Democratic Republic of Congo: Military Reform Urgently Needed

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Washington DC—The international community and Congolese government must urgently agree upon a new deal to reform the Congolese military, according to a new report by 13 leading international and Congolese civil society groups. The report argues that the lack of political will to reform the security sector in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) risks not only billions of dollars of international aid but also the very stability of the country.

“At the end of the day, many of Congo’s seemingly intractable conflict-related problems can be traced back to dysfunctional security services: the army, police and courts. The Congolese government has failed to take concrete action to reform these vital institutions,” said Emmanuel Kabengele, National Coordinator of the Congolese civil society Network for Security Sector Reform and Justice. “Yet the international community has continued to sustain the government, investing money and effort with no actual return. It’s high time that donors demand that Congo engage in real army reform.”

The report, Taking a Stand on Security Sector Reform, was signed by 13 leading international and Congolese organizations and networks (see below for full list). It was completed after extensive research and interviews in DRC and donor countries. It argues that the army not only fails to provide security but actively preys upon the population, being one of the major perpetrators of human rights violations in the country. “An effective security sector—organized, resourced, trained and vetted—is essential to solving problems from recruitment of child soldiers, internal displacement and rape, to economic growth or the trade in conflict minerals,” says the report.

The report concludes that the main reason for the failure of army reform in DRC is a lack of political will from parts of the Congolese government – notably those elements which have benefited from endemic corruption.

“The very people in senior positions of the government and military who are responsible for effecting reform continue to profit from the current army, either in raking off salaries of servicemen, kickbacks, or involvement in illegal mining, trade or protection rackets” said Dismas Kitenge, President of the Congolese organization, Groupe Lotus and Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

The paper underscores the critical role the international community must play. In just 5 years, the report documents that donor countries alone have invested more than $14 billion into the DRC. Yet only one per cent, or $140 million, was spent on security sector reform.

International aid is now equivalent to nearly half of the DRC’s annual budget. As such, donors have considerable leverage over Congo. Yet despite this enormous investment, the DRC has actually gone backwards. The DRC is ranked last in the world on the UN’s main development index.  

“The international community’s investment in DRC has yielded poor results. Numerous armed groups send thousands of child soldiers into battle, and women and children continue to bear the brunt of violence. Adequate health care and personal security remain the exception rather than the rule,” said Ben Affleck, Actor, Director and Founder of Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI). “Donors must work to convince the Congolese government to undertake drastic military reform. Unless a new course of action is adopted, we run the risk of losing much of the investment that has already been made.”

The costs of accepting the status quo are high, for the Congolese people but also for the international community. In addition to the traditional donors - US, EU, UK, France and Belgium – key partners such as China, South Africa, and Angola all have a vested interest in the stability and long-term prosperity of the DRC. 

“The new government must seize the opportunity to refocus attention on implementing sustainable and effective reform,” said Pascal Kambale from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA). “Now is the time for the international community and Congolese government to work together to reform the police and army so that Congo is capable of protecting its own civilians.” 

Some of the report’s recommendations include: 

1.  For the Congolese government: 

  • Renew political commitment to security sector reform at the highest levels. Make military reform a top political priority of the new government. Remove from office those individuals that are obstructing military reform, and prosecute them if appropriate.
  • With donors and the United Nations (UN), establish an effective co-ordination body on military reform.

2.  For the international community and donors: 

  • Launch a high-level forum on security sector reform (SSR) in the DRC, made up of Congolese, regional and international actors to create the necessary political will for SSR.
  • Expand the current Great Lakes Contact Group to include other key partners, such as Angola, South Africa, China to improve donor coordination.
  • Develop benchmarks for SSR progress, such as improvement in the human rights record of the military and implementation of a military reform plan and make benchmarks conditions in financial support.

3.  For the UN: 

  • Extend UN sanctions to those individuals impeding SSR.  
  • Empower MONUSCO to provide support on military reform and increase its SSR resources.

The following organizations have signed on to this press release:

International Organizations

1.  Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) 
2.  The Enough Project
3.  Eurac: European Network for Central Africa (Consisting of 48 European NGOs working for peace and development in Central Africa)
4.  International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
5.  OENZ: Ecumenical Network for Central Africa
6.  Open Society Initiative for Southern African (OSISA)
7.  Refugees International
8.  UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region of Africa (APPG) 

Congolese Organizations

9.  African Association of Human Rights (Association Africaine des Droits de l’Homme (ASADHO))
10. Congolese Network for Security Sector Reform and Justice (Consisting of 289 Congolese NGOs and set up to monitor progress of security sector reform)
11. Groupe Lotus
12. League of Voters (Ligue des Electeurs)
13. Pole Institute: Intercultural Institute for Peace in the Great Lakes Region

Notes to Journalists

1.  Interviews and Media materials

Please contact Jake Goodman, jake.goodman@crisisaction.org (1-646-233-6152) to organize interviews with NGO spokespeople and to request additional media materials.

Media materials available include: