Monday, August 23, 2010

Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: Introduction

Part 1 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.

Perhaps no modern nation has endured as much as Congo. Ever since there’s been a modern Congo, it has suffered, sometimes under ruthless authoritarian masters like King Leopold of Belgium and Mobutu Sese Seko, other times amidst periods of utter chaos, but always exploited and abused to the utmost.

The latest chapter in Congo’s tragic history – an ongoing 16-year civil war that continues to claim tens of thousands of lives each month (1) – may be its worst yet. Even still, the conflict has failed to attract significant outcry or even attention from the much of the world. In the United States in particular, the relentless violence in Congo is constantly overshadowed by headlines about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel, among other things.

This lack of popular attention is reflected at the policy level as well. Although U.S. agencies such as USAID have organized and sponsored numerous aid programs in Congo, such efforts have been consistently underfunded and understaffed. Despite the immense economic potential of Africa and the geopolitical importance of Congo in particular to Africa – it’s located right in the center of Africa, borders nine countries, is larger than Western Europe (2), and has bountiful natural resources – U.S. priorities in Europe and Asia have consistently redirected American resources and time away from more comprehensive attention and policies toward Africa, with Congo being no exception.

Moreover, the bulk of such efforts have focused on providing emergency relief and humanitarian assistance rather than on confronting the root causes of the instability plaguing Congo, the most immediate cause being the inability of the FARDC to exert undisputed control over the entire country. Numerous militias, both foreign and domestic, as well as bands of thugs have been able to operate in and even control much of the country, especially in the East. There are a number of factors that have enabled this, ranging from complicity and fear among the locals and the abundance of mineral deposits available for extortion, which need to be addressed.

Ultimately, though, it has been the FARDC’s ineffectiveness rather than the militias’ capabilities that has prevented it from imposing peace over the entire country. FARDC soldiers have performed extremely poorly in clashes with militias (3), often simply fleeing without giving a significant fight at all. Moreover, far from protecting civilians from violence and abuse, the FARDC has been one of the main perpetrators of such abuses: according to MONUC reports, the FARDC was responsible for 53% of reported human rights violations in the first half of 2006 (4) and 54% of reported sexual violence in the first half of 2007 (5). If Congo wants any chance at peace, it needs to confront these issues that have made the national army a part of the problem rather than a means of ending the ongoing violence.

This fact has not been lost on the DRC (6) government or the international community, and numerous SSR schemes have been attempted. Much of these efforts have focused on complex administrative issues, training programs, and integration of former militants into the armed forces. These initiatives have had mixed successes at best, due to widespread corruption within the government and officer corps and a general lack of funding.

Moreover, as independent research has shown, most of the DRC’s initiatives have not been directed at the underlying sources of the FARDC’s ineptitude and lack of discipline. Work done by Swedish professors Maria Eriksson Baaz, PhD, and Maria Stern, PhD, and activists from HRW, among others – all of who conducted many interviews with FARDC soldiers, locals, and independent observers that have witnessed or taken part in the violence and abuses over the past couple of years – have revealed startlingly straightforward reasons for the FARDC’s behavior. Most soldiers do not receive pay, food rations, lodgings, or necessary equipment from their superiors, and the majority of abuses against civilians goes unpunished. This negligence coupled with impunity sets up a situation where many soldiers prey off the Congolese population, not only out of anger or for potential pleasure but also simply for their basic needs.

Clearly, such basic supply and disciplinary problems need to be solved if the FARDC is ever to become a controllable fighting force, let alone an army capable of defeating numerous well-armed and well-financed militias that have caused internal turmoil in Congo for the past 16 years. In light of the DRC’s struggles in dealing with such problems, the United States should increase its aid commitment to the DRC, focusing on efforts to alleviate the logistical woes of the FARDC soldiers. Specifically, a program that could provide the salaries and basic equipment sorely lacking among FARDC soldiers while bypassing the corruption that has hindered previous such efforts – or threaten consequences, like a cut in such aid, if significant corruption is detected in its implementation – could help the FARDC take the necessary strides it needs to become a viable fighting force. As long as the FARDC is unable to defeat the militias, the violence will continue and Congo’s development will be further stunted. A peaceful, prosperous Congo would, due to the country’s geopolitical significance, benefit much of central Africa as well, which is in the strong interest of the United States.


