David Axe

From a 3D approach to a 3FT approach

Dirk-Jan Koch | 25 July 2014

Over the last two decades the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been at the centre of nearly every kind of initiative aimed at strengthening human security among its population. Having seen the largest peacekeeping mission ever in terms of duration and size, the largest debt write-off in the history of debt relief initiatives, as well as the largest refugee camps to have been assisted by the international community, the DRC is an excellent case to assess the successes and flaws of the 3D (Defence, Diplomacy and Development) approach. What is required to achieve human security in fragile states like the DRC is a 3FT (Fair Trade, Financial Transparency and a Firearms Treaty) approach.          

The required revolution: from 3D to 3FT

There has been a lot of talk about a 3D (Defence, Diplomacy and Development) approach to fragile states in recent years. However, a decade of the 3 Ds has shown that they are good but not sufficient. What is needed is an approach based on the ‘3FTs’ (Fair Trade, Financial Transparency and a Firearms Treaty). But these changes will not come easily for political-economic reasons: while many people would benefit from them, they are dispersed and not organized. Conversely, those who stand to lose from the changes are highly mobile, well organized and well connected. It is therefore important to connect those who would win from a 3FT approach to each other and to decision-makers.

To identify the revolutionary changes that need to take place for the 3D approach to be truly effective I will examine each of the 3Ds separately, to gauge their real life implications and analyze how the they can be enhanced. Examples from the DRC show where international involvement can strengthen human security or where it worsens the situation.

From the D of Defence to the FT of a Firearms Treaty

The Dutch government was one of the first to pursue a fragile states policy based on a 3D approach, and thus include a clear focus on working with security actors. While many aid agencies shun security actors, the Dutch government considered a failed security apparatus as often one of the root causes for states failing. If we are therefore interested in ‘fixing’ failed states, we should not exclude working with security actors. [1] This was a long-term engagement, mostly in collaboration with Search for Common Ground, one of the few agencies willing to work with the worst elements of the Congolese army and police forces and with experience in this area. [2] A total of 25% of the Congolese army was trained in 3D. Rigorous analyses showed that in areas where these tools were deployed the sense of insecurity reduced from 37% to 18%. It thus proved a good move to focus on the security actors in the DRC. 

However, when the M23 rebellion started in 2012, a lot of the achievements went up in smoke; people in Eastern DRC where once again being forcibly displaced and exploited by rebels with new weapons. Since Kalashnikovs were cheaper than goats on the market in Goma the country was once again flooded with arms. These arms enter through neighbouring countries like Uganda and Rwanda, violating the arms embargo without invoking serious sanctions. This shows that, while it might be important to work on defence-related issues in the DRC, locally acquired gains can only be sustained if they are embedded in more global reforms of the arms trade. A reformed arms trade should include clearer and automatic sanctions for countries that violate weapons embargos and tougher control on end-use certificates. For EU members it should entail a more harmonized application of EU-wide weapon export criteria (the Czech republic, for example, has quite a different interpretation than Norway on what constitutes an acceptable human rights record). [3] 

From the D of Diplomacy to the FT of Financial Transparency

Diplomacy can be genuinely important in stabilizing fragile states. During my stay in the DRC, the Kabila government was becoming increasingly autocratic and attempted to stifle dissent by increasingly vigorous attacks on human rights defenders and others (see box).

Violations against a human right defender

One of these human rights defenders was Floribert Chebeya. One afternoon he was summoned to see the inspector general of the police in his office, from which he never returned. The Congolese authorities tried to cover his death up and his body was discovered in the back of his car (once paid for by the Dutch embassy) with used condoms, Viagra pills, and women’s false fingernails. The authorities did not want an international inquiry into his death, but after some strategic diplomacy by the Dutch ambassador and a number of other EU countries, a Dutch forensic team was allowed into the country. They established that Chebeya had been tortured before dying and had not taken any Viagra. The government had to confess, the inspector general of the police was sacked, and pressure on human rights defenders eased, Jeune Afrique reports.

In the case described above, diplomacy helped protect democracy in this fragile state. But the gains achieved by diplomacy in promoting democracy are in some cases reversed by the financial secrecy in which Western corporations work, as it allows the governing elites in developing countries to tweak the electoral system in their favour. This lack of transparency provides them with cash to dominate the media landscape during elections, co-opt local chiefs to instruct the rural poor who to vote, or simply rig the elections (see box).

Financial secrecy of the Western private sector

Through its subsidiary Bralima, Heineken controls over half of the beer market in the DRC. My students tried to find out how much profit Heineken was making in the country and whether Bralima was paying its fair share in taxes. This proved impossible for the students to check: it is neither clear how much profit the companies are making in the DRC, nor how much tax they are paying to whom. In the year that my students engaged in this research, the coffers of the state were nearly empty. However, the president did somehow find enormous means to start a top-notch private TV channel to support his re-election bid.

