Monday, August 23, 2010

Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: From HRW, an Inside Look at a Congolese Brigade

Part 4 of a 7-part article about how the ongoing civil war in Congo is rooted in the poor state of the Congolese Army, why Congo matters to the United States, and what policies the United States should enact to address the situation.

A recent report by HRW (1) comes to many of the same conclusions as Dr. Baaz does from her interviews. Like Dr. Baaz did for her article, Juliane Kippenberg and other HRW researchers interviewed FARDC personnel for much of their research, focusing on the FARDC’s 14th brigade. They investigate the actions of the 14th brigade from its creation in North Kivu Province in 2006 until early 2009 (2). Their findings indicate, among other things, that much of the problems with the FARDC that existed in 2006 while Dr. Baaz was conducting her interviews still persist today.

In addition, in describing the creation of the 14th brigade, the report highlights another challenge that the army has struggled to handle: the integration of former rebel fighters, and even officers, into the FARDC. The FARDC is essentially a collection of dozens of former armed groups, formed after the 2002 Global and All-inclusive Agreement that led to the withdrawal of foreign troops from Congo. The deal called for the creation of a new national army from the shell of the old army, the FAC, and from numerous militias, which were to form the new integrated armed forces: the FARDC (3). Militants had the option to join the new army or to undergo DDR or DDRRR and assimilate back into civilian life or repatriate to their homeland, respectively.

Intended to be finished before the 2006 national elections, the military integration process is still not complete and has been a challenge from the start (4). DDR, DDRRR, and military integration centers have been severely underfunded, making such options unattractive to militants; one observer went so far to state that “a human being cannot survive for a long time [in the centres] even if they are endowed with superhuman capacities for adaptation” (5). Even under the best circumstances, old loyalties die hard and hamper unity, especially when peoples of different language, ethnicity, or culture are integrated into mixed units (6). Alleged and real preferential treatment for certain ethnicities and the like continues to brood resentment and discord within the FARDC (7). This is apparent in the case of the 14th brigade, which was largely formed from the RCD-Goma – a Tutsi militia backed by Rwanda during the Second Congo War period – but also included some elements of the FAC and the Mai Mai (8). The majority of the brigade, including its commanding officer, Colonel David Rugayi, spoke Kinyarwanda – a language native to Hutus and Tutsis – but other soldiers spoke other Congolese languages, leading to confusion and resentment among some at the prevalence of Kinyarwanda-speaking officers in the brigade (9).

Such tensions would turn violent in an episode following the removal of Colonel Rugayi. After the 14th brigade participated in the FARDC’s humiliating defeat at Mushake (10), Kinshasa relieved Rugayi of his command, amidst allegations of battlefield incompetence and outright arms and information dealing with the CNDP (11). His replacement, Colonel John Tshibangu, did not speak Kinyarwanda, which caused resentment among the many Kinyarwanda-speaking soldiers of the brigade. The situation would come to a head on June 26, 2008, when scores of disgruntled soldiers refused a direct order from Colonel Tshibangu. Although the mutiny was put down by loyal troops, at least one brigade soldier died and several civilians were abused during the course of the fighting, and Colonel Rugayi was eventually reinstated to prevent future rebellion from the brigade (12).

Like the soldiers interviewed by Dr. Baaz, the members of the 14th brigade were also beset with severe shortages of food and basic supplies. As recently as March, 2009, one brigade soldier said this of the living conditions:

"We live like dogs. We live on civilians, asking them for their bananas. It’s
been three months without payment or something to eat.... Before, I got
37,000 FC a month [approximately US$44]. The commander would then take
2,000 or 5,000 FC from that. January was the last time we got rations. I got
beans and flour and maize. I have two children, but with a military salary it is
not enough to support them."(13)

In one particularly bad incident in January, 2008, the brigade was ordered to redeploy to the town of Kabare in South Kivu Province, near the Rwandan border but received no provisions, food, or shelter. The soldiers were left with little choice but to prey on the local populace. Foraging and looting in Kabare degenerated into what one officer interviewed described as “anarchy,” with soldiers destroying homes for materials and torturing, raping, and killing civilians at will (14). In all, HRW documented 23 cases of rape perpetrated by soldiers of the 14th brigade since they arrived in Kabare, and 26 cases during the research period, including several cases of gang rape (15). According to the report, only a handful of criminal charges were brought against members of the brigade, none of which involved high-ranking officers.

The report also found disturbing evidence of a breakdown in the higher chain of command with regard to the 14th brigade. When the brigade was first assembled in North Kivu, it fell within the boundaries of the 8th military region, but upon moving to South Kivu the brigade came within the 10th military region. Each region was under the control of a different general, and neither general would claim responsibility of the brigade after its rampage in Kabare (16), though in practice, the brigade seemed to respond to Kinshasa directly, as evidenced by Kinshasa’s removal and later reinstatement of Colonel Rugayi (17).

The case of the 14th brigade and its many problems does not seem to be an isolated example. The same HRW report mentions by name nine other FARDC brigades whose members had committed acts of sexual violence during the reporting period (18), and in 2008 the UN registered 7,703 cases of sexual violence in North and South Kivu alone (19). To combat these seemingly widespread occurrences, the report lays out a number of suggestions for the DRC government and the international community. Among other things, the report suggests that the Congolese government reform its chain of command, create a division of special prosecutors for sexual violence cases, and devise a mechanism to ensure that FARDC troops receive regular salaries and provisions, and it also urges the international community to provide funding and operational assistance for SSR (20).

(1) Entitled Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone: Sexual Violence and Military Reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
(2) Kippenberg, “Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone,” 5.
(3) Baaz and Stern, “Making Sense of Violence in the Congo,” 63.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Ibid., 63-64.
(6) With over 200 ethnicities and languages in Congo, this problem is especially prominent.
(7) Ibid., 64.
(8) A term referring to a loose collection of community-based militias.
(9) Kippenberg, “Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone,” 23.
(10) See note 1
(11) Ibid., 25.
(12) Ibid., 26.
(13) Ibid., 44.
(14) Ibid., 25.
(15) Ibid., 27.
(16) Ibid., 32-33.
(17) Ibid., 33.
(18) Ibid., 21.
(19) Ibid., 6.
(20) Ibid., 8-10.

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