(1) In 2008, the IRC estimated people were dying at a rate of 45,000 per month [“IRC Study Shows Congo's Neglected Crisis Leaves 5.4 Million Dead; Peace Deal in N. Kivu, Increased Aid Critical to Reducing Death Toll,” International Rescue Committee, January 22, 2008, http://www.theirc.org/news/irc-study-shows-congos-neglected-crisis-leaves-54-million-dead-peace-deal-n-kivu-increased-aid--4331.]
(2) If Western Europe is defined as Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, then it has an area of 2,329,755 sq. km, whereas the DRC has an area of 2,344,858 sq. km, according to CIA’s The World Factbook.
(3) Perhaps none have been worse than the FARDC’s humiliating defeat at Mushake in December, 2007, in which around 4,000 CNDP militants under the command of the renegade General Laurent Nkunda defeated around 20,000 FARDC soldiers, forcing the DRC government to enter peace talks with Nkunda. [Joe Bavier, “Congo rebels retake ground, army offensive falters,” Reuters, December 11, 2007, http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L11351715.htm.]
(4) MONUC Human Rights Division, The Human Rights Situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the Period of January to June 2006 (New York: MONUC, 2006), 9.
(5) MONUC Human Rights Division, The Human Rights Situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the Period of January to June 2007 (New York: MONUC, 2007), 18.
(6) From this point forward, I will use DRC and Congo interchangeably to refer to the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: List of Acronyms

AFRICOM: United States African Command

CNDP: Congrès National pour la Défense du People (National Congress for the Defence of the People)

DDR: Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration

DDRRR: Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Resettlement and Reintegration

DRC: Democratic Republic of the Congo

ESF: Economic Support Fund (part of the U.S. budget)

EU: European Union

FAC: Forces Armées Congolais

FARDC: Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo)

FDLR: Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda)

FMF: Foreign Military Financing (part of the U.S. budget)

FY: U.S. Government Fiscal Year (Begins on October 1st)

GDP: Gross Domestic Product

HRW: Human Rights Watch

IMET: International Military Education and Training (part of the U.S. budget)

IMF: International Monetary Fund

IRC: International Rescue Commission

LRA: Lord’s Resistance Army (Ugandan rebel group)

MONUC: Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies en République Démocratique du Congo (UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo)

NADR: Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining, and Related Programs (part of the U.S. budget)

NGO: Non-Governmental Organization

PO: Peacekeeping Operations (part of the U.S. budget)

RCD-Goma: Rally for Congolese Democracy – Goma

RPF: Rwandan Patriotic Front

SSR: Security Sector Reform

UN: United Nations

UNITA: União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola)

US: United States

USAID: United States Agency for International Development

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Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: A Snapshot of the Violence

Part 2 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.

Congo at present is a far cry from peace and prosperity. Although the situation has improved from its all-time low from 1998-2003 – when the armies of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Angola, Chad, Zambia, and even Zimbabwe fought it out on Congolese soil, in what was called in Second Congo War (1) – much of the country, particularly in the East, is still beset with violence, and the estimated death toll of 3 to 7.6 million people (2) continues to climb at an alarming rate, with tens of thousands of people dying each month from fighting, abuse, disease, and starvation.

The violence is as appalling as it is prolific. Massacres and rapes have become commonplace, with militants preying of off the local populations and often deliberately attacking them to try to further their authority in the area (3). According to the UN, thousands of women are raped each month (4), often brutally, with many reports of gang rape and war rape regularly taking place (5). It is likely that the number of rapes occurring greatly exceeds the number reported, since many victims simply do not report their cases (6). Thousands of children have been abducted, and child soldiers, known as kadogos(7), continue to fight on all sides (indeed, it was an army largely made up of kadogos that current put Laurent Kabila – the father of current DRC President Joseph Kabila – in power nearly 14 years ago)(8). Civilians continue to be killed and punished in almost unthinkable ways; there have been reports of people getting mutilated, sliced up with machetes (9), and even eaten throughout the conflict (10).

It is bad enough for Congo to have rebellious militias thrashing through much of its territory pillaging and abusing the population along the way, but to have the national army itself commit the largest number of such abuses has devastated hopes for peace in Congo. Understandably, such contemptible behavior has all but ruined the FARDC’s standing in the eyes of the people, making it even harder for the FARDC to fight the numerous armed groups roaming across Congo and damaging the credibility of President Kabila’s relatively new government (11).