Multinational companies are not obliged to report on the countries in which they make their profits, and consequently, they do not. That makes it difficult for the Congolese people to hold their government to account. It also enables companies to engage in transfer pricing and balloon profits in low tax-environments (e.g. the Cayman Islands) while artificially reducing profits in higher tax environments (developing countries). This deprives the governments of developing countries of much needed income to stabilize their economies. In addition, there is a serious risk that corrupt government officials will appropriate a part of those taxes and transfer it to one of the tax havens, which are condoned and sometimes even encouraged by Western governments. For diplomacy to be effective, the fiscal transparency of these illicit flows is an imperative.

From the D of Development to the FT of Fair Trade

Development is an indispensable part of every fragile state policy. Economic development can cut the ground from under the rebels’ feet. Heineken’s activities in the DRC are an excellent example of this. Whereas there are quite a number of problems with the way Heineken does business in many developing countries, in the DRC they have had a major impact on one of the key aspects of human insecurity: unemployment (see box).

Employment in fragile settings

Heineken (which owns Bralima in the DRC) used to source its ingredients, notably rice, from outside the DRC. Cheap rice was imported from Asia, while valleys where rice used to be grown in Congo were left lying fallow and the sons of rice farmers saw no other option than to join rebel groups to earn some income. Encouraged by the Dutch government, Heineken promised to source more of its inputs locally, and rice in particular. While the Dutch government paid Heineken five million euros to make this transition, Heineken has by now purchased more than 25 million euros worth of rice from local farmers, paying a reasonable price. For as long as beer-drinking continues, the livelihoods of these farmers now seem assured. This means that the people are less likely to turn to rebel groups as a source of income,  showing that aid, when used smartly, can stimulate development.

In the goldmines of the DRC, however, the opposite is occurring. Not only are women and children being exploited, but there continues to be frequent fighting around the mines, resulting in looted factories, bullet holes in buildings and crippled local people. The goldmines have changed hands many times during the last two decades and, since there is no certification scheme, gold from the mines could easily have ended up in the wedding ring that I bought for my fiancée. One peace-building NGO has succeeded in  bringing local miners and large companies together in the gold-mining area but, besides this initiative, the overall gold-trading environment is so unregulated and full of crooks that innovative micro-level initiatives like this are being swept away by macro-level deficiencies, Human Rights Watch documents. Thus, without a certificate for gold (like fair trade gold) or a good system to ban illegal gold, all these micro-level projects have very clear limitations. It is important to get the support of major gold-importing countries like Dubai, India and China. These are not traditional partners of the West to work with when it comes to developing countries, but it is important to cooperate with them if we want fair trade to genuinely take off. To make global trade fairer, we need to look beyond development projects and make sure that development initiatives go hand in hand with reform of global trade rules.

All our work on defence-related issues in fragile states will fail to bear fruit as long as arms keep flooding into territories with weapons: so we need urgent ratification and implementation of the firearms treaty, which will reduce the influx of Kalashnikovs and the like into Congo. Secondly, we can have all the diplomats in the world focusing on fragile states, but if we forget about financial transparency state building efforts will be hampered and hence no peace. Lastly, we can implement development projects in fragile states, but as long as there is no fair trade, they will have almost no lasting impact. 

Moving from 3D to 3FT not only broadens the fragile states agenda, it also changes who we have to work with. We need to collaborate with unusual partners: arms traders and corrupt armies to get the firearms treaty  effective, offshore tax centres and multinationals to achieve financial transparency, and rogue gold traders, countries like China and India, and retail jewellers to get fair trade up and running. There has been a consistent case for a Whole-of-Government approach to fragile states; I would argue that we need to go much further, we need a Whole-of-Society approach. If we want to ‘fix’ fragile states, all citizens – in their capacities as consumers, investors, savers, voters and tax-payers – have varying important roles to play. Complex emergencies require complex solutions. When there is a wide array of people active in creating and sustaining insecurity, an ever larger potpourri of actors needs to be brought together to assure security. This requires shifting from a 3D approach to a 3FT approach.

This opinion piece is based on personal experience. From 2008 to 2011, Dirj-Jan Koch worked as a diplomat at the Dutch embassy in Kinshasa, where he was responsible for human rights, humanitarian aid and reconstruction. In 2011, Koch became director of Search for Common Ground, an international NGO which focuses on conflict transformation. He also worked as a professor at the Catholic University of Kinshasa, focusing on international cooperation issues. Koch has led various research projects by Master‘s and PhD students on this topic, and this article is a summary of their main findings, as well as of his recently published book ‘The Congo Cables’ (De Congo Codes), available in Dutch and currently being translated into both French and English.


[1] The Netherlands engaged with the military and the police in the DRC, which is publicly announced on its embassy’s website as its first priority.

[2] Tools included solidarity activities between soldiers and citizens, human rights training by military officers, abuse monitoring committees within the army, radio shows, mobile cinema projections, theatre performances and comic books on human rights.

[3] More suggestions on the troubles of the global arms trade, and how it can be curbed, are described in the magnificent book ‘Shadow World’, by an ex-member of the South African parliament (Feinstein, 2012)

Photo credit main picture: David Axe