The EU and other international actors are gradually losing leverage over Congo, and Europe’s efforts to reform the country’s appalling army are insufficient for the challenge.
Although the main actor in crisis management in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the UN, the EU also has a security sector reform mission in the country and member states are leading providers of development and humanitarian aid. Belgium and France are the most heavily involved EU members in the country, but Germany, the Netherlands, the Nordic countries and the UK have also made it a priority for development aid.
Early in 2010, rebel violence in northern DRC took the government and UN by surprise. Nonetheless, President Joseph Kabila announced that he wanted UN peacekeepers to leave DRC before the national elections. The US, EU member states and African governments persuaded Kabila to accept a compromise that gave the UN force a new mandate. However, the UN’s reputation was damaged when rebels carried out large-scale rapes near one of its bases in the east of the country in July and August.
The performance of the EU’s security-sector reform mission (EUSEC RD Congo, operating under a €12.6 million budget) has been even worse. While it has focused on facilitating payments for troops and other administrative affairs, the Congolese military has repeatedly been accused of human rights abuses and crimes against civilians. Military campaigns in the east of the country in summer 2010 saw indiscriminate violence by the army and rebels alike, despite a promise by Kabila to crack down on human rights abuses.
While next year’s elections will have a major impact on DRC’s future, there is a growing consensus that the UN and other international actors have lost much of their leverage over Kabila in recent years. The EU is now likely to focus on technical programmes to improve the governance of DRC, such as a joint initiative launched in 2010 to stop the highly lucrative flow of illegally logged timber from DRC to Europe.