Some have, understandably, demonized the FARDC (12) in light of the heinous crimes many of its soldiers have committed, but it is much more useful to try to understand why such people – assuming they are not bloodthirsty monsters bent on vengeful slaughter – would commit such horrendous acts of violence.


(1) Gregory Mthembu-Salter, Recent History (The Democratic Republic of the Congo), in Europa World online, London, Routledge. Princeton University. Retrieved 09 May 2010 from http://www.europaworld.com/entry/cd.hi.
(2) Peter James Spielmann, “Review of Congo war halves death toll,” Associated Press, Taiwan News, Janurary 20, 2010. http://www.etaiwannews.com/etn/news_content.php?id=1160780&lang=eng_news.
(3) Ida Sawyer and Anneke Van Woudenberg. “‘You Will Be Punished’: Attacks on Civilians in Eastern Congo.” Human Rights Watch Publications (2009), 10-11.
(4) U.S. Congressional Research Services, The Democratic Republic of Congo: Background and Current Developments (R40108; February 4, 2010), by Ted Dagne, 2.
(5) Ibid., 9.
(6) Juliane Kippenberg, “Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone: Sexual Violence and Military Reform in the DR,.” Human Rights Watch Publications (2009): 14.
(7) Swahili for “little ones.”
(8) Seymour, Claudia, “Children Choosing Combat? Failures of children’s DDR in a context of chronic conflict,” (September 8, 2009), 1-2.
(9) Sawyer and Van Woudenberg, “‘You Will Be Punished,’” 12.
(10) Eddy Insango, “Cannibalism shock as Congo atrocities revealed,” Reuters, The Age, March 18, 2005. http://www.theage.com.au/news/World/Cannibalism-shock-as-Congo-atrocities-revealed/2005/03/17/1110913734387.html.
(11) President Kabila originally took power in 2001 following the assassination of his father, but the current administration assumed control of the government in 2006 following Kabila’s victory in a presidential election..[ Mthembu-Salter, Recent History (The Democratic Republic of the Congo)]
(12) Rowland Croucher, “Congo (DR): Church Suffering Intensely,” John Mark Ministries, February 5, 2003. http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/10649.htm, quoted in Baaz and Stern, “Making Sense of Violence in the Congo,” 58.

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Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: Stepping into the Shoes of a Congolese Soldier

Part 3 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.

Dr. Baaz’s research provides important insights into this question. From October 2005 to November 2006, Dr. Baaz, who is fluent in Lingala, a local Congolese language, interviewed several hundred FARDC soldiers and junior officers, both male and female, who had seen active combat within a year of their interviews (1). The interviews lasted 2-3 hours, and those interviewed had no time beforehand to prepare for their interviews; indeed, most of those interviewed were ordered to report to the interview location by their superiors without warning on the day of the interview, having no idea why they were supposed to be there (2).

Dr. Baaz’s work was funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida-Sarec) as part of a larger research effort on gender discourses in the militaries of the DRC and Mozambique (3), and so much of her interviews focused on subjects such as masculinity, femininity, gender roles (4). However, she also asked a great deal of questions about notions of the ideal soldier – what qualities they should have, how they should act, how they should be treated, among others – and how it compared to their own experiences in the FARDC (5).

Most of those interviewed spoke not of strength, ability to kill, or courage, but rather of order and discipline as the qualities of the ideal soldier – the qualities that they strove toward (6). Many soldiers spoke of how it was the ability to strictly follow the Règlement Militaire(7) that distinguished one as a good soldier. Indeed, some thought themselves superior to civilians because of their acquired discipline and ability to follow orders. As one male corporal put it:


“The difference between a civilian and a soldier is that we follow orders/rules
[mibeko]. I get up at 5 in the morning, put on my uniform and go to work. I do
not go to work because they will give me 1,000 FC [US$2] at the end of the
day. I go with both my joys and my sorrows and I will sit on guard until 14:00
or until the superiors tell me it is enough, I can go back home. But a civilian
could not do that. If you tell a civilian to sit guard like we do he would start :
‘Ahh, I have to go to the market’ or ‘ I have to go to Kintambo [an area in
Kinshasa] to look for somebody.’ For me it is the orders [mibeko] that make
me sit there, the rules. The civilians do not know how to follow orders. We sit
as a result of the orders of the superiors. Civilians would not cope, in that case
you would have to hold him by force [kanga ye na makasi].”(8)


Given the lack of cohesiveness and discipline in the FARDC as a whole, it seems ironic that FARDC soldiers would pride themselves on discipline to the point of considering themselves better than civilians because of it. Indeed, most of the soldiers acknowledged a great disparity between their ideal perceptions of being a soldier in the army and their experiences in the FARDC.

