Amani Itakuya #20: Reforming the Congolese security sector

Reforming the Congolese security sector

Timo Mueller

Eastern Congo has been a fertile environment for the development and growth of armed groups. As a result, violence is a currency frequently traded, leaving the Kivus in a protracted crisis. But it is not just armed groups that exact a devastating toll on the civilian population. In eastern Congo, elements of the armed forces (military and police) often engage in abuses similar to those of militias, exposing the population to grave risks. The frequency, nature and scale of the human rights violations are worrisome and mandate renewed attention and structural reform initiatives.

The causes for continuous human rights violations by Congo’s armed forces are manifold. Throughout the years, tens of thousands of former rebels from a wide range of ethnic groups have been reintegrated into the army and police without any vetting or human rights training, further exacerbating the fragmentation of an ill-functioning organisation ridden by competing interests at all levels. With little to no payment, often frustrated by a lack of adequate equipment, housing and general ill-management, and in an environment where the threshold for violence has dropped dramatically, members of the armed forces often use their weapons to make ends meet. In absence of real military justice, civilian oversight and accountability, abuses largely go unpunished.

Over the years, the government and international donors have initiated several reform packages but they have largely failed because of lack of political will, donor coordination and funds. Units of the security services have undergone numerous but patchy and uncoordinated human rights trainings. An armed forces-wide, gender mainstreamed education campaign on human rights, humanitarian law and military justice must be embedded into a wider security sector reform (SSR).

Ensuring discipline among the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo requires a multidimensional and holistic institutional overhaul, spanning the military, police and judiciary as well as other agencies tasked with the provision of security. Many steps are needed to reform and professionalise the army and the police. They include the passing of a new security sector and military justice legislation, development of security policies in close consultations with affected communities, a long-term plan to reduce the size of the army, a sustainable payroll system, ending corruption and dismantling conflicting command-and-control structures inside the army, strengthening civilian oversight, human rights vetting, education and training, capacity-building for military lawyers, and prosecution of offenders. Donors should harmonize their efforts and mobilize greater resources.

Security sector reform is a long, daunting and inherently political challenge – but one that must be taken to address a root cause of the prevailing insecurity plaguing the country and (re-)build confidence between the state and its peoples.

Timo Mueller is a Goma-based field researcher for The Enough Project. He tweets at

One Response to “Amani Itakuya #20: Reforming the Congolese security sector”
  1. I don’t disagree with the recommendations. But they beg the question of why the government hasn’t already enacted them. Is it simple incompetence and lethargy? Or does Kabila maintain a weak and divided army by design? And how much reform of the security sector is possible in a context of political parasitism that characterizes the Congolese government’s MO? In other words, how much can we expect of security sector reform without first addressing the regime’s broader governance failures?

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