From the height of the civil war in 1998 until 2009, there were over 5.4 million deaths in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), making it one of the most deadly and protracted conflicts since the end of the Second World War. The DRC has persistently ranked amongst the worst performing countries in the UNDP Human Development report rankings. One of the lingering and most prominent causes of insecurity and threats to the civilian population directly stemmed from the poorly managed, ineffective and unaccountable armed groups, including both legitimate and illegitimate armed groups. Following the signature of the Sun City Agreement in 2002 and the subsequent creation of the The Forces Armées de la Republique Democratique du Congo (FARDC), the armed forces continued to frequently cited for wide spread human rights abuses. In various reports, no meaningful institution protecting human rights could surpass the threat posed by DRC’s state security forces to its own citizens. Reform of the security sector institutions was continuously neglected leading up to the civil war and immediately thereafter, leading to poor control and management, low troop morale, and high incidence of political interference and systemic corruption.
As a response, in 2005 the EU deployed the EUSEC RD CONGO mission, which was launched to support the Congolese Government and security institutions to set up effective institutions that were capable of guaranteeing the security of the Congolese people. An underlying aim of the EU support was to ensure that such security institutions were respecting democratic standards, human rights and the rule of law, as well as the principles of good governance. Initially, the EU deployed advisors and experts were embedded into various departments and administration in the security sector institutions. The small size of the EUSEC mission did not allow for large scale engagements at operational level and a strategic advisory niche was preferred that focused on information and data collection capacity. In parallel, MONUSCO provided most of the operational level support.
Long-standing perceptions of impunity by FARDC and rebel groups, alongside the need to integrate rebel groups into the FARDC as part of the peace process, placed security sector governance and effective resource management amongst the initial EU priorities for supporting SSR in DRC. At the onset of the EUSEC mission an operational audit was conducted as a means of designing the future work programme of the mission. The assessment identified poor working and living conditions experienced by troops, as well as a limited centralised information collection system, as a key weakness influencing the effectiveness of the FARDC. It is notable that the assessment did not highlight or assess governance issues. Amongst the proposals of the assessment was a need to conduct a census of troops as an entry-point for jump starting a more holistic SSR process and to address the issues of non-payment or poor payment of salaries to troops, which was a contributing factor for the poor state of the FARDC. The operational audit became a key document shaping the overall reform of the armed forces.
From the onset the census uncovered over 70,000 ghost soldiers (eg. soldiers who were receiving salary but were not in active duty or registered or simply did not exist). In parallel, the issuance of biometric IDs to soldiers of integrated brigades allowed for a documentation of individual soldiers. The issuance of IDs, census and a centralised salary payment process collectively allowed the separation of salary payments from the chain of command and helped to ensure that the central administration of the armed forces has a more realistic count of available manpower within the armed forces (120,000 soldiers instead of 190,000). The separation of salary payments from the chain of command helped to reduce the incidence of cases whereby senior officers were withholding pay or taking a percentage of salaries from lower ranked soldiers. Soldiers receiving even a limited salary were a visible and key impact for a relatively modest effort by EUSEC, especially compared to the large scale train and equip programmes of donor partners. The elimination of ghost workers from the payroll eventually allowed for salaries of troops to be raised using existing budget allocations previously allocated to ghost soldiers. In turn, this improved troop morale but also reduced the dependence of troops on illegal activities for subsistence.
- 1: One of the limitations of the EUSEC engagement was that it did not lead to regulatory or functional reforms in the short to medium term. The lack of additional reforms undermined the long-term impact of the EUSEC efforts. Eventually a narrow reform process of the payroll system and failure to address the underlying management/accountability deficits within the armed forces provided opportunities for senior officials to eventually circumvent the system related to salary payments by siphoning off other budget lines instead (e.g. food provisions).
- 2: The limited political engagement and political capacity of EUSEC restricted its ability to address the political impediments to reforming structures, management systems and accountability lines. In the DRC context the SSR process is heavily influenced, if not controlled, by the office of the President and a failure to engage politically meant that key issues related to human resource management and chain of command remain unaddressed.
- 3: With programmes that have limited resources, focusing on high level governance issues can provide a niche for the programme and raise its profile and visibility.
“EU Mission to provide advice and assistance for security sector reform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the area of defence”; European Union - Common Security and Defence Policy, July 2015
“EU Security Sector Reform Advisory Mission to the DR Congo Armed Forces”; European Union - Common Security and Defence Policy, April 2014
“EU Mission to provide advice and assistance for security sector reform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the area of defence”; European Union - Common Security and Defence Policy, December 2012
“EU Mission to provide advice on and assistance with security sector reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo”; European Union - European Security and Defence Policy, July 2009