Nearly all who were interviewed expressed frustration and anger over the deplorable state of the FARDC in general. As the corporal above alluded to in his testimony, much of the army does not get paid. This is not because of a lack of funding on the army’s part (although, if it had more money, perhaps the meager salary of US$20 a day (9) could be raised), but rather because officers at every step in the chain of command take their own “cut”(10) of the money and equipment that they are supposed to distribute to their unit; indeed, one male sergeant interviewed indignantly remarked that he had to buy his own uniform (11). Understandably, these conditions do not sit well with the FARDC soldiers, who expressed deep resentment at being betrayed and exploited by their superior officers. Take the experience of this former kadogo, who by the time of the interview was 21, for instance:


“As we said above, a good soldier is a soldier who follows Règlement Militaire,
who has discipline and obeys it. But how can we do a good job when we do not
have anything. Here [in Kinshasa] we are hungry and at the front we are hungry.
We don’t get anything. They cheat us. … According to the rules we are supposed
to get rations, food, medical care, but now there is nothing. I will tell you one
thing so that you understand, so that you understand our situation. A few months
ago I had to bury my son. Why did I have to do that ? Because they refused to give
me medicine. He had diarrhea and fever – many days. I kept going to my
superiors everyday to get the money [for medical care] which I am entitled to
according to the rules. But every day, they said, come back tomorrow. Then
he died. I had no money to bury him and that is also something the Army is
supposed to pay for. So we put him in the morgue. I asked again for money so
that we could bury [him], but only tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
Nothing. He was three weeks in the morgue, and I had no money to get him out
and bury him. Eventually I made an illegal/informal deal [nasalaki cop moko] with
some people – with guns. I got some money and the rest I borrowed. And I buried
my son. So tell me, how can we be disciplined? They all cheat us. Our superiors
cheat us. We die and our children die. They send their children to Europe, but
our children die.” (12)


Taking bitter, angry men (and women) with no food, pay, or shelter and deploying them, armed, near a village is a recipe for disaster for any military anywhere in the world. While no one can condone or excuse the appalling violence that such soldiers often commit in Congo, it is hard not to feel a bit of sympathy for these men (and women) that are pushed to the limits of existence and still expected to maintain orderly conduct, much less obey orders from officers they rightly suspect of cheating them.

Compounding the problem, there are rarely any negative consequences of rape, pillage, or murder for FARDC soldiers. Although it is against Congolese law for anyone, soldier or civilian, to commit such crimes (13), in practice such illegal actions are rarely punished. Indeed, many soldiers expressed the need to have more severe punishments for such crimes in order to deter wavering soldiers from committing such offenses. Take this example, in which two sergeants explained how they would punish wrongdoers:


Male sergeant A: “To diminish [rapes] you need punishments, it has to be severe
punishments … and public trials. If a soldier at Zeta [military camp in Kinshasa]
rapes a woman, he should be judged there. They should expel him from the army
there, take off his uniform, put him in the car [which transports him away] and
everybody should be there to watch.”
Male sergeant B: “That will give a lesson to all the people that are there to watch
him.”
Male sergeant A: “Yes, it has to be public trials : ‘today it is the trial of corporal X’
[they should say to him] ‘Do you know that you took somebody’s woman
with force [ozwaki mwasi ya batu na makasi] ? ’ ‘Yes, my commander, I know’
[he answers]. ‘Do you know that this is forbidden in the law? ’ ‘Yes, I know.’ ‘Ok,
we will give you the death penalty .’”
Maria: “But that is too much maybe?”
Male sergeant A: “[Laughing] It is just an example. Even 50 or 5 years. His wife will
start to cry, his children will start to cry : ‘ahh, Papa’. Then, the other people who
are watching will understand, they will start to be afraid : ‘ahh, so that is the way
it is ’.”
Male sergeant B: “But the punishment also has to be severe, even 20 years. Then
people will fear it.” (14)


Impunity is a huge problem in many spheres of Congolese life, and dealing with it in civilian, business, and other areas will require a significant amount of time and resources to address the other weak institutions that contribute to it. But having accountability in the military, at the very least, is essential. The consequences of continued impunity in the FARDC can be seen in the brutal abuses committed by soldiers every day against civilians, and if a country’s own army cannot control itself, how can a stable society be expected to function?


(1) Baaz and Stern, “Making Sense of Violence in the Congo,” 60-62.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid., 61 and 82.
(4) Ibid., 61.
(5) Ibid.
(6) Ibid., 70-73.
(7) French for military rules/ military code of conduct
(8) Ibid., 73.
(9) Dating back to 2006 [Ibid., 64.]
(10) Sébastien Melmot, “Candide in Congo: The Expected Failure of Security Sector Reform,” IFRI Focus Stratégique, n° 9 bis (2009): 11.
(11) Baaz and Stern, “Making Sense of Violence in the Congo,” 77.
(12) Ibid., 76.
(13) Kippenberg, “Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone,” 18-19.
(14) Baaz and Stern, “Making Sense of Violence in the Congo,” 79.

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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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Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: Current DRC Policies and International Measures

Part 5 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.

The importance of SSR as well as judicial reform has not been lost on the DRC government. President Kabila has emphasized in several interviews (1) that bringing peace and stability to Congo are his priorities, and he and his ministers have deliberated in great length with international donors on the subject (2). According to the UN Secretary-General’s December 2009 report on MONUC, DRC courts have begun to impose harsh punishments, including the death penalty, on soldiers who commit abuses against civilians, and, during the reporting period (3), five senior officers accused of sexual violence were removed from their posts (4). In addition, as recently as January, 2010, President Kabila has laid off masses of bureaucratic officials suspected of corruption (5). Furthermore, acutely aware of the coup attempt that killed his father (6), President Kabila has created a special elite unit of around 10,000 men called the Garde Républicaine that is separate from the FARDC and under his personal control, and he makes sure that they are paid regularly and have sufficient lodging and equipment (7).

These efforts and others have had only limited success at best, though. The various ministries of the DRC government have had contradictory SSR plans and conflicting policy spheres in which to work in, while the high-ranking officers in the military have resisted reform to the best of their abilities so as to retain their authority and “self-entailed privileges”(8). Several important security-related agencies, like intelligence and border control authorities, are not targeted by SSR efforts at all (9). Efforts to combat impunity, such as the “road map” – a six point plan to combat sexual violence (10) – have not been readily enforced; as a result, even members of the well-paid and well-equipped Garde Républicaine regularly beat, loot, rape, and kill civilians (11), particularly those who are deployed outside Kinshasa and are therefore far from the watchful eye of President Kabila.

Furthermore, the various international donors contributing to SSR – such as the UN, the EU, the Netherlands, Great Britain, South Africa, Japan, the United States, China, and various NGOs – have oftentimes competed with each other and worked at cross-purposes. The Netherlands, for instance, has primarily helped South Africa with its initiatives to improve the FARDC, while Great Britain has primarily supported South Africa’s efforts to improve the police, while Japan has financed projects to improve border control and existing MONUC humanitarian initiatives (12). The net effect is a huge slew of international initiatives, many of which conflict with each other and none of which are adequately funded (13).

The United States could help revitalize the DRC’s SSR efforts by making a more substantial financial commitment to Congo directed specifically at addressing the FARDC’s logistical and accountability problems. Currently, U.S. aid efforts toward Congo, like those of most of Congo’s international donors, are underfunded and misdirected. Over the past three years (14), the United States has devoted roughly $680 million to Congolese aid initiatives (15); although this is a fair amount of money, it pales in comparison to the aid that the United States provides to countries like Israel, Egypt, and South Africa. To put things into perspective, the United States has given roughly the same amount of foreign assistance money to Congo as it has to Liberia, a country that is roughly 20 times smaller – in terms of population and area (16) – than Congo (17,18). Furthermore, much of U.S. foreign assistance money to Congo goes to emergency and humanitarian needs (19), while a much smaller portion is directed towards military and security-related initiatives, which fall under FMF, IMET, NADR, and PO in Table 1.







Data obtained from Congressional Budget Justifications for Foreign Operations, see Works Cited.



This is not to say that the United States has not understood the importance of a stable Congo and the role of the Congolese military in achieving this stability. The United States facilitated the peace process that culminated with the Global and All-inclusive Agreement in 2002 that lead to the eventual withdrawal of all foreign armies from Congo (20). More recently, the United States has contributed nearly $860 million over the past three years to MONUC (21) and, primarily through AFRICOM, has undertaken a number of its own initiatives designed to strengthen the FARDC. Through the FMF program, for instance, AFRICOM has provided the FARDC with weapons, while through the IMET program it has sent U.S. military personnel to train FARDC officers. In February, 2010, AFRICOM even began training an elite light infantry FARDC battalion that would be the nucleus of a “quick reaction force”(22) as part of its PO programs. In addition, AFRICOM has provided intelligence and assistance to several FARDC operations, including a recent joint Congolese-Ugandan operation (23) aimed at annihilating the LRA, which had taken refuge in northeastern Congo (24). Indeed, some critics worry that, far from being negligent, the United States is getting too involved in Congo’s military affairs and have expressed concern over what they argue is the militarization of Africa (25).

However, these measures, important though they are, have not contributed significantly to the fundamental logistical and disciplinary problems plaguing the FARDC. FMF provisions primarily deal with weapons and other combat equipment, not salaries and food rations (26), and although the United States has devoted time to human rights and international law as part of their IMET FARDC training curriculum (27) and has funded several ESF programs aimed to improve the DRC’s judiciary system (28), neither program has been sufficiently stressed or funded to give the United States real leverage in promoting such reform.


(1) Jeff Koinange, “Congo President on Military Rapes: ‘Unforgivable’,” CNN.com, June 1, 2006, http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/africa/05/31/congo.rape/index.html.
(2) Melmot, “Candide in Congo,” 9-13.
(3) From 18 September 2009 until 25 November 2009
(4) UN Security Council, Thirtieth report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (S/2009/623), December 4, 2009, (Masthead). (2009 Readex microfiche): 14.
(5) “Kabila Dismisses Thousands for Corruption in DR. Congo,” Africa: the Good News, January 6, 2010, http://www.africagoodnews.com/leadership/kabila-dismisses-thousands-for-corruption-in-drcongo.html.
(6) “World Briefing | Africa: Congo: Death Sentences In Slaying Of President,” New York Times, January 8, 2003.
(7) “Democratic Republic of Congo: Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) and Reform of the Army,” Amnesty International Publications (2007): 56-58.
(8) Melmot, “Candide in Congo,” 15-16.
(9) Ibid., 15.
(10) Kippenberg, “Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone,” 36.
(11) “Democratic Republic of Congo: Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR),” 56-60.
(12) Melmot, “Candide in Congo,” 16-17.
(13) Ibid., 17-19.
(14) FY 2008-2010.
(15) See Table 1 below.
(16) Data from CIA’s The World Factbook, see Works Cited.
(17) See Table 2 below.
(18) To be fair, Liberia has had its fair share of troubles as well; even still, the relative aid disparity is significant.
(19) Food Aid, Global Health and Child Survival: See Table 1.
(20) Exploring the U.S. Role in Consolidating Peace and Democracy in the Great Lakes Region, 110th Cong., 1st Sess. 6-7 (2007) (testimony of Jendayi Frazier).
(21) $270.721 million in 2008, $210 million in 2009, and an estimated $381 in 2010: see Congressional Budget Justifications.
(22) Nicole Dalrymple, “U.S. and DRC in Partnership to Train Model Congolese Battalion,” US AFRICOM Articles, February 18, 2010, http://www.africom.mil/getArticle.asp?art=4032&lang=0.
(23) The operation did not succeed; the LRA escaped and massacred hundreds of people during its retreat; see note 78.
(24) Jeffrey Gettleman and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Aided a Failed Plan to Rout Ugandan Rebels,” New York Times, February 6, 2009.
(25) Daniel Volman, “Obama Expands Military Involvement in Africa,” Antiwar.com, April 3, 2010, http://original.antiwar.com/volman/2010/04/02/military-involvement-in-africa/.
(26) According to the 2011 State Department Congressional Budget Justification, FMF “furthers U.S. interests around the world by ensuring that coalition partners and friendly foreign governments are equipped and trained to work toward common security goals and share burdens in joint missions.”
(27) U.S. Department of State, Fiscal Year 2011 Congressional Budget Justification, Volume 2: Department of State Operations, (Washington DC: GPO 2010): 187.
(28) U.S. Department of State, Fiscal Year 2011 Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations; Annex: Regional Perspectives, (Washington, DC: GPO, 2010): 47.

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Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: Outlining a Reformed, More Substantial U.S. Policy toward Congo

Part 6 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.


