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.