Sat, 27 Apr 2024 Article

Why Democratic Republic of the Congo Needs Armed Forces Reform for Improved Security

Why Democratic Republic of the Congo Needs Armed Forces Reform for Improved Security

In this article, Gédéon CHOMBA SENGA, discusses the security challenges in the DRC and the arm force reforms that can stop the conflicts.

The east of the country has been plagued by deadly conflicts for over 30 years, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths and millions of displaced persons. The situation has been steadily deteriorating since the late 1990s, notably with the advance of dozens of militias and armed movements, including the M23, accused of being supported by Rwanda.

The DRC is coveted by developed countries for its mineral endowment, but persistence of ethnic and land conflicts, coupled with weak state reforms have undermined development efforts. The outcome is the exacerbation of poverty, displacement of people, gender inequality and many reports of deaths and injuries.

Governance, Conflicts and Geopolitical Challenges in the DRC

Blood minerals have long been a fundamental motivation for external actors involved in Congolese conflicts. Gold, tin, coltan or diamonds are indeed the primary reason for the interference of the DR by conflict groups internally or emerging from neighboring countries. These resources fuel the conflict in two ways: armed groups are financed with proceeds of illegal exploitation of artisanal mines and the persistence of the conflict is a conduit to extract this rent.

Above all, the Congolese army has never recovered from the fall of the Mobutu regime in 1997. At the time, the army had virtually lost all operational capacity. Fifteen years later, it suffers from the same political economy problem as the rest of the country: poor governance. Corruption is endemic. Soldiers are underpaid, when they are lucky enough to collect their pay. They lack barracks, basic equipment, training and, consequently, confidence in the military hierarchy.

Institutional Context in Which Problems Persist

There are five institutional features of the DRC that promotes the continuation of the challenges and the inability of the military to fully address the conflict situations.

The military as the heartbeat of the countries democracy: In accordance with the Constitution, the Armed Forces' mission is to defend the integrity of national territory and borders. In peacetime, they participate in economic, social and cultural development, and in the protection of people and their property. The Government, in consultation with the President of the Republic, defines defense policy. The National Police is responsible for public safety, the security of people and their property, the maintenance and restoration of public order, and the close protection of high-level authorities.

In 2024, according to a study by the Global Fire Power Index, the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo was ranked 7th in Africa and 73rd in the world. This notwithstanding, the military has not been fully able to control the conflict situations especially around North Kivu and Ituri provinces where conflicts are more frequent.

The political economic situation of the country: An analysis of the political situation shows that in the 62 years of independence, the DRC only experienced its first peaceful transition of power in January 2019. This is the accession to power of Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, who won the presidential election again in December 2023. His predecessor, Joseph Kabila, ruled the country for 18 years. However, despite conflict prevention and stabilization efforts, pockets of insecurity persist in the country, particularly in its eastern region. In recent months, however, the security situation has seriously deteriorated in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, where thousands of people have had to flee clashes between the Congolese army and armed groups.

In today's more difficult and uncertain economic climate, the Congolese economy is proving resilient. The country has depended heavily on its natural resource endowment with over 98% of export revenues from mining and over 46% of total government revenue from the extractive sector. Barring the conflict situation coupled with a marginal government efficiency, the country’s economic performance would have been one of the best in Africa, if not the world at large.

Source: Conflict Watchlist 2024: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Spillover effects and reinforcement by neighboring countries: Despite the resumption of regional diplomatic initiatives for peace in the DRC, clashes between the various belligerents are intensifying. In North Kivu, the battles between the M23 rebels and the armed forces (FARDC) are intensifying, with increasing use of the most complex military means by the rebels groups. In Ituri, rebel groups are continuing their massacres against the population. The alleged role of Rwanda in supporting armed groups was raised by France in a more direct manner.

The M23 armed group, backed by Rwanda, has worsened an already dire humanitarian situation in North Kivu, forcing more than half a million people to flee their homes and bringing the number of internally displaced people in the country to nearly seven million according to the United Nations, the largest number of IDPs in Africa.

Socio-educational system of the country: The DRC has made great strides in education in recent decades. These include an increase in the primary school enrolment rate and the implementation of policies to promote education for all. They also include the construction of new school infrastructures. For example, since 2019, the country has built over a thousand new schools., aside other funding initiatives in education. However, despite this progress, many challenges remain. For example, there is a shortage of qualified teachers, which hampers the quality of teaching and student learning levels. Other human capital investments cover accessible for pupils with disabilities and environmentally friendliness.

Limiting the Operations of Armed Groups: In the DRC, a number of legal texts, (i.e. organic law no. 11/012 of August 11, 2011 on the organization and functioning of the armed forces, and organic law no. 11/013 of August 11 on the organization and functioning of the Congolese national police), governs the defense and security forces.

The persistence of the conflicts can be linked to the inability of the security forces to fully control the situations but also prevent the invasion of these groups. Over the years, the security forces only respond after the rebel groups have started attacking the local people. An effective solution will require the prevention of any emergent militant group in the communities and full shut down of their operations.