Until the United States makes a substantial financial commitment to the DRC – on the order of several billion dollars a year – and develops policies that tackle the core logistical and disciplinary problems that the FARDC faces, it should not expect to see its efforts yield significant progress in reforming FARDC. There are numerous ways in which the United States could increase its involvement. For example, the United States could offer to help develop a series of FARDC soldier bank accounts into which salaries can be directly deposited into, thus bypassing corrupt government officials and officers. It could also fund the creation of permanent barracks all across Congo to house soldiers on campaign and to serve as administrative outposts where FARDC soldiers could receive pay, rations, supplies, and medical treatment and where soldiers suspected of abuses against civilians could be tried. The United States could fund healthcare programs and pensions for FARDC troops.

To counter possible accusations of attempting to exercise undue influence over the FARDC, the United States could invite the UN, the EU, and other international donors to participate in its programs. In addition, to alleviate potential fears among President Kabila and other top DRC government officials about the U.S. aid making the FARDC too powerful, thereby increasing the likelihood of a coup, the United States could offer to set up special training programs or other initiatives directed toward the Garde Républicaine as a counterweight to its FARDC programs.

If its financial commitment to such programs is great enough, the United States can then use its funding as leverage to encourage the Congolese government to enact additional judicial and administrative reforms. The United States could set benchmarks for things like the passage of laws to enact harsher penalties for civilian and military rape, murder, and theft, as well as for officers who disobey orders and embezzle equipment and funds; the penalty for not meeting such benchmarks could be funding cuts. The United States could also threaten to cut funding if rampant impunity, embezzlement, and abuses against civilians persist. In addition to using the threat of funding cuts, the United States could also offer economic incentives, such as a preferential trade agreement of some sort, to further encourage the Congolese government to achieve specified objectives.

In addition to implementing significant efforts to deal with the logistical and disciplinary problems facing the FARDC and continuing or even expanding its efforts to train the FARDC, the United States should take more concrete action to weaken the rebellious militias opposing the FARDC. To do this, the United States should focus its efforts on reducing the fighting strength and income of such militias. First and foremost, the United States should work with the UN to more vigilantly enforce the current arms embargo on Congo, in accordance with State Department regulations (1) as well as through efforts to get countries bordering Congo to more readily police their borders for arms smuggling (as well as drug and mineral smuggling). The United States should also look to fund and improve upon existing military integration, DDR, and DDRRR efforts within the DRC; perhaps it could allocate funds to improve the quality of the DDR facilities that the observer interviewed in Dr. Baaz’s and Dr. Stern’s report spoke so cynically of (2). Furthermore, the Obama Administration should urge Congress to pass the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 (currently pending in the Senate Subcommittee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs), which would be a good step toward cracking down on illegal mineral smuggling (3) that has funded militias throughout Congo’s 16 years of conflict; the small “Conflict Minerals” provision in the recently enacted financial reform law (4), which requires companies to disclose procedures for ensuring that minerals are obtained from legitimate sources, is a good first step, but more substantial reform is needed.

Undertaking such efforts would likely cost the United States several billion more dollars each year, which, while significant, still pales in comparison to the tens of billions of dollars spent on Iraq, Afghanistan, and economic recovery, among other things. Moreover, if such policies succeed in leading to a stable Congo, they would greatly further U.S. interests at a relatively inexpensive cost.


(1) John C. Rood, “Rules and Regulations,” Federal Register 72, no. 242 (December 18, 2007): 71575.
(2) Baaz and Stern, “Making Sense of Violence in the Congo,” 63.
(3) “S. 891: Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009,” GovTrack.us, Civic Impulse, LLC, http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s111-891.
(4) Mary Beth Sheridan, “U.S. Financial Reform Bill Also Targets ‘Conflict Minerals’ from Congo,” Washington Post, July 21, 2010.

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Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: Conclusion

Part 7 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.

