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Security and Justice Democratic Republic of Congo

Blog: Restoring trust in the Congolese police

In countries like the Netherlands, the government checks the police to make sure they are doing there work properly. Police officers receive fair pay, they are supported by the state, they are trained and people can count on their protection. Unfortunately, in many places in the world, this is not the case. Like in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Police officers in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: MONUSCO/Michael Ali

This blog is written by Hannah Zevenbergen. As a former intern at Cordaid’s Security & Justice department, Hannah was active in the Women, Peace and Security Barometer approach.

The police force in the DRC is terribly underpaid and won’t get the support it badly needs from the government. On top of that, there is a lack of structural planning and budget to help secure the safety of people living in war-torn eastern Congo.

Mistrust

Underpayment decreases enthusiasm for the job and is a major incentive for corruption. There always has been great mistrust of the police amongst the citizens of North and South Kivu. This would often make people turn to more informal methods for dealing with their security issues. Cases of theft and violence would go unreported anyway and petty crime used to be high in both the cities and the rural areas of the Congo.

All this has changed, at least in the rural areas. With the help of Cordaid and other (inter)national NGOs, local police forces have created a structural three-month planning and reporting their results has now become the norm. The trust in the police has been repaired. Villagers even show up at the station voluntarily to help track down and prosecute perpetrators.

Great improvement

The fact that people no longer turn away from the police but want to cooperate, is a sign of great improvement in these rural areas. The police have initiated monthly trips to villages within their jurisdiction to facilitate open meetings where residents can speak their minds and share their worries about security threats. Where the police at first did not have proper safety equipment or even a station, now they have both.

Inside, a bulletin board shows a schedule and the set goals for the coming trimester. Outside, there’s a brand new suggestion box and general behavioral guidelines are posted all around.

Despite these positive developments, we’re not quite there yet. Because the officers are still too occupied with petty crime, structural threats continue to terrorize the population.

Restoring trust in police and state is the priority for now. Once that has been established, the police force can start working towards more sustainable and structural security.

What is justice?

The local police chief explained to me that one of their most recent successes was the detainment of a woman selling illegal alcohol. This raises the question of what justice is exactly and how we can achieve it. Is arresting a poor woman, who surely doesn’t have the means to pay the fine, justice? Shouldn’t we focus on the reasons why this woman had to resort to selling illegal alcohol in the first place?

These are dilemma’s Cordaid deals with on a daily basis. Are we really helping the people that need it most? Are our means really the best way to achieve our development goals?

It is obvious that the desired level of security and functioning police is not reached yet. However, Cordaid and its partners are doing everything they can to change this. Arresting a woman for selling prohibited goods is perhaps not the most immediate relief to a security threat, it is at least a step towards achieving functioning rule of law, where following the law is set as the highest standard.

Sustainable security in the DRC

Restoring trust in police and state is the priority for now. Once that has been established, the police force can start working towards more sustainable and structural security. Cordaid invests in this by lobbying on a government level, to persuade officials to adopt the created planning and strategy and to open up new funds. We are not there yet but with the help from our donors, Cordaid can keep working at making the DRC a much safer place. A place where people feel just as safe in their neighborhood as you do in yours.