, and governance reforms. This would comprise a new, unique financial pressure approach that would create real leverage in support of processes that can bring change in Congo. The aim would be to freeze those committing atrocities and undermining peace out of the international financial system.”

The Congolese government has increased repression in recent months. In September, a government crackdown on demonstrations to hold elections on time killed over 48 protesters, according to the United Nations. Over the past 18 months, numerous democracy activists have been jailed and radio, international human rights advocates have been kicked out of the country, and radio and TV stations have been shut down.

Report recommendations:

1. Financial pressure: For a policy of financial pressure aimed at reforms, the United States and other actors within the international community should combine the use of anti-money laundering measures with widened, enforced targeted sanctions designations. This would comprise a new and unique financial pressure approach that would create real leverage in support of processes that can bring change in Congo.

  • Implementing anti-money laundering measures
  • Enacting higher-level and robustly enforced targeted sanctions

2. Accountability: The International Criminal Court (ICC), the United States, Central and East African nations, and European states should use judicial tools to target the facilitators of violence, prosecute corruption-related crimes, and bolster atrocity crimes cases with a strategy to target assets stolen by those responsible for serious crimes to impose real accountability.

  • Targeting the facilitators of violence and prosecuting pillage
  • Seizing criminally derived assets
  • Prosecuting corruption-related crimes

3. Good governance and transparency: The overall objective of policymakers should be a reformed, functional state that is responsive to Congolese citizens’ needs. While pursuing financial and legal pressure to create immediate costs for current corrupt and violent behavior, the U.S., European, African, Asian, and multilateral institutions should support long-term democratic and transparency processes, governance reforms, and needed capacities by taking the following steps:

  • Reforming aid, focusing on including strong anti-corruption provisions.
  • Pressing for the publication of financial reports and audits of state-owned companies such as Gécamines and the China contract
  • Strengthening EITI implementation and urge completion of the Mining Code review
  • Supporting civil society with increased legal aid, protection, and capacity building

The report analyzes Congo’s political economy over the past 130 years, revealing seven main pillars of violent kleptocracy that have been used in various forms to rule the country, from the days of King Leopold II to the present.

  1. Let the security forces pay themselves. Mobutu said, “You have guns, you don’t need a salary.”  In order to prevent being overthrown by force, the regime allows army commanders to become wealthy by exploiting resources and citizens, thus fueling cycles of conflict.
  2. Stay in power, or possibly lose everything. Leaving office can mean that regime-connected elites lose their ill-gotten gains and immunity from prosecution. Pro-democracy movements are thus repressed, often violently, as they are threats to the corrupt system.
  3. Ensure there is little to no accountability for regime-connected elites. Impunity is the glue that holds the system together. Judicial systems target regime opponents or low-level figures, not high-level perpetrators of corruption or human rights abuses.
  4. Create parallel state structures and co-opt rebel groups to weaken political threats. Parallel chains of command are set up to ensure loyalty; rebels are brought into the army without vetting or real integration. The bloated army then commits abuses and collaborates with armed groups.
  5. Ensure that high-level officials benefit from corruption. If appointed to a military post or government office, the official is expected to pass payments up the chain. This system, “rapportage,” has led the real tax burden for Congolese citizens to be around 55 percent.
  6. Personally profit from natural resource deals, underspend on services, and hijack reforms. The regime receives bribes from certain outsiders to sell resources at very low prices, then outsiders flip them for large profits, depriving the Congolese state of massive revenue. Transparency reforms such as the Extractive Indsutries Transparency Initiative (EITI) help a bit, but the main vehicles for corruption—state-owned companies and their foreign shell company partners—remain opaque. The government deliberately underspends on public services, as its focus is on patronage.
  7. Confuse everyone by creating uncertainty on policies in order to increase corruption. The government creates institutions that contradict its own laws or policies, and state agencies impose and collect their own taxes, which increases predation.

LINK TO THE FULL REPORT (French translation of executive summary also available)

EVENT DATE TIME: Thursday, October 27, 2016 | 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. EDT

EVENT LOCATION: 1333 H Street NW, 10th Floor, Washington, DC 20036


FOR MEDIA: For media planning to attend the event in person, please email: [email protected]. For media inquiries and interview requests, please contact: Greg Hittelman, Director of Communications, +1 310 717 0606[email protected].

The Enough Project, an atrocity prevention policy group, seeks to build leverage for peace and justice in Africa by helping to create real consequences for the perpetrators and facilitators of genocide and other mass atrocities. Enough aims to counter rights-abusing armed groups and violent kleptocratic regimes that are fueled by grand corruption, transnational crime and terror, and the pillaging and trafficking of minerals, ivory, diamonds, and other natural resources. Enough conducts field research in conflict zones, develops and advocates for policy recommendations, supports social movements in affected countries, and mobilizes public campaigns. Learn more – and join us – at