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Why efforts to stabilise the DR Congo are not working

“What you do for me, but without me, is against me” – A traditional proverb repeated to Oxfam by an old man in North Kivu

A new Oxfam briefing paper explores why efforts to “stabilise” the ongoing crisis in DRC are not working, particularly due to insufficient political backing (national and international) and a lack of involvement of communities themselves. Below is the paper’s summary. You can download the full paper here.

The Second Congo War, estimated to have killed some 5.4 million people, officially ended with a peace agreement in 2002. Since then, there have been more peace agreements, two sets of national elections, and the decade-long presence of the world’s second largest peacekeeping mission.

Yet for millions of Congolese people, there is little peace and limited progress. The disputed 2011 national elections were marred by irregularities, and criticised by a wide range of credible voices. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a vast country, including volatile areas that show little sign of becoming more stable. Violence still plagues parts of the eastern and northern provinces. Following an army mutiny at the beginning of April 2012, the situation deteriorated significantly and is currently the worst it has been for several years. Armed groups control large swathes of eastern DRC. Many Congolese people face death, sexual violence and exploitation at the hands of armed groups, members of the army and police, and others.

As one response to this, the Congolese government and international community are implementing twin “stabilisation” plans: the government’s Stabilisation and Reconstruction Plan for War-Affected Areas (STAREC), and the International Security and Stabilisation Support Strategy (ISSSS). While their objectives differ to some degree, the main aims of these stabilisation plans may be described as:

  • Improving security
  • Re-establishing the authority of the state
  • Supporting the return and reintegration of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) and socio-economic recovery

However, there is no shared vision on how best to achieve these aims or on what ‘stabilisation’ actually means.

The two plans have multiple components, with no consensus among the different levels of the Congolese government, or among the many international donors and implementers, on how to achieve the diverse objectives.

Limited results…

Community members in an Oxfam protection committee training in North Kivu. Photo: Caroline Gluck/Oxfam
Communities in North Kivu

For large numbers of Congolese people in the areas most affected by violence, these plans have delivered very limited results. They have not substantially improved security for people, or re-established the state to provide security and other services for them. In almost 80 per cent of interviews undertaken for this report where this issue was discussed, respondents felt that their security was not assured; and in 2011, Oxfam’s protection assessment found that more than 50 per cent of women and 35 per cent of men interviewed felt less secure than in 2010.

The twin stabilisation plans have achieved relatively little in eastern DRC when considered against their three principal aims:

Security remains volatile, deteriorating further in many areas in 2011 and again more significantly in 2012. Stabilisation plans have not dealt effectively with armed groups. Military operations against them have not been decisive, and have often increased human suffering. The stabilisation plans have not tackled the problems of cohesion and remuneration within, and abuse by, the army, which behaves very differently in different areas. Without lasting improvements in security, progress on the other objectives necessarily remains limited.

The authority of the state still does not reach many places, and efforts to restore it have focused primarily on infrastructure rather than governance. There remains a continuing failure to properly provide for state security forces, and, not coincidentally, the propensity of many of them to extort money and goods from civilians. According to the most recent available information from mid 2011, 55 per cent of police deployed along the ISSSS priority roads in North and South Kivu were not on the government payroll. Internationally supported stabilisation programmes have built police stations, prisons and courts; but the government has been slow to put officials in them, or pay the officials that are there. Stabilisation programmes have failed to systematically support local structures that address community concerns and which could go some way to holding often abusive state authorities to account.

• The return, reintegration and recovery (RRR), if poorly managed, could re-spark violence. The stabilisation plans have not made significant progress on this objective or solved the problems behind displacement, which has increased. Programmes have focused positively on local projects to support basic service delivery, economic recovery and conflict resolution with increasingly conflict-sensitive interventions. However, they achieve only so much in the absence of security and a legitimate, functioning state. In a context of continued volatility, overlapping needs in the same zone demand different types of assistance at the same time and require strong co-ordination between different types of aid. There are several barriers to effective co-ordination.

Fundamental weaknesses…

The DRC’s twin stabilisation plans have done too little to end the predatory behaviour of (some) state forces and armed militia alike.


