The Boiling Regional Crisis in Eastern Congo
The Boiling Regional Crisis in Eastern Congo
Report 128 / Africa

Congo: Consolidating the Peace

Elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo were a milestone in the peace process but much remains to be done to consolidate the gains. A return to full-scale war is unlikely but violence in Bas-Congo and Kinshasa in early 2007 with over 400 people killed and renewed threats of war in the Kivus show the country’s fragility.

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Executive Summary

Elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo were a milestone in the peace process but much remains to be done to consolidate the gains. A return to full-scale war is unlikely but violence in Bas-Congo and Kinshasa in early 2007 with over 400 people killed and renewed threats of war in the Kivus show the country’s fragility. The new government’s relations with the opposition have deteriorated sharply, raising the possibility of a drift to authoritarianism and urban unrest in the West, while militias continue to clash with the weak national army in the East, displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians each year, many of whom succumb to hunger and disease. The elected democratic institutions need to promote transparent and accountable governance, which should in turn stimulate continuous international support as opposed to gradual disengagement. A new partnership arrangement is urgently required between the government and the international community to push forward on deep governance reforms.

The transition was in some ways an outstanding success. It unified a divided country and improved security in much of its territory. The six main armed groups were integrated to form a national army, however flawed it remains. The Independent Electoral Commission organised provincial and national elections, considered by most observers to be relatively free and fair and ushering in the first truly democratic government in 40 years. Foreign troops withdrew, and relations with Rwanda, one of the main sponsors of the war, improved dramatically. However, the new governing institutions remain weak and abusive or non-existent.

The integrated army has become the worst human rights abuser, and the corrupt public administration is unable to provide the most rudimentary social services. While the security situation in areas like Ituri is better, there is little progress in disarming militia groups in the Kivus, and new political tensions have come to the fore, in particular in the West, which voted heavily for the opposition. The government’s use of force in Bas-Congo and the capital to crack down on its opponents instead of seeking a negotiated solution has entrenched animosity in those areas, creating the potential for further urban unrest and pockets of latent conflict.

The Kabila government has a strong mandate but the opposition, with the support of over a third of the electorate, has a role in building democracy which needs to be protected if Congo is to be stable. Despite late but commendable efforts to grant it more space in parliament, the opposition’s capacity to play that role remains severely undermined by the recurrent use of force against its supporters and the exile of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the main challenger to President Kabila during the recent election. The opposition’s virtual exclusion from governorships despite winning five provincial assembly elections is another sign of shrinking political pluralism. The constitutional requirement to set up strong local governments capable of providing accountability for management of 40 per cent of national tax revenues is also at risk.

To rebuild the state and augment its authority, the government must strengthen democracy or risk being paralysed by recurrent unrest, structural impotence and renewed instability in ever more parts of the country. Only a change of governance can provide the legitimacy and capacity to raise the revenues necessary to distribute peace dividends to all sectors of society.

The government still lacks the capacity to control the national territory. The main problems are well known: ill-disciplined, ill-equipped and often abusive security forces, continuing control by militias of large areas of the East and the risk of civil unrest and repressive violence in the West, where there is little government authority. The problems are closely intertwined: the weakness and partisanship of the security forces fuel popular resentment and allow militias to prosper. Creating a national, apolitical army out of the various armed groups and competent police able to handle urban disorder peacefully and provide genuine security is central to consolidating stability.

Donors have often treated security sector reform as purely technical but the governance and security challenges are inherently political and must be treated as such. The command structure, size and control of the security forces (in particular the 12,000-strong Presidential Guard) and the financial administration of the sector suffer from blatant political manipulation and pervasive, high-level corruption that have made real reform all but impossible. The logic of the transition was to buy peace by giving all signatories to the deal lucrative positions, an accommodation that came at the cost of continued impunity for human rights abuses and corruption and left intact patronage networks that permeate the state and army, undermining much-needed reforms.

The way forward lies in strengthening democratic governance. The government must allow the opposition and institutions – parliament, press and courts – to do their jobs. Reform requires genuine political will to tackle impunity by vetting police and army officers and making courts independent. The government also needs to live up to its promise to review mining and timber contracts and audit key sectors, including the army, state companies and the Central Bank. Donors must stay engaged, linking aid (over half the budget) to a political framework for a new partnership with Congo’s institutions to deal with peacebuilding priorities.

Kinshasa/Brussels, 5 July 2007

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