Governance assistance in the DRC: Options for EU engagement

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is in the international spotlight again as a Rwandan-backed rebellion in the east has caused a security and humanitarian crisis. While this represents an immediate problem, deeper and protracted issues have contributed to the crisis that relate to the consistent neglect of governance reforms. The DRC is plagued by serious flaws in the country’s democratic system, a weak justice sector, deeply entrenched and widespread corruption and a neglected or non-existent infrastructure, which prevents the effective delivery of public services.

May 13th, 2013

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is in the international spotlight again as a Rwandan-backed rebellion in the east has caused a security and humanitarian crisis. While this represents an immediate problem, deeper and protracted issues have contributed to the crisis that relate to the consistent neglect of governance reforms. The DRC is plagued by serious flaws in the country’s democratic system, a weak justice sector, deeply entrenched and widespread corruption and a neglected or non-existent infrastructure, which prevents the effective delivery of public services.

Kinshasa’s weak commitment to many reform opportunities since the signing of the All-Inclusive peace agreement in 2002 and the holding of the first democratic elections in 2006 is at the root of the on-going crisis – along with the policies of intrusive regional neighbours. At the same time, donors have failed to make the most of their influence to improve the situation.

In reviewing its policy towards the country, the European Union (EU) must reconsider its institution-building approach, in a situation where local authorities do not show much commitment to strengthening the state’s institutions. In particular, budgetary support to either the central government or specific sectors of the administration should be conditioned on the establishment of a genuine partnership and cooperation with local institutions. It should also be premised on clear progress through jointly agreed benchmarks and evaluation mechanisms. This is not currently the case with Congo and a more decisive support to civil society organisations provides an opportunity to operationalize a renewed partnership engagement between the EU and Congolese actors.

There are at least four areas that represent real possibilities for renewed EU engagement. These are issues on which the EU might usefully complement other donor initiatives, play an implementation role, establish effective synergies or play a coordinating role. The scale and number of challenges facing the country mean that while this list is far from exhaustive, it also represents a necessary and unavoidable prioritisation.

1.      Renew engagement in the area of rights and justice

  • Human Rights Defenders: To respond to on-going concerns about the human rights situation in the Congo, the EU revised it guidelines for human rights defenders in the specific context of the DRC. Two years on it might be useful to measure their impact and review them accordingly. As local human rights organisations strategise to ensure the sustainability of their work, the EU could improve the use of its pool of funds for the protection of human rights defenders (including EU diplomats’ attendance at trials, witness protection and, in extreme cases, relocation expenses) by communicating more clearly its eligibility criteria for funding to wider civil society and associating it more closely to the selection of assisted activists and their families. It could also support the early warning and alert system created by civil society organisations to provide preventive protection and assistance to activists under threat.
     
  • Justice: In 2011, the EU suspended its support to the secretariat of the Comité Mixte de la Justice – the body that gathers together donors and the Ministry of Justice – due to frustrations with its progress. The EU’s own alignment with the government’s priorities in the area of justice must be reconsidered. Given that the EU has subcontracted much of its work in the area of justice to UNDP, the EU should conduct an evaluation of EU-UNDP collaboration, identify weaknesses and increase direct engagement and support to Congolese justice actors. Concrete steps include: completing the legislative framework for justice reform; effectively rooting peace tribunals throughout the territory by supporting the infrastructure as well as the mobility and working conditions of personnel; creating a database of judicial statistics and a cartography of justice institutions across the country; supporting the establishment and proper functioning of the Constitutional Court; and appointing specialised judges for specialised tribunals.
     
  • Media and freedom of information have consistently suffered attacks by institutional and political actors as the space for civil society narrows in DRC. Institutional media regulatory bodies have been unable to provide impartial and equal media representation, even going so far as closing down TV or radio stations without any accountability. The EU could help by supporting the creation of an independent observatory for Congolese media.
     
