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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

Q&A with Michel Thill and Abel Cimanuka on local security in the Congo

RVI spoke with the authors of the recent RVI-VNGi report, Governing Local Security in the Eastern Congo: Decentralization, police reform and interventions in the chieftancy of Buhavu, Michel Thill and Abel Cimanuka. Based on 30+ interviews, the report explores the implementation of local proximity security councils in the chieftaincy of Buhavu in Kalehe territory in South Kivu, providing insights into how rural entities manage local security in the eastern Congo. Aussi en français.


RVI: The report discusses two key processes: administrative decentralization and police reform. Can you explain what these are in the DRC?

MT&AC: The DRC’s 2006 constitution adapted decentralization with its aim to bring government closer to citizens, giving certain rights and responsibilities in the political, economic, social and security realm to provincial and local powers.[i]

Starting in 2005, Congo’s police reform is directly linked to the logic of decentralization. The reform would like the Congolese National Police (PNC) to adapt the philosophy of proximity police, which stresses partnership with the community, accountability and prevention.

It also sets up the Local Council for Proximity Security (CLSP) at the level of the Decentralized Territorial Entities (ETD). Dedicated to human security, it brings together local actors in security governance: authorities, police, justice, civil society.[ii]


RVI: The report explains that one risk of these processes is the replication of existing governance dynamics, which tend to be predatory. Can you explain how this is happening?

MT&AC: Without the necessary means and follow-up, the ETDs may risk using their new powers to mimic the predatory practices of the central powers at their lower level to the detriment of an administration genuinely closer to its people.

If, for example, an ETD levies taxes without providing public services in return and without accountability to its citizens, in practical terms, it would not be that different from the central government.[iii]


RVI: In July 2019, the South Kivu Governor announced the implementation of local proximity security councils (CLSP). Shortly after, the central government announced renewed police reform. What is the significance of theseannouncements?

MT&AC: These announcements represent a promise to the people that each actor at their level will play their role in improving security governance. ETDs, for example, have to budget for the functioning of the CLSP and for a part of its local security projects

The provincial government ought to pass a bylaw to establish the CLSP in order to facilitate the financing of local security projects. The central government would need to budget all expenses related to police reform.

And it is up to civil society and bi- and multilateral partners to remind the authorities to keep their promises and to support them in doing so.


RVI: A pilot police reform programme took place in three cities from 2009–2014. A new governance programme including police reform elements was launched in the territory of Kalehe in South Kivu in 2017. What are the risks and opportunities for reform in rural areas?

MT&AC: This vast police reform programme targeted urban areas. While facing a range of challenges, it did have some successes such as the establishment of meeting platforms (CLSP and Neighbourhood Forums).[iv]

Rural areas have their own reality: A lack of infrastructure, land conflicts; stark poverty and sparse public services; ill equipped and barely paid security forces; armed groups, conflicts between administrative bodies and a fragmented civil society.

The main opportunity of projects in such zones is to create spaces, which draw on the resilience, creativity and energy of local communities and their leaders and in which all stakeholders can work together to improve human security.

Such projects, however, sometimes ignore lessons from past efforts, are too resource and time-limited, do not draw on the existing local expertise and are not sufficiently familiar with the prevailing legal frameworks.

In such cases, a project risks to cause confusion and even exacerbate the competition between organizations and administrations for the donor’s funds. Local communities will suffer most from this.


RVI: The report explains that ‘Those who have the means to invest in security do not always have the habit nor clout to do so; and those who are de facto managing security and do have the required experience, lack the funds for it.’ Can you elaborate on this challenge?

MT&AC: Despite the reforms, the most important meeting for state security questions remains the Local Security Council (CLS), which brings together state security actors and which is held at each administrative level.

The CLS is theoretically financed by the central government’s budget, but the necessary means for its proper functioning often do not reach the lower levels of government.

Today, the CLS exists in parallel with the CLSP which is financed by the ETD budget and thus has a degree of financial autonomy. ETD chiefs, however, sometimes do not have the habit, authority or will to host such meetings to address local security.

In practice, then, administrators of territories who themselves do have the experience to do so, lack the means, and those who have the means lack the experience.


RVI: The report highlights the importance of ‘communication and exchange’ as part of effective reform efforts. What does this mean and why is it so important?

MT&AC: The proximity police stresses the improvement of relations and the restoration of trust between police and the people. This is done through the CLSP and Neighbourhood and Grouping Forums (FQ and FG), spaces that allow for regular and inclusive exchange.

In remote zones, where the army and police are barely present, communities, dignitaries, local leaders, administrators and, indeed, armed groups, organize themselves to find solutions to the most pressing daily challenges to insecurity.

These local practices are not that different from the spirit of the CLSP, FQ and FG. Police reform merely tries to formalize and elevate to higher levels of administration what is already happening in practice at the grassroot level.


RVI: Finally, how can external actors support reform efforts in a productive and sustainable way, without further fragmenting the security landscape or bolstering predatory practices?

MT&AC: We propose four paths. It is important to involve the police, which is all too often neglected in security governance projects. Without its buy-in, it will be impossible to make progress on issues of local security.

Interveners ought to appreciate the CLSP’s main purpose—inclusion and regular exchange—and the flexibility of its legal framework, which allows its structures to be adapted to local realities and exigencies.

Third, they could work with ETDs in order to earmark one part of their budget for local security projects. The participatory budget, for example, could dedicate a line specifically to this purpose.

Finally, international partners could support the mobilization of the chieftaincies in order for them to take on their security responsibilities and also facilitate improved cooperation between chieftaincies and territorial administrations.

Read the report





[iii] Cf.;

[iv] Cf.

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