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Development of a National Police Force

The development of police forces in Zaire has been anything but a steady, continuous process. Those elements that perform the police function in contemporary Zaire descend from a variety of colonial and postcolonial structures that have been reorganized, renamed, absorbed by other services, or disbanded altogether. Police duties are assigned to both military and civilian security organizations, often simultaneously, and have undergone alternating periods of centralization, decentralization, and transfer of authority. In all cases, however, the performance of the police has been mediocre at best and, at worst, completely dysfunctional and occasionally criminal.

From its founding in 1888, the Force Publique fulfilled the basic functions of both a police force and an army. This dual role caused tension within the organization and was a major factor in its poor discipline and lack of effectiveness. Because of the requirement to act as a police force, members of the colonial army were dispersed throughout the country, where they normally came under the control of local civilian administrators.

This dual role continued virtually unchanged until shortly after World War I when the Belgian administration reorganized the force into two organizations: Garrison Troops and Territorial Service Troops. The Garrison Troops were intended to serve as a military force oriented against an external threat, while the Territorial Service Troops assumed the role of a gendarmerie or police force. Although the Territorial Service Troops remained an integral part of the Force Publique and could revert to the control of the commander, elements were deployed throughout the country under the operational control of the territorial administrators. Although this change theoretically created two distinct organizations, the separation of powers was not routinely applied. Garrison Troops gradually came under the control of the civilian administration and acted like a police force. In 1959 the Territorial Service Troops were redesignated as gendarmes, although their duties and responsibilities remained essentially unchanged. A year later, most of the gendarmes were incorporated into the ANC, totaling 6,000, out of a 25,000-member force. The remaining gendarmerie was a small, mostly rural police force.

In addition to the Territorial Service Troops, two other police forces existed during the colonial period. The Chief's Police, a rural force based in the local territories, maintained order and also functioned as messengers, jailers, and court attendants. This force served under the local chiefs and had no regional or national command structure. Although its members wore uniforms and maintained internal order, they did not carry weapons and received little training. At independence, this force totaled approximately 10,000 personnel.

The Territorial Police was a more structured organization, numbering between 6,000 and 9,000 personnel at independence. Created in 1926 and placed under Belgian administrators, this force performed numerous functions including maintaining order, running prisons, and guarding public buildings, as well as reinforcing the Chief's Police. After independence, each province maintained its own force, which was officered by former Belgian policemen. In some cases, during the immediate postindependence period, these forces became, in effect, private armies.

The chaos of the immediate postindependence period, along with the departure of the experienced officer corps, precipitated the disintegration of the constabulary forces. The UN restored a semblance of order, but the central government faced a long and tedious task of rebuilding its security forces. During the next four years, UN personnel and other foreign advisers instituted training programs in an effort to rehabilitate the police. Nigerian detachments established on-the-job training programs, and a limited number of Belgian police returned as advisers. The United States also initiated a broad assistance program to provide specialized training, arms, and equipment.

Rebellions continuing into the mid-1960s complicated the task of restoring coherence to police organizations. The increase in the number of provinces from six to twenty-one also exacerbated this process. As each new provincette achieved control of its provincial police force, it inflated its size, and these organizations began to resemble provincial armies. Mobutu's assumption of power in 1965 ended this trend, however. In December 1966, Mobutu removed the police from provincial control, standardized police organization and equipment, and centralized control under the Ministry of Interior (Ministry of Interior and Security in 1993). The 1966 law establishing the National Police gave it responsibility for regular police functions in both urban and rural areas. This new force, with an authorized strength of 25,000, absorbed many personnel from the overgrown provincial forces, while politically unreliable or undesirable elements were largely culled.

The reorganization was effective in reducing local paramilitary threats to the regime's authority, but it did not significantly improve the performance of basic police functions. Furthermore, the deployment of the National Police was limited, for the most part, to urban centers, with the responsibility for internal security and public order in the rural areas resting chiefly with the still extant gendarmes of the ANC.

Data as of December 1993

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