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Opinion: DR Congo must reform its security forces

Don't extend UN peacekeepers; start re-training the Democratic Republic of Congo's own security forces.

The $1 billion that was spent last year on MONUC should be used to create what eastern Congo desperately needs — professional military and police forces that can protect Congolese civilians. Maintaining MONUC perpetuates the dysfunctional status quo.

Security sector reform has been under way in the Democratic Republic of Congo for quite some time, but it has not been adequately funded or clearly coordinated among donors. Though billions in foreign aid have been given to the DRC, little of this money has been directed to reform the security sector. A 2006 report from the International Crisis Group called it a “neglected stepchild” of donors. Analysts say that $1 billion to $2 billion would be necessary for undertaking reform — a steep sum, but no steeper than the sum required to maintain MONUC’s deployment.

Currently, the Congolese army is a patchwork of different armed groups with little holding them together. When a rebel group is demobilized and “integrated” into the Congolese army, its command structure remains intact and it continues to work in the territory it formerly controlled. Demobilized rebels do not receive extensive training before joining the army.
Security analysts suggest that successful reform will require three things: effective training, good pay and accountability. Training will develop a professional force. Good pay will discourage the current practice of looting and pillaging. Accountability will create judicial processes to punish abuses committed by troops and to send the message that such abuses will not be tolerated.

Security sector reform will require a long-term commitment by donors. The reform of one or two brigades of the army to create a small core of professional and disciplined forces will take one year. Such a reform could be implemented by trainers formerly employed by MONUC, with assistance from the European Union and the United States. A full reform of the Congolese army, which has 150,000 soldiers, is anticipated to take five years.

Extending MONUC’s mandate is a distraction from the necessary work that will enable the Democratic Republic of Congo to protect its civilians from domestic rebel groups as well as outside threats. The money spent on MONUC would be better used to train a professional and disciplined military that can serve Congolese civilians for decades to come.

Stephanie Hanson is director of policy and outreach at One Acre Fund, an agriculture organization based in Kenya. From 2006 to 2009, she covered economic and political development in Africa and Latin America for, Council on Foreign Relations' website.