Over the last two decades, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) eastern provinces have experienced protracted instability and violence. This is due in large part to more than 100 armed groups whose operations are fueled by illicit exploitation of the country’s abundant natural resources and easy access to weapons.
The widespread availability of small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) in the Great Lakes region is one of the main engines of continued turmoil in the eastern DRC. Halting the illicit proliferation of weapons into and within the eastern DRC is notoriously difficult given the region’s porous borders, high demand for weapons, and diversions from government stockpiles. Diversions can occur through battlefield losses, theft, looting, or unauthorized transfers.
At the request of and in partnership with the Government of the DRC, the United States assisted the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) and Congolese National Police (PNC) in two key areas: building secure weapons and ammunition storage facilities; and training their personnel to manage the facilities according to international standards through the Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD) program. This partnership strengthens the Government of the DRC’s oversight of its stockpiles and prevents armed groups from stealing or otherwise illicitly obtaining government weapons and ammunition.
The United States recently provided $6 million to expand CWD efforts in the DRC, of which $4.6 million will support the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) to build or rehabilitate storage facilities, train storekeepers, and destroy excess ammunition and SA/LW. The remaining $1.4 million will support an existing project with the Regional Centre for Small Arms in the Great Lakes Region, Horn of Africa, and Bordering States (RECSA). This project marks government-held weapons in the eastern provinces in partnership with the National Commission for the Control of Small Arms and the Reduction of Armed Violence (CNC-ALPC).
Since 2002, the United States has provided more than $36 million for CWD efforts in the DRC. These efforts include building or refurbishing 81 weapons and ammunition storage facilities; training 199 storekeepers; destroying over 1,700 metric tons of excess ammunition; and destroying over 180,000 excess small arms.
The destruction of excess weapons and ammunition is crucial to the DRC’s security and stability. The DRC accumulated massive amounts of Soviet-era munitions that were stored in poor conditions, rendering them unreliable, chemically volatile, and vulnerable to theft. Destroying the excess and obsolete stockpiles guarantees they will never fall into the wrong hands and improves combat readiness by ensuring serviceable munitions are readily accessible and deployed instead of duds. It also reduces the risk of accidental depot explosions such as the tragic explosions in Brazzaville in 2012 that killed over 200 people and injured thousands more.
The United States also partners with the CNC-ALPC to mark FARDC and PNC weapons with a unique code to facilitate tracking and improve accountability, making it harder for corrupt individuals to illicitly transfer arms to malign actors without attracting attention. To date, the teams have marked more than 35,000 weapons in North Kivu and South Kivu. The additional $1.4 million will extend operations through December 2022 and the teams will target to mark a total of 180,000 weapons in North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri.
The CNC-ALPC is housed in the Ministry of the Interior and Security and is charged with implementing the United Nations Program of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its Aspects, also known as the UN Program of Action (POA). The CNC-ALPC coordinates all national efforts to address weapons proliferation and aligns resources to its strategic national action plan. The United States strongly supports the work of the CNC-ALPC and welcomes the commitment of FARDC and PNC leadership to improve stockpile management.
The United States coordinates CWD efforts with the United Nations Mine Action Service, which provides similar stockpile management support in the DRC under the auspices of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo. The United States notifies all activities as required by the UN Security Council arms embargo notification process.
The United States also supports humanitarian mine action in the DRC that has returned 516,000 square meters of land to productive use and destroyed over 6,700 explosive hazards to the direct benefit of over 30,000 Congolese. In addition to supporting demining operations, the United States provides prosthetic limbs to landmine survivors and vocational training which helps them participate in the specialty coffee industry. The wide range of U.S. assistance plays a critical role helping to heal the wounds of past conflicts, removing drivers of instability, and enabling economic development.
Since 1993, the United States has provided more than $3.7 billion in CWD assistance to over 100 countries, including $500 million of assistance to 36 countries in Africa – making the United States the world’s single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction. For more information, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.
About the Author: Michael Tirre serves as a Program Manager in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement at the U.S. Department of State.