DRC: New law a boon for police reform

Legislation has been passed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) national assembly aimed at reforming the country’s police force, which, staffed by ex-soldiers and former rebels – riddled with corruption, poorly trained and lacking basic equipment – is widely seen as more of a threat to the population than a guarantor of its security.

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The legislation, due to go before the senate, is the fruit of three years of committee work by seven government ministries, senior police managers, donors, the UN and the European Police Mission in DRC (EUPOL).

The law will clarify the role and responsibilities of the police as a unified, civilian, republican force that is demilitarized, apolitical and financially and administratively autonomous, whose main duties are to ensure public security, protect people and their goods and to maintain public order.

The law also calls for an overhaul of the police administration and for competitive recruitment.


A key step in the reform process has been taken by Gen. Charles Bisengimana, who recently took over command of the general inspectorate of the police force and launched a nationwide, six-month census of its staff and the training they have undergone.

According to Bisengimana, the force numbers 110,000, a figure some experts believe to be unrealistically large.

“The census will allow those who are supposed be retired, or who are not physically fit, to be discounted. It will also give a better picture of the level of training,” said Hervé Flahaut, EUPOL’s head of mission.

“It will also expose any ghost workers. This won’t make everybody happy; some people clearly profit from the confusion,” said one source close to the preparatory committee.

With a salary of barely US$30 a month, police in DRC often abuse their power by extorting money from civilians.

“The system is rotten to the core with senior officers who take a share of what the lower ranks rip off from people. And since salaries are always paid in cash, there is a lot of room for ‘leakage’,” explained a source from the UN mission in DRC’s police unit (UNPOL).

“Given our post-conflict situation, we need around 150,000 officers to have an adequate ratio with civilians,” noted Gen. Patrick Sabiti, a senior police officer. He added that the census and new legislation would lead to better training and living conditions.

Recent history has shown that simply pouring money into training police may not have lasting benefits. Before elections in 2006, some 7,000 members of a rapid reaction unit (PIR) were trained and equipped with help from Angola, France, EUPOL and Morocco, among others.

According to a recent EUPOL report, these 11 battalions are now in “a state of extreme disrepair”.

Scattered across the vast country, PIR members were never given barracks or follow-up training.

“Police management is trying to reconstitute some battalions in Kinshasa but most of the men vanished. Some are returning by barge or on foot,” said one expert.

Coordination required

EUPOL’s Flahaut told IRIN that generally police training methods were inconsistent across the country. “There’s a lack of harmonization, even if there is now more coordination between donors.”

Bisengimana said it was important that donors seek the advice of the Congolese before releasing funds. “Some things are funded which are of no use to us at all,” he said, citing as examples border police posts in the east.

“That’s the trouble with rushed initiatives. In one case we have two prisons opposite each other and some [new] barracks which remain empty,” explained a source.

“We are going to draw up norms so that donors have a point of reference and so that training is coherent,” according to Sabiti.

UNPOL is pushing for the creation of 20 mobile intervention units, which will each cost $9.4m to train, equip and house, but so far funding has not been forthcoming.

Some $2.2m for basic training has been provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

In Kapalata, a town near Kisangani, capital of Orientale Province, some of this money is being spent on 500 new recruits drawn from various armed groups who signed a peace deal with the government in 2009.

Over six months they will receive basic physical training and police procedure, as well as a grounding in law and ethics and in specific tactics such as crowd control.

“It is this kind of training, covering all the basics of police work, which we need to provide to all our staff. But for that we need human and financial resources. The government will do its part but we will need help from the international community,” said Sabiti.

With a presidential election due in late 2011, there is an urgent need to make sure the vote takes place in adequate security. “What we are trying to do now is mend a boat while it is still sailing. It is very complicated,” said Flahaut.



Theme (s): Conflict, Governance, Human Rights,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]