The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) successfully held elections in 2006 , but government institutions remain weak, and outbreaks of violence continue in the country's eastern provinces. Ambassador William Swing, UN envoy in the DRC, told a recent Brookings Institution meeting: "The challenges ahead therefore may be greater than those of the just completed transition." Experts have urged the continued presence of roughly seventeen thousand UN peacekeepers. Yet the UN Mission in the Congo, MONUC, the UN's largest troop deployment in the world, is set to expire February 15. An extension of up to two months "seems likely", says a UN Security Council report, but the long-term prospects for the mission remain unclear.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who visited the country in January, stressed the need to create "a professional, well-paid and well-equipped army and police (BBC)". The International Crisis Group in February 2006 called security sector reform the most important issue for the country, but observed it "continues to be a neglected stepchild both financially and in terms of strategic planning."
A year later, little appears to have changed. A new Amnesty International report on the Congolese army says it continues to commit atrocities and corruption extends throughout its ranks.
Successful army reform is contingent on the success of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR), a program to dismantle Congolese rebel groups, either by turning their ranks into civilians or integrating them into the national army. But failings in the DDR program, administered by the national commission CONADER (French), have resulted in an unprofessional and undisciplined national army that has taken on the characteristics of the rebel groups it has coopted, rather than reforming them.
Critics say the DDR program lacks independent verification of disarmament, fails to communicate to ex-combatants about the demobilization process, and is not sufficiently linked to security sector reform. CONADER's director of information says disarmament was suspended at the end of 2006 due to lack of funds, and there are 150,000 people waiting to be demobilized. Former fighters declining to join the national army often have difficulty supporting themselves even after reintegration programs. "We are incapable of feeding our families and cannot even pay the rent," Peter Ucan, a former fighter, tells Amnesty International. "The solution is for these people to give us our weapons back." This new Backgrounder examines the challenges facing DDR programs in Africa.
Congo's DDR program has also come under fire from humanitarian groups for its failure to adequately help child soldiers. The same groups have heralded the work of the International Criminal Court, which recently decided to move forward with its first trial, the prosecution of a Congolese warlord accused of conscripting children under the age of fifteen. Ayesha Kajee of the South African Institute of International Affairs applauds the work of the court, but says "To supplement the ICC's work at a domestic level, both retributive and restorative justice will be necessary." This Backgrounder looks at the ICC's other pending investigations in Africa.