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A new report by 13 leading international and Congolese civil society groups asks the international community and Congolese government to urgently agree upon a new deal to reform the Congolese military. 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 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 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 five years, the report documents that donor countries alone have invested more than $14 billion into the DRC.
Yet only 1%, 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.”