  • Political participation was dealt a huge blow during the fraudulent elections of 2011. The EU could support decentralised governance in DRC by insisting on the organisation of provincial and local elections, building on lessons learnt from presidential and legislative elections. Considering the heavy criticism suffered by the CENI in 2011, the EU must prioritise support for its reform and could also make its aid on democracy promotion conditional on reforming it in a professional and inclusive way as requested by local civil society.

2.             Security Sector Reform: invest more on army reform

  • Coordination: The on-going security challenges in eastern DRC make it very difficult to engage the army in a genuine reform process. The EU has helped achieve some progress, particularly on regularising soldiers’ pay and the army’s human resources. However, EU support to security system reform must be linked to the setting up of a Congolese SSR coordinating body and evidence of the commitment of the DRC authorities to reforming the security sector.
     
  • Accountability: The Congolese government must show more determination in pursuing those in the army administration and hierarchy that prevent implementation of essential reforms. Existing internal oversight and disciplinary mechanisms in the army and police can be strengthened in spite of the on-going mobilisation. Congolese partners and the EU could focus on strengthening the Auditorat General de l’Armée and the initiatives of the Inspectorat General de la Police as well as the democratic accountability of the security forces by working with parliament.
     
  • Consolidation and legislative reform: In the longer term, further reductions in the size of the armed forces must be conducted with due consideration for vetting principles and impunity issues by excluding from active service elements that have been suspected of serious and sustained human rights violations. The 2011 framework laws on the police and army must now be turned into regulations. As the EU discusses the closure of the EU Common Security and Defence Policy missions deployed in the DRC (EUPOL and EUSEC) it must reflect on how to ensure the sustainability of the missions’ achievements over the past eight years: the current option of nominating a defence attaché in the EU delegation in Kinshasa is not a credible one, considering the task at hand

3.             Fight against corruption: promote independent monitoring

  • Independent monitoring of the national budget does not exist in DRC; hence it is important to ensure the establishment of a monitoring and warning system against corruption such as a citizens’ observatory. This could also serve to educate the Congolese public about citizen participation in the financial administration of the state and contribute to parliamentary oversight work.
     
  • EU budget support: An effective revenue collection and taxation system is a requirement of continued EU budget support and should be treated as such. Revenue management is both a target of EU support and a criterion for its continuation. This goes hand-in-hand with the reform of the public administration. There is general acknowledgement that engaging in the latter is virtually impossible for bilateral donors, which would not have the resources to tackle all the problems associated with reforming the state’s administration. However, where bilateral donors are at a comparative disadvantage, the EU could step in in coordination with other multilateral agencies (such as the World Bank).
     
  • Natural resource management will be assisted by the recent transparency efforts of the European Commission, which has proposed EU legislation that requires listed and non-listed companies to disclose payments to governments. The final legislation, to be negotiated in early 2013, should include reporting requirements at project and country level. But donors, companies and the Congolese administration need to be better aligned to each other in fixing their priorities for any hope of improvement.

4.             Development: encourage economic diversification

  • Revenue diversification is important in DRC. Developing agriculture in pacified areas would help diversify the economy, ensure food security, boost community markets and family revenues and avoid over-reliance on the extractive industries and natural resource exploitation for revenue creation. This should go hand-in-hand with continued support for infrastructure and transport development.

CONCLUSION

The on-going security crisis in eastern DRC highlights several unresolved issues: from unaddressed regional tensions, to unfinished security sector reform efforts and unsatisfied security actors, to the weakness of national institutions including the justice system. It also points to the limitation of international initiatives that have essentially focused on addressing the symptoms of recurring crises in DRC without ever altering the fundamental factors and dynamics at the root of them. In addressing the current crisis, it is important not to lose sight of what is happening inside the country and of longer term causes that donors could address more successfully.

While paying necessary attention to the security and regional dimension of the situation in the east, the EU must conduct a holistic analysis that reconciles internal and external dimensions and leverages EU tools to collaborate with Kinshasa on essential governance reforms.

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