Nurturing a Culture of Law and Justice in the DRC

Decades of war and political unrest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) left a void of law and justice for Congolese citizens. Too often, security and police forces are part of the problem rather than the solution, operating in a culture of impunity and self-enrichment enabled by the absence of judicial and public oversight. Citizens in the DRC have limited understanding of the role of the police as public servants, or of how police and citizens should interact in a democracy.

Against this backdrop, the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) in 2010 launched the Security Sector Accountability and Police Reform (SSAPR) programme, a five-year pilot initiative to promote accountability and support the national police reform process. DAI implemented the External Accountability Component of this programme in the provincial capitals of South Kivu, Bas-Congo, and Western Kasai (home to more than 2 million people).


DAI’s team strove to create conditions for publicly accountable policing, restore popular trust, and redefine security as a collective interest of citizens and police alike. We collaborated with local communities, schools, religious institutions, media outlets, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), elected national and provincial officials, Police Nationale Congolaise (PNC) agents, and local leaders. In the process, we gained insight into the mechanics of community-driven change that might be applied or adapted to programming in other environments suffering from unresponsive or predatory public institutions.

Reform and Results

The full SSAPR programme comprised four components: External Accountability (EA), Police Support, Security Sector Oversight and Coordination, and Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E). DFID’s flexible programming approach, involving a design phase as well as the opportunity for course correction throughout the implementation phase, allowed for great adaptability, providing room to develop strategic approaches appropriate to the context at hand.

DAI’s work underwent rigorous internal and external M&E. Feedback from local stakeholders, documented by external reviewers (Switzerland-based ISSAT), clearly indicates the value of the EA work. For instance, M&E Component leader EDG’s final annual survey, conducted in December 2014,  recorded strong improvements from 2010 to 2014 in  perceptions of security in SSAPR intervention cities versus comparison cities:

A 41.83 percent increase in individuals feeling safe against theft and attack in their city.

A 5.76 percent increase in individuals who have not experienced a crime in the last 12 months: burglary, theft of an important asset, sexual harrassment, violent aggression in the street or in public.

A 13.01 percent increase in knowledge of the PNC as the main institution responsible for security.

A 58.26 percent increase in self-perceived satisfactory performance of the PNC at the city level.

A 13.43 percent increase in individuals reporting seeing police patrols sometimes or often.


Among its other achievements, the EA initiative:

Increased community knowledge and social accountability. Compared to five years ago, people in the provincial capitals of Kananga, Matadi, and Bukavu today know much more about their security, law and justice systems, and the roles and legal limits thereof. The project helped to demystify the Congolese security and justice institutions, distinguishing between wrongful practices and legitimate service, and increased public access to and use of these services in communities previously disconnected from state institutions—despite a climate of hostility and mistrust.

Drafted and implemented a legal framework for police reform and monitoring of this process by Parliament. EA’s technical assistance to Parliament and support for civil society resulted in the drafting, reviewing, voting on, and promulgation of major laws relating to security forces (police and army) and the justice sector. In the pilot provinces, provincial deputies began to monitor border control services, detention conditions, and magistrate procedures.

Tackled impunity and increased public trust by monitoring the Judiciary Police (OPJ). We helped local magistrates (public defenders) to oversee and assess the work of the OPJ by designing guidance and metrics for such oversight. This tool was adopted by the General Public Prosecutor to supervise OPJs nationwide.

Secured adoption of “security” as a topic in the national secondary school curriculum. To support the integration of security issues into the curriculum, EA developed a training module and didactic materials for teachers in the SSAPR pilot areas. The Ministry of Education has now approved the incorporation of the security module into the national curriculum.

Boosted the number and profile of watchdog bodies. Our training enhanced the ability of 38 journalists (14 in Kinshasa and eight in each pilot province) to cover security and related governance matters. Many partner media groups introduced regular programming to address security and justice matters voluntarily, with no financial support from SSAPR.

Empowered civil society. With our support, the Security and Justice Sector Reform Network evolved into a well organised network with a clear and cohesive vision, reconnecting with its base, partnering with community leaders, and engaging with local authorities and police through meetings, workshops, citizen oversight exercises, press releases, and monitoring actions.

Campaigned against sexual and gender-based violence. In addition to sensitisation campaigns, we provided technical support and coaching to grassroots organisations to conduct security audits led by women and girls. These audits enabled the security concerns of women and girls to be taken into account during local security planning meetings between citizens and police.


Lessons Learned

The lessons learned in South Kivu, Bas-Congo, and Western Kasai will strengthen our current and future work in law and justice reform. Some highlights:

Programme integration and holistic vision:

You cannot assume the existence of a common vision and shared understanding of “accountability,” even within the umbrella SSAPR programme itself. We recommend that development practitioners engaged in similar initiatives immediately design a common strategic framework around agreed definitions, complementary theories of change, and mutually supporting activities.

