Despite foreign support, the Congolese army remains a major problem

Fifteen years after the start of the UN peacekeeping operation in 1999, the DRC remains a fragile state and the army is a sizeable part of the problem.

By next June, the 30 military advisers of the European Union’s EUSEC mission of assistance to the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) will leave the country. Since 2005, EUSEC has been trying to rebuild the FARDC capacities in order to enable them to restore security all over the national territory. Having supported the integration of the fighters of the different warring factions into the FARDC and organizing the payment chains to make sure the military get their salaries and their biometric census to eliminate ghost soldiers, EUSEC’s last task is the training of military officers. But the United Nations are not keen to put an end to its mission which started 15 years ago, in November 1999 despite the the Congolese Defence minister, Alexandre Luba Ntambo’s request that New York presents the DRC government an exit agenda.


But the United Nations Mission for the Stabilization of Congo, better known under its French acronym MONUSCO, which is the largest UN operation with a total staff of over 22,000 military from 51 countries and a budget of USD 1.4 billion, (over three times the size of DRC’s military expenditures), considers that still much remains to be done to restore peace in the country. Despite the defeat of the Rwandan-backed 23 March Movement (M23) rebels in November 2013, rebel groups are still present in the Eastern province (North Kivu, South Kivu, Maniema, Eastern Province and Katanga) which cover half of the national territory. One of the last incidents was the massacre in October of 120 people in Beni (North Kivu), attributed by the UN to the Ugandan muslim rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces and also to local groups supported by former Foreign Minister and ex-rebel leader, Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi according to the governor of North Kivu, Julien Paluku. In early November, the UN Security Council also expressed its “deep concern over the lack of progress of the voluntary disarmament process of the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) ».


But the UN are also aware that Congolese military themselves can be a source of trouble. In May 2013, the UN Joint Human Rights Office reported that soldiers of the Congolese 391st Commando Battalion, which were trained by U.S. special forces, caused a number of atrocities, including the rape of more than 130 women and young girls in eastern Congo, the arbitrary execution of at least two people and the looting of several villages. This tragic incident shows that even if Congo benefits from 16 different foreign cooperation programmes, the progress in terms of stability is quite slow. Beside the US, Angola, Belgium, France, and South Africa are also training FARDC battalions. Belarus and Ukraine are training Airforce pilots whereas Czech and Russian instructors train tank drivers. Like the EU, Serbia send teachers to the military academies, while Chinese officers provide training in logistics. Eventually, Egyptian, North-Korean and Moroccan trainers are all providing advisory to President Joseph Kabila’s 15,000 men strong Republican Guard.


Unfortunately, all these efforts haven’t borne much fruits. Congolese military are still involved in theft, racketeering, rape and plundering of natural resources. According to the US NGO Enough, army commanders such as General Gabriel Amisi aka “Tango Four” are involved in the gold illegal mining and smuggle operations which are trading with rebel groups such as the FLDR. Others specialize in siphoning the salaries of their troops like an officer who was in charge of the payroll and was killed last July by his own men. As Enough and other sources reported, some officers sale weapons to rebel groups for gold or money. UN sources report that food rations and ammunitions meant for soldiers are being diverted by the military hierarchy. Even when the military get them, salaries are so low (between USD 55 for a rank and a file soldier and USD 85 for an army general), that they can only encourage FARDC men to use their guns to improve their living conditions. As a result, members of army units in North Eastern Congo rarely counter attacks from the Lord Resistance Army. Last year, soldiers and their wives were cultivating marijuana to make a living in the Bunia military camp, reports the local daily, “Le Millénaire”.


The poor efficiency of the FARDC is also owed to the presence highlighted by Oxfam of children or women who are used as forced labour in FARDC military camps. Many sources also stress the poor professional level of the Congolese army. One of the causes is that the FARDC aggregates elements from Mobutu’s army, from Kabila’s army and rebels who have had no military training at all. Even if the FARDC numbers have been reduced from 330,000 to 140,000 men over the last ten years, they are still characterized by an unorthodox structure. Unlike “classic” armies where rank and file soldiers outnumber the commanders and present the profile of a pyramid, the FARDC have an opposite structure, with rank and file troops representing only one third of the total.This does not mean necessarily that officers have skills. In fact, this odd situation is the consequence of the decision by all warring fractions to promote to officers positions, a large number of soldiers, after the Sun City peace talks of 2002, in the hope they would keep an influence within the army, explains a Congolese defence specialist.


Besides, appointments and discipline depend on criteria such as loyalty to the head of state or to the commander and are often based on ethnicity. It is an open secret that except for the FARDC Chief of Staff, General Didier Etumba who comes from Equator, most of the high ranking officers come from Katanga, the birthplace of the President’s father, Laurent Kabila That is the case for the Defence Minister, the Airforce Chief of Staff, and the Republican Guard commander. The purchase of inadequate equipments such as Russian-made T55 tanks in 2010 to chase rebels in the mountains of North Kivu and which were later captured by the M23 rebels is another indication of the need for reform.
Another handicap of the FARDC in their mission to defend the national soil is that they operate often as a troop whose main objective is to fight the internal threat like the Belgian colonial Force Publique. The appointment last September by President Joseph Kabila of an operational commander with an extremely repressive profile such as General Amisi over the Western « defence area» covering the provinces of Equator, Bas-Congo and Kinshasa, which voted against Kabila at the 2011 presidential election seems inspired by a political agenda. The training of the Republican Guard by Egyptian anti-riot police officers to intimidate and fight opponents, in the perspective of the next election scheduled 2016, gives a similar impression, explain security analysts. Indeed, many Congolese consider that the constitution which does not allow the incumbent President to run for a third mandate, should be respected. (F.M.)


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