Tuesday

31st Jan 2023

Warlords undermine EU security mission in Congo

  • EUSEC's General Martins visits a group of Congolese recruits (Photo: EUSEC)

The need to reform the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) army and police force is clear. Crime rates are high and rebel groups continue to harass citizens in the east, but few Congolese believe the state's security apparatus can tackle these problems.

Instead, a police checkpoint frequently brings a bribe or a house search results in theft. In addition, UN studies suggest that up to 70 percent of rapes committed in the DRC are carried out by men in 'uniform', a woolly term but clearly implicating state authorities as well as others.

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  • Rangers in the Virunga National Park (Photo: Andrew Willis)

As a result, many Congolese see their armed forces as the principle perpetrators of injustice, rather than a safeguard against it. "They are public enemy number one," says Bobo, a chauffeur in the capital Kinshasa, referring to the presidential guard which protects President Joseph Kabila.

Two EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions have attempted to tackle these problems in recent years, but the task is leviathan. "When a policeman dies in Congo, his wife takes up the uniform the very next day and starts work without training," says Jean-Paul Rikir, underlining the mixed quality of recruits in the national force.

The Belgian superintendent heads the EU's police mission in the DRC (EUPOL RD Congo) - a taskforce of 49 specialised staff and a current annual budget of €6.5 million. Originally set up in 2005 to help control disturbances in Kinshasa prior to the country's first democratic elections, today EUPOL is charged with promoting police sector reform across the whole of this vast central African state.

Successes so far include assisting DRC police authorities in drafting a 15-year strategic plan, as well as support for a new parliamentary law on police reform. The mission also advises on police interaction with the judicial system, and provides technical training in a range of different areas including the fight against sexual violence.

But tackling the endemic corruption is incredibly difficult, concedes Rikir, especially when salaries for regular police officers range from US$0-45 per month, grossly insufficient to feed a family on. Indeed, many Congolese citizens treat the forced hand-outs to police officers as a form of social assistance, rather than the standard Western view of bribery.

Empty government coffers means the situation is unlikely to change anytime soon. "If you go to hospital here in Congo you need to bring your own needles for stitching," explains Rikir. "Everything is still to be done, not only the police."

Down the road in Kinshasa's Socimat neighbourhood, Portuguese General António Martins leads the EU mission (EUSEC RD Congo) providing military advice and assistance to the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). The team currently has 50 staff and an annual budget of €12.5 million.

One of the mission's key tasks so far has been to calculate the exact number of soldiers in the FARDC through the distribution of biometric ID cards and the elimination of fictitious 'ghost' soldiers. The latest figure puts the number of troops at 120,000, a significant drop from the previous estimate of 370,000. This in turn has eased budgetary constraints, enabling active soldiers to earn a higher salary, still only US$50 per month.

But the task has been complicated by the government's ongoing policy of integrating rebels into the FARDC, making the army's final size a moving target. The tactic has helped bring greater peace to the east of the country, a key election pledge of President Kabila in 2006, but also contributed to the ragtag collection of divergent talents and backgrounds within the army.

"There are people with a military training in the DRC, China and the US. But also others with none," says Martins. "Soldiers with no training at all have been made one star generals."

The integration policy has also brought controversy, in particular the insertion of former Tutsi rebel chief Bosco Ntaganda. Wanted by the International Criminal Court for his suspected conscription of child soldiers, Ntaganda is now the FARDC's second in command, running an independent cell of loyal soldiers in the eastern Kivu provinces.

Groups such as Human Rights Watch accuse the general and his soldiers of large-scale human rights violations including rape, as well as illegally profiting from the region's 'conflict minerals' such as coltan. "It's a very delicate political question," says Martins, signalling that the issue is beyond his control. "We have tried to solve a political problem by importing it into the army."

Despite the ICC arrest warrant, Ntaganda is among those to have received an EU-sponsored ID card.

As the years tick by, analysts generally agree that the two EU missions have notched up a number of technical victories, although Congolese ownership of the projects remains poor. In addition, some of the most fundamental and sensitive issues, such as Ntaganda, remained untouched.

With new foreign policy missions placing a growing strain on member state resources, it is now time to rethink EUPOL and EUSEC says Thierry Vircoulon, project director for central Africa with the International Crisis Group.

He argues for a merger of the two CSDP missions, something staff on the ground bitterly oppose, coupled with tough deadlines for the achievement of goals.

"The reason why the EU is still there is not because of its impact. It's for diplomatic reasons," says Vircoulon of the current rationale circulating in Brussels and other EU capitals. "They are still trying to have an impact, even if the DRC is unwilling. It's to keep the European diplomatic imprint."

Among the missions themselves there is a realisation that at some point a rationalisation must come. "When will the mission end? That's a question which is posed every year by certain member states," says EUPOL's Rikir.

He adds, however, that patience is needed.

"The mission's aim is to reform the Congolese police force. In Belgium we started a police reform in 2000 and it's still not finished, and that's in a country where there is internet connection and few power cuts." Already that morning EUPOL's electricity supply has been interrupted three times.

This article is the third in a series that EUobserver will be publishing ahead of the general elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo on 28 November 2011.

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The Democratic Republic of Congo was last year the largest recipient of EU support among ACP states. But critics say this approach has failed, drawing a question mark over the EU's next step.

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