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Restructuring of Congolese army produces resentment

It’s not too difficult to find Congolese army offiicers in a foul mood these days. Since January this year, the army has been undergoing a “regimentation process” during which the army has been consolidating its various brigades in the eastern Kivus provinces into 27 (13 South Kivu and 14 North Kivu) regiments of 1,400 soldiers each. The purpose has been to put together seriously under-staffed brigades whose ranks have often been inflated with fictitious soldiers (“ghosts”). In addition, the army is trying to better integrate the various armed groups that have lately joined the national army: CNDP, PARECO, Mai-Mai and FRF groups.

However, the process has been contentious. Not only has the regimentation opened up terrain that the FDLR and associated armed groups have filled as the soldiers enter regroupment centers; many of the officers who have been recently named to leading positions are from the CNDP and PARECO. The oft-heard refrain is: regimentation has allowed these groups, which are largely composed of Hutu and Tutsi, to consolidate their control over the military in the Kivus.

Is there any truth to this? Here is the initial proposal that the Congolese army had made for regimentation in South Kivu (I think similar ratios were used for North Kivu):

This was the original proposal that has since been amended for the second wave of regimentation (I think the first wave stuck to this schema).   The ratios were calculated on the basis of troops that belonged to each entity – since the Mai-Mai Kapopo and Kifuafua hardly came with any troops, they were given very few command positions. However, if you take a closer look at the affiliation of the commanders during the 1998-2003 war, you will see that a clear plurality of commanders come from the former RCD rebellion, and many of the commanders are either Hutu or Tutsi, which has angered many other communities. In addition, the CNDP and PARECO received positions according to the troops numbers they presented in 2009, and many of those troops may no longer be loyal their former commanders.    

Other facts have further stirred the coals. A provisional list of sector commanders for South Kivu proposed that all five sectors in the province be led by former CNDP or PARECO commanders (Col Byamungu, Col Rugayi, Col Kabundi, Col Mungura, Col Gwigwi). For army commanders who have been fighting against these armed groups for the past several years at the cost of blood and treasure, this has been a slap in the face.

Above all, the influence of ICC-indictee Gen Bosco Ntaganda has been controversial. According to numerous officers within the FARDC, Bosco – who is still deputy commander of Amani Leo operations in the Kivus – was very influential in the process of putting together the lists of commanders. It is not entirely clear to me how this process worked, but many regiments bear the mark of Bosco’s hand, with commanders close to him receiving important positions.

The response of senior loyalist officers to this kind of critique has been: “We need time to co-opt these other groups. We need to reassure them and dilute their influence before cracking down on their networks.” But at the current stage it is unclear whether the regimentation process is diluting the influence of Bosco and his colleagues or renforcing it. In any case, the government had to revise its lists for the second wave of regimentation after coming under fire from several quarters for a CNDP/PARECO bias. These revisions, however, also allowed some mutineers – such as Col Kifaru who recently was in charge of troops who allegedly carried out mass rape in Fizi territory (South Kivu) – to be co-opted into the regiments.

In short, the regimentation process may indeed serve to integrate former armed groups and to consolidate troops. In theory, it should eventually lead to the redeployment of troops across the country, although many groups (CNDP, FRF, Mai-Mai) refuse to leave the East. However, it appears that it is also stirring up a lot of resentment among officers who did not participate in any of the recent rebellions in the East. In addition, it is strengthening the hand of Gen. Bosco Ntaganda and his allies, which may entrench interests that will be difficult later to uproot.

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