DR Congo in crisis: Can Kabila trust his own army?
Posted on September 20, 2016
by James Barnett <http://africanarguments.org/author/james-barnett/>
*Despite protests intensifying with outbreaks of violence and deaths,
President Joseph Kabila has yet to call on his armed forces to maintain
order. He might regret it if he did.*
[image: Credit: MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti.]
In yesterday’s protests, 17 people were killed according to the government.
Credit: MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is in the midst of a protracted
political crisis as President Joseph Kabila manoeuvres to stay in power
past the end of his second term, which expires this December.
Kabila’s undemocratic machinations – most notably *le **glissement*
(‘slippage’) or delaying of elections due to “logistical” issues – have
drawn the ire of much of the population with frequent protests and strikes
rocking the country since early 2015.
[*DR Congo: Can anyone stop Joseph Kabila?
Yesterday, these reached a new pitch as protesters took to the streets,
angry at Kabila’s recent efforts to promote a “national dialogue” – a move
the opposition sees as a cynical ploy to legitimise *le* *glissement*. In
Kinshasa and Goma, violence
erupted as heavily armed police confronted protesters, leading to the deaths
of at least 17 according to the government and more than 50 according to
the opposition. Four people also reportedly died when the headquarters of
three different opposition parties were burnt down in the night.
With further protests sure to follow and the possibility of continued
violence looming large, it is worth asking why Kabila has yet to deploy the
military. The answer lies in a deep history of mistrust.
*Preferred instruments of intimidation*
The DRC is among the most heavily militarised states in Africa, with its
70,000-strong Congolese armed forces (FARDC) deployed within the country to
combat various low-intensity threats. However, thus far it has not been the
army that Kabila has called upon on to “restore public order” but the
national police (PNC), the civilian intelligence service (ANR), and, most
notably, the Republican Guard
– Kabila’s personal security outfit.
According to an October 2015 report by the UN’s Joint Human Rights Office
there were 142 human rights violations against members of the political
opposition that year. Tellingly, 69 of these were carried out by the PNC,
24 by the ANR, and just 9 by FARDC. The actual number of FARDC violations
is lower, however, as the report fails to note that the Republican Guard
operates outside the army’s chain of command.
Since he came to office in 2001, Kabila has steadily built up civilian
security forces, over which he exercises direct control, at the expense of
FARDC, the loyalty and effectiveness of which are in doubt.
He has built the PNC into a veritable paramilitary force, most notably in
the capital city and opposition stronghold of Kinshasa where the police
chief, Kabila’s longtime ally Celestin Kanyama, has earned the moniker *espirit
(‘spirit of death’). He has managed to effectively purchase
the ANR’s loyalty, which has its roots in the intelligence agencies of
Mobutu Sese Seko’s rule (1965-97).
And, most crucially to the survival of his regime, Kabila has buttressed
his presidency with a disproportionately formidable Republican Guard.
Nominally a simple presidential security outfit, the Republican Guard
enjoys full-division strength and receives superior weapons and training
than FARDC. The unit’s top officers hail from the president’s home state of
Katanga, an obvious ploy to ensure the unit’s loyalty.
The existence of a disproportionately sized and financed presidential guard
is generally considered to be indicative of a weak security sector and poor
governance, and Kabila’s Republican Guard is no exception.
*FARDC’s patronage politics*
The Congolese military took its current name and structure in 2002 in the
midst of the Second Congo War. As part of the Sun City Agreement
which sought to end the conflict through a power-sharing arrangement, the
largest rebel groups were incorporated into the armed forces, including the
Rwandan-backed RCD-Goma, the Ugandan-backed RCD-Kinsangani and MLC groups,
and various Mayi-Mayi ethno-nationalist militias. In 2009 the CNDP, a
formidable rebel group <http://congoresearchgroup.org/whither-cndp/> formed
to defend Congolese Tutsis, joined FARDC’s ranks as well.
FARDC thus acts as an instrument of political patronage to co-opt rivals
more than as a fighting force to provide security. By one estimate
65% of the FARDC are officers, 26% of whom are high-ranking, creating an
absurdly top-heavy organisation that begets unnecessary bureaucracy and
Combined with poor training, low pay, a critical lack of *espirit de corps*,
and a culture of corruption and politicisation that dates back to
independence – the Congolese military has attempted nine coups
<https://www.ciaonet.org/attachments/25588/uploads> since 1960 – the result
is one of the least professional armies in Africa.
Furthermore, despite pledging loyalty to the president, former rebels
brought into FARDC have frequently maintained separate chains of command.
The danger of this arrangement came to a head in April 2012, when former
CNDP rebels defected en masse and took up arms against the government,
calling themselves the M23 movement.
With the help of the Force Intervention Brigade – the first UN peacekeeping
force in history with a strong offensive mandate – FARDC eventually
defeated the rebels in October 2013, but the counterinsurgency
turf wars within FARDC
frequently hampered operational effectiveness.
Speculation remains that one of the FARDC’s most competent officers, Col.
was assassinated by rival commanders during the counterinsurgency,
highlighting the mistrust that permeates FARDC’s ranks.
Wary of another rebellion, Kabila ordered a significant reshuffle of FARDC
in October 2014. The reshuffle is unlikely, however, to have significantly
tightened the president’s grip on the fractious military. Many of those who
benefited from the reshuffle were former rebel commanders
who had remained loyal to FARDC during the M23 rebellion. But these
commanders sided with government not because they felt any strong
allegiance to Kabila, but rather because the M23’s grievances were very
specific to former CNDP combatants
In the reshuffle, some of Kabila’s fellow Katangans also secured top
commands. Such moves exacerbate the debilitating patronage which lies at
the core of FARDC’s institutional weakness. Members of the Republican Guard
reportedly even threatened to stage a coup
<http://www.theinsider.ug/breaking-kabila-elite-guards-plot-coup/> out of
disapproval of their new commander, forcing the president to hastily
reassign the general in question.
*Who can restore order?*
This week’s events suggest that Kabila will not be able to maintain the
status quo through half-hearted “dialogue”. This being the case, we can
expect the opposition to seek to resolve matters on the streets through
protests of a more frequent, widespread, and violent nature than the
country has heretofore experienced.
[*DR Congo’s electoral process is at an impasse. Here are 3 scenarios for
what comes next
Regardless of whether Kabila can fully trust the Republican Guard (and
history from Caligula
<http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/caligula.shtml> to Kabila’s
teaches us not to depend too heavily on bodyguards), the force would be too
small to confront a nationwide crisis, even with support from the police
and ANR. Indeed, reports indicate that in the latest round of clashes,
protestors managed to overwhelm police barricades, killing two officers
Kabila may thus be left with little choice but to call on the armed forces.
Such a deployment is liable to make matters worse for everyone. Given
record of human rights abuses
by FARDC in the eastern Congo, such a deployment would almost inevitably
lead to wanton bloodshed. Given the fractious state of the Congolese
military, it could also backfire on Kabila’s regime itself.
*James Barnett is currently a Boren Scholar in Tanzania, having previously
researched at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National
Defense University in Washington, D.C. You can follow him on Twitter
<https://twitter.com/jbar1648>**. All views expressed are his own.*
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One thought on “DR Congo in crisis: Can Kabila trust his own army?”
Monte McMurchy says:
September 20, 2016 at 1:33 pm
Violence breeds more violence. The Leadership Cadre in DRCongo lack
discipline which when coupled with implementing kinetic action will create
Will DRCongo become the next Syria? I most fervently hope not.
The West must impose the message strong upon the DRCongo Leadership Cadre
that any form of civic citizen violence imposed by the ‘de jure’ DRCongo
Government will ensure Criminal Prosecution under ICC aegis.
DRCongo must not become the next Syria where in Syria the various warring
factions, non of which have essential legitimacy are making life for the
people a living hell.
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