Forging this common approach was a full-time job. In programmes where different components are managed by different agencies, having a common approach to publicity campaigns and demand-driven behavior change initiatives is important to maximize efficacy of the various programme outputs.

Policy and strategy coordination between security sector reform donors and implementers:

Shared technical literacy is essential and demands effort across SSAPR components and among partners, including the PNC, elected officials, media and civil society, and local communities in pilot towns.

Knowing the wider law and justice playing field is critical. Share political information, experience, and technical insight. Stay current on donor exchanges and agreements between donors and authorities to achieve consistent, sustainable reform across provinces.

National and provincial government partners:

Binding agreements confer leverage. The Memorandum of Understanding between DFID and the Ministry of Interior was essential to clarifying roles, defining responsibilities, and setting expectations.

Ratification of laws is not sufficient to secure progress. The true test of national ownership is whether government applies laws once they are adopted and ratified.

Personal relationships pay off. We invested heavily and productively in educating parliamentarians, who were not inherently interested in reform.

Appreciate the complexities of police oversight by elected officials. In the DRC, close collaboration between national and provincial MPs on oversight matters is vital.

Civil society, public messaging, and mobilization:

Bottom-up change is more likely when law and justice is perceived as a civil right. Sometimes a sweeping cultural shift is needed to build a solid foundation for longer-term, replicable, demand-driven change that leads to more responsive policing.

State ownership of law and justice messaging is a goal. Accountability campaigns should be championed, even led, by a single agency implementing national policy on awareness raising, working directly with state actors to ensure a common vision and message.

Declare and repeat the issues with visible, audible messaging. Use TV, radio, and mass communication such as billboards and stickers to build community awareness of the reform process and to position the public as entitled beneficiaries of security services.

Civil society can be an effect multiplier. Risk taking and visibility on contentious issues is understandably uncommon in the DRC. It is important to support these actors intelligently over the long term and to plan for a responsible exit, rather than reducing funding and political backing abruptly.

Building in-house media capacity and delivery is preferable to out-sourcing. Integrating media directly into programme operations delivered positive results. The lack of capacity (logistic, financial, technical) of local media outlets to play this role should be accounted for in law and justice programming.

Gender integration:

  • Sexual and gender-based violence are fundamental to law and justice sector reform. It is important to integrate gender from the outset, and to conduct a baseline study at the beginning of the programme to ensure that gender-related social, political, and legal issues are incorporated in the reform agenda.

Select Results—SSAPR External Accountability Component

  • 1.2 million women, men, girls, and boys reached through 90 awareness-raising and community mobilisation projects and 225 citizens forums on local justice systems and how to avoid extortion, bribery, and mob justice; 329 community zones formed and operational, enlisting 1,947 women and 4,070 men practicing Dynamique Communautaire to express security and justice needs.
  • The Réseau pour la Réforme du Secteur de Sécurité et de la Justice (Security and Justice Sector Reform Network) reconnected with its base and grassroots, grew to more than 200 organisations, and has become a reputable contributor to security sector reform, including through working with MONUSCO, Eastern Congo Initiative, Oxfam, Search for Common Ground, UNDP, European Union, OSISA, and others.
  • 24 field missions conducted, including trips to document security services along the Angolan, Burundian, and Rwandan borders, and to assess construction of police stations and police garages.
  • 28 field missions conducted by provincial state courts to assess Judiciary Police, leading to the release of persons illegaly detained and prosecution of certain OPJs, as well as to monitor detainees’ rights violations.
  • 71,000 students educated on national security and justice institutions, with 235 schoolteachers, school inspectors, and prefects trained in 109 secondary schools.
  • Approval by the Ministry of Education of a security course to be integrated into the national curriculum, including topics such as sexual and gender-based violence and the ethos of democratic policing.
  • Journalists awarded prizes by the media organisations Journalisme pour les Droits de l’Homme, l’Observatoire pour les Médias Congolais, and Union Nationale de la Presse Congolaise for higher quality articles on extortion by police, mob justice, and the condition of detainees.

The objective of SSAPR’s external accountability component was to enable the citizens of the DRC to demand more of their law and justice service providers. Ultimately, that popular demand emanates from a deeper and broader community understanding of the limits and responsibilities of state security providers. And this in turn requires a lengthy education process whereby residents come to act on the basis of their own interests to raise security matters with local police, producing a participatory approach that includes the police, local authorities, and local communities.

DFID’s SSAPR programme has begun that work in three pilot provinces, with encouraging results. We hope its lessons can be applied in the DRC and perhaps beyond.