Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A new Congolese army?

President Kabila, during his visit to Goma, announced an end to the Amani Leo military structure, under whose aegis military operations had been conducted over the past two years. This stirred confusion, and rumors percolated through the region following the decision.

(Also refer to a report released on Monday by a group of Congolese and international NGOs on security sector reform - it can be found here.)

To dispel some misunderstandings: No, military operations themselves are not coming to a halt. Operations against the FDLR and other "residual" or "refractory" armed groups (the official lingo) are ongoing.

What will happen to all the officers who are absorbed into the Amani Leo structures? This is a good question. These structures allowed for hundreds of former members of armed groups, as well as loyalist army commanders, to get jobs. According to the army spokesman, the officers who are currently in the Amani Leo command will be placed "dispo," shorthand for "à la disposition de la hierarchie militaire." This word is the Congolese' officers' bane, as it means you don't get any of the privileges of being deployed in military operations. In addition to the Amani Leo command, the ten military sectors in North and South Kivu will be dissolved, as they are only temporary structures.

Instead, there will be three (some say four) defense zones (zones de défense).  The Kivus will be grouped together with Province Orientale into one zone. According to Col. Sylvain Ekenge, the army's spokesperson in the East, these new structures should provide more than enough positions to accommodate the officers who were previously in the Amani Leo structures.

Within these zones, there will be three kinds of troops: "Forces couverture," the regular infantry units, currently formed into regiments in the Kivus; "forces réaction rapide," special forces units; and "forces principales de défense," the artillery and other mechanized units.

All of these reforms are supposed to take three years and are guided by the law on the Congolese armed forces passed last year. Other reforms have already taken place, including the census of Congolese soldiers (there are now around 103,000 who have been identified, of whom at least 30,000 are in the Kivus); the launching of various training centers (the officer's academy at Kananga is operational again, as is the engineering school in Likasi and a various Belgian, French, US and South African ad-hoc camps); and reform of the payment system, with the help of the European assistance mission EUSEC.

Still, FARDC abuses remain at extremely high levels and many of the army's officers and deeply involved in racketeering and embezzlement. It is therefore not just a question of re-organization (especially if parallel chains of command will persist anyway), but of what happens within that new organization. Military justice and discipline is probably the most important part of this equation, but the financial management of the army goes hand in hand with that. As long as the average soldier makes $60 a month (and a Lieutenant-general a paltry $110) and the food, lodging and medicine is insufficient; and as long as bigwigs in the army make twenty-fold that each month in racketeering; and as long as hundreds of abuses each month go unpunished (although there are some slight improvements in this regard), it will be difficult to speak of success.


Rich said...

Nice one as always Jason -

I was wondering whether siasan are not aware of the recent law on the status of the Congolese military and the work being done by EUSEC but then you have nicely touched upon some of the stuff they're involved with in helping the FARDC restructure.

That said, I still think it is going to be a very long process because you will never have an army whose mentality is superior to that of the society in which it is drawn. having a good army in DRC means having more well educated men and women in age of joining the army. Having well educated men and women needs another set of requirements etc... Brief, resolving the problem of the army must be part of an integrated solution to be conceived and implimented both in the short and long term...

You can check from the following video to get an idea of how difficult it is. They are quite old but they give some context...


Anonymous said...

I was told by a EUSEC official that the initiative to separate the chain of command from the chain of payment has failed, and was given up a year ago. Allegedly, the resistance to implementation from mid’ and high level officers was too strong, although it was only tested at some places (I have no detailed info on which ones that were). Can you confirm?

Anand said...

Sounds like a redesign of the same problems that exist. Maybe political gamesmanship, so Kinshasa can "show" donors that it is "making progress" on security. Again, it comes down to the true motivation of those implementing change. Is the motivation true security sector reform, or is it the outward appearance of this for political purposes?

Anonymous said...


The mentality of the Congolese soldiers does not reflect the Congolese mentality.
The goverment does not make an effort in recruiting better people because most of these soldiers come from the rag-tag remnant of the rebel groups, the whole army is mismanaged just like the country because you have the wrong people at the helm. Kabila is a perfect example... he was a General in the army and his military experience is a 6 month stint in a Chinese military academy, compare to Kagame who has been trained in Kansas in the Marines I believe. Soldiers are bandits, and the leaders for the most part have no expertise and no traning.... the result is what you see and it is not due to the mentality of the Congolese people. After Sun City it was a big mistake to allow all 4 rebel groups to morph into a single unit, they should have been demobilized and a new army recruited. When it comes to security problems the Congolese take the easy way out.... you are a rebel one day so to appease you you are allowed to integrate the army and you are given an leadership role (Ntanganda)... It is a Congolese problem first but I don't understand why the UN and all the 'smart' Europeans and Westerners see this happening without saying anything..... maybe like Rich they believe that those people is what Congo has best to offer...but I know that's not the case.