This paper does not claim to cover every one of the complex mix of local, national and regional reasons, but focuses on three weaknesses at the heart of the twin stabilisation plans:

The plans have not been strongly backed by the DRC’s national government, either financially or politically. The funds allocated for the functioning of STAREC in 2011 were less than a quarter of those to maintain the Prime Minister’s official residence, and in total the government has allocated little more than $20m to STAREC. Outside STAREC, the government has made limited progress on security and governance reforms that are essential for stability.

The plans have had insufficient international backing. Like the international community’s divided responses to 2011’s contested elections, this reflects the lack of a strong, co-ordinated international position on the DRC, and lack of faith in the government. In addition, the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) has not put forward a strategic vision of a broader stabilisation agenda that would bring more coherence to its other activities by outlining how they contribute to stability.

The twin stabilisation plans came about through a non-inclusive process in which large sections of the Congolese government and the general population were not involved. This has since improved, but civil society organisations, local government officials, traditional authorities and local communities are still not sufficiently involved. Despite the DRC’s highly diverse and localised dynamics, the plans do not take adequate account of local views.

Contested national elections, delays to provincial elections scheduled for March 2012 and repeatedly delayed local elections have undermined the government’s legitimacy in the eyes of international donors and many Congolese alike. In the light of this, and the frequent abuses carried out by state security forces, many donors find it difficult to know how to support the DRC state.

New determination needed…

A mural in North Kivu. The inscription reads: 'Wall of Hope - Never Again. Hope for a Better Future Without Weapons for Congolese Children'. Photo: Aubrey Wade/Oxfam
A mural in North Kivu hopes for a better future

No one would deny that donors’ disenchantment is understandable. But the impact on the stabilisation plans – and therefore Congolese people – is that donors have not given them strong enough co-ordinated political backing.

To succumb to “Congo fatigue” would condemn millions of Congolese people to continued violence and poverty. It would also leave dangerous instability at the heart of Africa, with continuing threats to all those neighbouring countries that have, at one time or another, been involved in and affected by the violence in eastern DRC.

Failing to make “stabilisation” work in the DRC is not an option. International donors must succeed, and encourage the Congolese government to succeed, not because it is easy, but because the cost of failure is too high.

The way forward…

There is no simple or single way forward. But this paper points to part of the solution – grounding the DRC’s stabilisation processes far more in local realities and perceptions of what must be done.

The Congolese people have a great desire to be involved in decisions that affect their lives – but they rarely are. They have ideas that would make stabilisation processes more responsive, effective and enduring. These include having STAREC act as a convenor for local chiefs to discuss common problems and having a say in where roads should be built.

Getting stabilisation “right” in the DRC will not be easy or quick. But part of the answer must be to address the three fundamental weaknesses mentioned above. That could be done with the following:

Stronger support from the DRC government. The Congolese government should do more to address insecurity and make progress on crucial reforms, including of the security sector. It should agree concrete and achievable goals with international donors, specific commitments (financial, technical and political), and benchmarks for progress to which funding should be tied. The Prime Minister and Minister for the Interior and Security should convene regular meetings of the STAREC steering and monitoring committees, to ensure regular high-level communication between and follow-up by the government, donors and MONUSCO on the progress of these plans.

Stronger and more co-ordinated international support. International donors, with support from the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, should apply credible and co-ordinated political pressure to ensure that progress is made on the above plans and on reforming the security sector (including defence, police and the justice system), decentralisation, and preparations to hold free and fair provincial and local elections. Donors should also increase and tailor funding to reach a representative range of civil society organisations, at every level, to improve their ability to hold state bodies to account.

Greater engagement with local people and civil society organisations. A representative range of civil society organisations should play a greater role in shaping stabilisation plans. Local civil society organisations should have a substantial influence in adapting stabilisation plans to local dynamics, holding state bodies to account at different levels, and providing services such as local mediation. The stabilisation programmes require strong context analysis, and an approach that is based in local concerns, sensitive to conflict, gender, and identity, and built on robust and sustainable monitoring. Interventions to support return, reintegration and recovery (RRR) should be co-ordinated with other aid programmes to respond to a range of needs in the same place.

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Written by Sam Dixon

Sam is Oxfam's Humanitarian Assistance Policy Advisor, based in Goma in eastern DRC

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