Putting everyday police life at the center of reform in Bukavu

Rift Valley Institute
Democratic Republic of Congo

Security sector reform has been a central component of post-conflict reconstruction and development programmes, and the restoration of state authority since the 1990s. However, these reforms have rarely been successful in the long run. Studies of reform efforts offer a range of explanations for these disappointing results, including: reform efforts; taking a top-down approach or being too donor-driven; approaches offering technical solutions to fundamentally political problems; programmes lacking legitimacy at the local level or missing buy-in at the national level; and a lack of state capacity for large-scale reform.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in the wake of the Second Congo War (1998–2003), police reform has been a staple of statebuilding and governance strengthening efforts. Despite some reform successes, however, the Police Nationale Congolaise (PNC, Congolese National Police) largely remains a reflection of the state. It is mostly unaccountable to those it is meant to serve, and used as a tool by some to extract resources and protect elite interests.

As a key state institution, sustainable reform of the police is impossible without a considerable overhaul of the larger governance framework of which it is part. While acknowledging this major systemic challenge, there may nevertheless be some more modest, yet impactful, gains to be made through police reform. By focusing on the everyday work and life of police personnel, future reforms could contribute to changing police behaviour on the streets and in police stations, at the interface between the police and the population where it may arguably matter most.

In the minds of most police officers, there are three interconnected aspects shaping their everyday work: their working and living conditions, and their perceived value in society. The question of salary links all three. Officers see their insufficient or lacking salaries as the root of their struggle for survival, as a justification for their harassment of civilians, and as undermining the respect they ought to command. In the words of a police officer:

"If I am not creative and neglect myself, nobody can respect me. But if … we are given uniforms, we work in the street and we are clean, and have a good salary, at the end of the month, nobody can ignore us."

These observations illustrate the need to listen to the experiences, worries and concerns of ordinary policewomen and men bearing the brunt of daily police work, which can be used as a starting point for reform efforts. Based on seven months of qualitative research on the PNC conducted in Bukavu between 2016 and 2017, this briefing argues that targeted police reforms, informed and driven by local actors, can affect change, and often in a more sustainable—and financially viable—fashion than past large-scale donor-driven reform support programmes.

Download PDF
Visit URL
Join our network

Login or register for free to get all access to our network publications. Members can also connect and discuss with other members. Participate in our network.

Thank you for downloading
Help us improve our network. Please fill in the questions.