Fully Fledged Reforms for the National Security Apparatus

The country has the potential to fully address the security issues with the necessary support from the local level and the international community. The following four issues will be paramount in finding a lasting solution to the security problem.



Reforming the New Armed Forces: Congolese military programming law is part of the army reform process. It is an act of commitment by the entire nation, to enable the army to develop its operational capabilities. In the DRC, the armed forces comprise the land force, the air force, the navy and their support services. Strategically, the reform should reinforce the existing format with a logistics base, as well as special forces and intelligence services.

Actually, the strategic axes of rationalization of human resources, training, equipment, infrastructure, operations and military production should be financed. The government should establish strategic partnerships with all states and international organizations, in order to combat cross-border crime and strengthen modern technologies, cybersecurity and intelligence capacity.

Collaboration among Security Agencies: The armed force and the police need to work together to explore ways to eradicate the infiltrating of the rebel groups. To some extent, efforts need to be made by the security forced to attack the rebel groups at their base as a way to have a lasting solution to the problem.

Given the dire situation of the works of the rebel groups, the peacekeeping forces and the international actors like the United States should support this. There have been recent calls for this sort of collaboration by some global humanitarian organisations.

Elimination of Avenues for Financing of Armed Groups: Peace and security experts recommend that the government and other partners cut off funding to armed groups to ensure the success of the Disarmament, Demobilization, Community Rehabilitation and Stabilization (DDRC-S) program.

The Dodd-Frank Act introduced by the USA is not the first initiative to address the problem of blood minerals in the eastern DRC. A mining law has been in force in the DRC since 2002, along with a number of important decrees. There is also a protocol against the illegal exploitation of natural resources and a regional mechanism for the certification of natural resources established by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). Some of the international initiatives adopted by the Congolese government include the due diligence principles adopted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). However, all these initiatives have failed to reduce the trade in blood minerals and promote peace. The Dodd-Frank Act can only make a real difference if it supports and is closely integrated into national mechanisms.

The DRC's competent authorities have little overall understanding of the money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/TF or BC/FT) risks to which the country is exposed. However, they have adopted law n°04/016 of July 19, 2004 to provide a framework for the fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The country also introduced institutional initiatives to reinforce this fight. This include the creation of the Cellule Nationale des Renseignements Financiers (CENAREF), the Comité Consultatif de Lutte contre le Laundering de capitaux et le Financement du Terrorisme (COLUB), the Comité National de Coordination de Lutte contre le Terrorisme International (CNCLT), the Fonds de Lutte Contre le Crime Organisé (FOLUCCO) and the Observatoire de Surveillance de la Corruption et de l'Ethique Professionnelle (OSCEP). But the legal framework is not adapted to the FATF Recommendations, as revised in 2012 or more recently. This undermines the ability to fully prevent money laundering or terrorist financing.

Besides, with the limited pressure on Rwanda as compared to the DRC, the international players, including the USA have allowed terrorist groups in the neighboring countries to perpetuate conflict in the DRC. Local and international actors must also prevent the smuggling of minerals from the DRC into the close countries.

Education as a Conduit for Transformation: The DRC recognizes the need to accelerate progress. The government and its partners aim to strengthen teachers' mastery of pedagogical content and continue to support teaching in national languages. Other measures to strengthen the profession include merit-based recruitment of teachers, a quality assurance system and better social protection for teachers' pensions. Improvements to infrastructure and equipment will make schools more conducive to teachers' work and students' learning. Enhanced teacher training and support will have a catalytic effect on the DRC's education system, improving the education of Congolese children and preparing them more effectively to contribute to society.

This commitment is supported by budgetary allocations by the government. International organisations including private companies like Apple, Telsa, Renault, Volvo and others who have benefited so much from the DRC and exploited child miners need to also contribute their quota in solving the problems.

Conclusions and Recommendations
The DRC faces external threats from armed groups, neighboring states and large multinational corporations. Internal threats are leading to state failure and economic crisis. The government should improve living conditions for the military. It should monitor relations between the military and the population, and introduce a rigorous code of ethics.

The government with the limited abilities have been making budgetary allocations and reforms. This is the time for the international development organisations to support the country. Besides, the private companies have been reaping from this country but with the global publicity on the problems in the DRC, they should come on board to address the problems in a sustainable way.

About the Author
Gédéon CHOMBA SENGA is currently a civil servant, teacher and researcher in Kinshasa. He works at the Ministry of Finance, at the Faculty of Law of the Université Belgo-Congolaise (UBC) and at the Ecole Informatique des Finances. He is also national coordinator and international administrator of Francophonie sans frontières. Gédéon is a member of the Dataking Research Lab of Dataking Consulting, a research institution focused on the Global South, where he conducts policy analysis on themes related to public affairs and development. Contact: [email protected]