The benefits of a stable Congo to the United States are considerable. Ending the conflict in Congo would contribute greatly to stability in central Africa, since many foreign rebel militias, like the FDLR – which is made up of Congolese and Rwandan Hutus as well as génocidaires (1) – the Angolan UNITA, and the Ugandan LRA have taken refuge in Congo at various times during the past 16 years, taking advantage of Congo’s chaos and ample mineral wealth to regroup and launch renewed attacks against their home countries. Should the FARDC manage to bring lasting peace to Congo, there would be no uncontrolled, lawless parts of Congo that foreign rebels could use as bases. As the United States has discovered all-too well in Afghanistan, countries awash in chaos can become fertile breeding ground for militias and extremist groups that can carry out illicit activities, such as drug smuggling, and network with other extremist organizations, like Al Qaeda, to share techniques and even cooperate on targets and strategic goals. Given the United States’ past and current troubles with such extremist groups, it is in its strong interest to do anything it can to promote stability in chaotic parts of the world. Given its geopolitical importance and connection to other conflicts in central Africa, achieving peace in Congo is clearly in the interest of the United States, since it would not only stabilize what has been one of the most chaotic places on Earth for the past 16 years but would also contribute to the stabilization of central Africa, which in turn could contribute to the stabilization of all of Africa, which has been the most chaotic continent throughout the past 50 years.

In addition to these security benefits, stability in Congo would also give sustainable economic development and growth and development to take root in Congo, which would also be of great benefit to the United States. Should this happen, the full potential of Congo’s vast resource wealth – which up until now has been extracted in very primitive and inefficient ways (2) and has often been embezzled and smuggled illegally for profit – could be realized, which would benefit the entire world economy. Moreover, should the United States play an integral role in the stabilization of Congo, it would avoid being outflanked by China, which has stepped up its involvement in Congo as of late, most recently signing a multi-billion dollar mining agreement with the DRC government (3).

While keeping the benefits of a stable Congo in mind, it is important for the United States to view aid programs designed to enable the FARDC to achieve peace in Congo not as ends in themselves but rather a part of a greater restructured U.S. strategy for dealing with Congo. In the first few years of such programs, priority will need to be given to physical construction of barracks and supply delivery systems, such as an electronic banking account system for salaries (indeed, given these initial start up costs, the first few years could some of the more expensive ones of such programs). As these new military structures get settled in and as the situation on the ground starts to improve, the United States should be ready to fully cooperate with the DRC government and cede funding responsibility to it – perhaps benchmarks that measure progress in eradicating corruption could be a good timetable to use for this – provided that the United States still retains enough leverage, through continued funding or by another means, to ensure it still is able to have a productive impact in DRC affairs. Should lasting peace begin to settle in, the United States should then begin to shift the focus of its efforts toward helping the DRC government deal with the tasks of resettling the millions of refugees and of and rebuilding communities damaged by 16 years of conflict. Once these immediate postwar tasks are addressed, then the United States should start shifting its focus toward helping the DRC government to improve the country’s political, financial, and judicial institutions, upon which long-term economic growth can take root.

In the course of implementing such a series of more involved policy toward Congo, the United States should be wary of exercising too much influence too bluntly to avoid alienating the DRC government. After 30 years of Leopold’s brutal personal reign, 52 years of Belgian colonial rule, 32 years of Mobutu’s U.S.-backed authoritarian regime, and 5 years of occupation by 7 foreign armies, Congo is understandably uncomfortable toward anything resembling foreign control or exploitation. As demonstrated by its recent mining deal, the DRC is not afraid to turn toward countries like China – who can offer just as much aid money as the United States or the IMF – if it feels too tightly bound or exploited by existing arrangements (4).

Despite all of Congo’s daunting challenges ahead, a number of things have gone its way in the last few years. All foreign armies have withdrawn from Congolese territory; the country has its first democratically-elected government since independence; and General Nkunda, perhaps the most fearsome rebel leader during the last few years of the conflict, has been apprehended (5). These favorable circumstances present Congo with its best chance in some time to attain lasting peace and, through such stability, to embark on long-term economic growth and give its fledgling democratic institutions time to develop and take root. The time seems ripe, then, for the United States to devote significant time and money toward developing and implementing the needed policies that will help Congo take advantage of its precious opportunity to achieve lasting peace.


(1) Perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide. Most fled to Congo along with millions of Hutu refugees fearing reprisals from the RPF; indeed, it was this influx of refugees and militants that destabilized Congo 16 years ago and initiated the current civil war.
(2) “Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining, DRC,” CommDev, http://commdev.org/section/projects/asm_drc.
(3) Peter Lee, “China has a Congo copper headache,” Asia Times Online, March 11, 2010, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China_Business/LC11Cb02.html.
(4) Lee, “China has a Congo copper headache.”
(5) Jeffrey Gettleman, “A Congolese Rebel Leader Who Once Seemed Untouchable is Caught,” New York Times, January 23, 2009.

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Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: Works Cited

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