Passing Whistleblower Legislation Is the Next Step in the DRC’s Fight Against Corruption

In November of 2021, over 3.5 million documents were leaked from a bank in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This so-called “Congo Hold-Up” leak, which included bank statements, emails, contracts, and corporate records, revealed that former Congolese President Joseph Kabila and his inner circle embezzled at least $138 million in public funds between 2013 and 2018. Investigations by media outlets and NGOs exposed a pervasive network of corruption involving the DRC’s Central Bank and national electoral commission, as well as the country’s minerals-for-infrastructure deal with China, a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, and more. In response, the head of the DRC’s Inspectorate General of Finance (IGF) condemned the bank’s role in facilitating the corruption, and the Congolese Minister of Justice announced the opening of an investigation to address the allegations. 

Complex corruption schemes such as the one described above are often revealed by whistleblowers. The DRC in particular has a history of whistleblowers exposing corruption, often at great personal risk (for example, here and here). Yet instead of being publicly recognized for their contributions and afforded government protection, these whistleblowers are forced to conceal their identities to avoid retaliation by those they exposed. Their fears are well-founded: The DRC offers little to no legal protection for whistleblowers, and many Congolese whistleblowers have been forced into hiding or exile due to threats, intimidationassault, and even death sentences. This must change. It is high time for the DRC to pass comprehensive whistleblower protection legislation, and there may be an unusual window of opportunity to do so now.

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Danger, Will Robinson: Can Robots Protect Us from Corruption?

Technology is a frequent recourse for anticorruption advocates, be it in the form of crowdsourced reporting, tree tracking, or drug verification.  To that list, one can now add one of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s recent initiatives: robots.

We may not yet be at the point where, like something out of a summer blockbuster, robots can chase down offenders or take the lead in corruption investigations. Nevertheless, building upon their earlier efforts in Kinshasha, a group of engineers has recently been hired to install a traffic robot in Lubumbashi. The robots, eight feet tall and looking like something out of the 1960s, have traffic lights embedded in their torsos and are equipped with cameras which allow them to record traffic violations. The theory behind these cybermen? Robots can’t be bribed, thereby circumventing the notoriously corrupt (human) police force of the DRC, whose officers could either baselessly stop drivers and demand money or be bought off by a driver who truly has committed an infraction.

There are many good things about this initiative. Encouraging Congolese startups (and women in business and science–the engineering team that developed the robots is all-female) seem like worthwhile goals. And if people are somehow intimidated into being better drivers, as some Congolese have claimed is occurring, then the DRC’s horrific traffic accident rate may drop. However, are these robots really effective as corruption-fighting tools? Continue reading

Community-Level Aid and Corruption in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

As Rick has discussed in a previous post, one common strategy adopted by donors seeking to engage in development and humanitarian work in countries with corrupt governments is to try to bypass national institutions. Instead, they direct their efforts towards the local level, engaging with communities, local leaders, and smaller-scale NGOs. Theoretically, this approach means the money passes through fewer hands, and there are therefore fewer opportunities for some of it to be skimmed off. Furthermore, donors may believe that local institutions are less corrupt or more easily subjected to (or more responsive to) monitoring by donors or other overseers. Donors may also opt for a local-oriented approach for reasons not related to corruption, like supporting projects that are more responsive to people’s actual needs, furthering community empowerment, and building institutions.

However, recent evidence from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) indicates that a local-oriented approach has its corruption-related drawbacks. Resources channeled through national political figures may have the potential to be stolen or misdirected for personal gain, but community-driven development programs are also vulnerable to elite capture. In fact, broader research has indicated that members of community development organizations—the very people with whom donors are partnering in hopes of side-stepping corruption—are more likely to pay bribes than non-members.  Furthermore, even when donor programs succeed in creating infrastructure, they tend to fail to improve local governance, accountability, or capacity.

Still, given the pervasive corruption in national governments (in the DRC and elsewhere), and the way those in power benefit from avoiding any meaningful action against corruption, the impulse towards local-side aid is understandable. What, then, are donors to do? Though it’s impossible to guarantee positive results, there are some steps that foreign governments and NGOs can take to mitigate the risk of the money targeted locally from being illicitly diverted:

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