DR Congo

DR Congo: Transition without military transformation

After the 2006 elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the new government assumed formal responsibility for the intractable security problems, incomplete disarmament and demobilization processes, and protection challenges in the east, taking over from the UN peacekeeping operation, MONUC. MONUC continues to 'support the transition' and to provide training and operational assistance to the Congolese army, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC). Security sector reform (SSR) - or more pertinently defense sector transformation

  • is key to meeting the remaining disarmament and civilian protection challenges in the DRC. However, it has not been pursued with sufficient vigor to actually enhance security in the eastern Congo. Rather, an inadequately resourced and supported SSR program has contributed to the FARDC becoming a major source of insecurity for civilian communities in the east.

With the disarmament of all armed groups in the DRC far from complete, donor governments supported the build up of a new Congolese army through a process of integration of the disparate armed forces that were signatory to the April 2003 Sun City agreement. This process, called brassage, was conceived as an emergency measure rather than strategically-planned process of defense sector reform. After a mere 45-day basic training program "Integrated Brigades" were deployed. But brassage was at best a process of amalgamation rather than integration or even assimilation. (Read more about military integration.)

The resultant national army is out of control - at least, by democratic and professional military standards. Command and control are weak and unstructured. The army lacks cohesion and basic operational capability. FARDC exactions and harassment of the local population continue in virtually all areas of deployment. Soldiers take their families with them on operations, where they often live in far worse conditions than the thousands of displaced civilians. Government troops have been responsible for serious human rights violations, including sexual violence, which remains rife in eastern DRC. Illicit taxing by government forces is ubiquitous. FARDC elements cooperate with the FDLR, the remnants of the Hutu forces that committed the genocide in Rwanda, who they are supposed to disarm, sharing looted items and taxes and the proceeds from gold and coltan mining operations. Serious criminal acts, such as murder and rape, go unpunished. (Read more about about military pathologies.)

During and beyond the transition, there has been a chronic lack of international funding, leadership and coordination for defense sector transformation. At the same time, the Congolese government prefers bilateral agreements to meaningful international coordination, so as to extract as much as possible from individual donor countries. While the Congolese Minister of Defense mandated an expert commission to develop a comprehensive plan for military reform, he has rejected the resultant model produced with the assistance of European Union and other international military advisors because the plan is based on a 'Western' model of a professional defense force and does not accord with his own "Master Plan" for a bloated army that will engage in agricultural production and infrastructure development work. The discrepancy between the two plans has led to fall out between the Minister and the Chief of General Staff, and a Round Table that was to be convened in mid-October 2007 to present defense reform plans and identify specific programs for coordinated donor support has been repeatedly postponed.

Donor partners in Kinshasa are concerned that President Joseph Kabila will not take comprehensive military reforms seriously until such time as the eastern DRC has been stabilized and the brassage process has been completed. Most international assistance to the FARDC has therefore been focused on meeting these short-term challenges. MONUC is trying to impart basic military skills to all FARDC battalions deployed operationally alongside its forces, while bilateral training support for the creation of a "Rapid Reaction Force" has been offered in an unseemly and uncoordinated manner by the USA, China, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The Congolese government and its international partners appear to be blind to the real needs - for military organization, professional military education and socialization, and the institution of effective command and control.

The current situation of military mal-integration and ongoing insecurity in the eastern DRC stems from a transition process that was fundamentally flawed. Elections were held with sub-national armed groups still operative, and long before the creation of a unified and integrated national military. Primary responsibility for security and civilian protection was prematurely passed from MONUC to the FARDC. Efforts to redress this problem remain concentrated on limited short term training to enhance the basic operational capabilities of FARDC, and do not effectively address the deeper-rooted military pathologies. (Read more about training assistance.) MONUC and bilateral partners are engaged in low-level capacity building rather than defense sector reform. MONUC is merely holding the line, keeping a lid on the FARDC in attempt to prevent force disintegration and the widespread commission of human rights abuses, while using the FARDC to stabilize the eastern DRC.

Efforts to consolidate democracy and rule of law in the DRC are doomed to failure unless accompanied by urgent, concerted and sustained international and Congolese efforts to engage in a process of fundamental transformation of the national army. Post-colonial African history is replete with examples of nascent democracies that have been abruptly terminated by armies that are weak on professionalism and strong on political and/or pecuniary ambition.

There is thus a pressing need for a unified vision of national defense and urgent work on the base of the FARDC. The UN Security Council, MONUC, the "P3+2", the European Union, the Contact Group - and others who are dabbling in military assistance to the DRC - must get a grip on the real challenges of defense sector transformation in the DRC and be prepared to commit resources for the long term. (Read more about current efforts towards defense restructuring.) Human resource management systems must be developed and implemented, administrative and logistic systems created, new training schools and barracks built, etc. Building new armed forces from the base up will require 10-15 years of sustained effort and coordinated international support.

Policy Recommendations

1. MONUC take responsibility for coordinating offers of short-term military assistance to the DRC and a multilateral mechanism for negotiating these with the Government.

2. The European Union take the lead in providing unambiguous direction and guidance to the longer- term process of defense sector transformation in the DRC; forge agreement on the issue with the Government and all partners providing military assistance; and create an effective mechanism for pooling funding and resources towards the achievement of an agreed professional end-state for the FARDC.

3. All external actors supporting defense sector transformation insist - as a precondition for further military assistance (short or long term) - upon the constructive resolution of the internal governmental dispute on plans for reform, and upon the convening at the earliest opportunity of the Round Table for the presentation and refinement of a unified plan for the transformation of the DRC defense sector.