Rich said...

Anon - 12:40

You have done a wrong and very simplistic reading of the point I was trying to make.

I could elaborate a bit more but I don't think this is necessary since my post is still on this page and reading it again and again may help ...


Anonymous said...

I think your comment is very clear: "I still think it is going to be a very long process because you will never have an army whose mentality is superior to that of the society in which it is drawn"
I am from Congo and I find it insulting, the army for years has been the place where the criminals, the people who were inept in school were sent and this has been confirmed by the "brassage" when after Sun City when we took 4 rag-tag groups and morphed them in a so called army. The average level of the Congolese people is way above what this army represents and as I stated this issue is compounded by the fact that most army leaders have little to no training at all.

Patrick said...

You definitely (?)need to qualify what you mean by "well educated men and women".
I spent some time working in the DRC and I was truck by the individual intellectual brilliance of many people at the presidency, finance ministry or the Central bank. However, these same people proved to be utterly corrupt, unreliable and only interested in the potential benefit to them of any projects.
Education is a long term objective. Short term, there should be sanctions wherever/whenever there are any kind of abuses. At the moment, the problem lies with the system: no sanctions, no honest leadership.
- Which can of example do you give to your country and your citizens when you cheat your way to the presidency ?
- If the president does it, why shouldn't each Congolese do the same ?
Someone said jokingly that to build a new Congo, every man and woman over 5 years old should be killed first. You will then be left with a clean slate of people to educate properly.

Rich said...

Patrick -

Thanks for the comment. I think "well educated men and women" can be defined in many ways.

I am not an elitist and when I say "well educated" I simply mean to have the best of Congolese join the army. "Intellectual brilliance..." alone does not qualify, to me, as being well educated or suited for the army...

To me, the ultimate solution must be, increasing the quality and quantity of Congolese who really care about their country and can give whatever they can to add something positive to the progress of that nation.

Education is one of the many ways you can achieve that and you should find out how much the Congolese government spend for the education sector and for how long this has been going on ...

I went to school all the way up to University in Congo so I know a thing or two about education in that country and how this has been infecting the whole society for more than 30 years now...

The Congolese military is just a sample taken from the general Congolese population regardless of how random or biased that sampling is...

I just don't agree with the idea that a good army can come from a society where everything else is somehow neglected. The solution must be an integrated one and not an isolated one... and here we can go back to the old debate between agent and structure, what drives what etc...


Anonymous said...

I'd like to start my comment answering Jason' question: I think yes, the country is slowing moving toward a better army.

I mostly agree with Patrick and I've add that I've experienced life and work under 4-5 different units and commanders in the same town in the last years. What impressed me (and the city's population as well) is the enormous difference between one unit and the other in terms of trainings, behavior, logistic support, cooperation with partners and abuses committed.
What we experienced is that most depends of the leader of the unit. A good one can manage to control properly troops, a bad one is synonyme of disorder. This happened regardless of the provenance of the unit: local MM, CNDP or Pareco.
I've been extremely positively impressed with the high level of the unit we received in town after an attack in 2009. Apparently this unit was coming directly form a special déploiement unit attached to the Presidential Guard but I have to say it was well prepared, organized (the most respectable patrols at night) and neither the population nor humanitarian actors on field have reported any sort of abuses of wrong behavior. The leader of the unit was also wise enough to distance himself from politics and keeping concentrating on his work and the loyalty to his country.

Coming back to recent days I'm pleased that FARDC responded quickly at the attacks and have been able, at least in SK, to keep control of the territory. Similarly I see positive that this was an "ethnically mixed" rebellion, finally cross-cutting certains issues.

So in the end there are already a number of positive elements to exploit in a reconstruction of the army.

I don't know if it was reported here that only 1% of the aid received in DRC is oriented at the reform of the security sector which is instead accountable for much more of the problems. I think this gives a good part of the answer ... as foreign donors in other countries invest much more in the training of the army (Afghan, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan I suppose now) they should be more committed to push for long-term restructuration of the army, using probably more foreign troops on field. I think that in the end this is a role that the UN could have played better, especially in rural areas.


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