The de- & re-construction of an incoherent institution: reform of the FARDC?

Author:Hale, Aaron
Position:POLITICAL, ECONOMIC, SOCIAL, AND CULTURAL DEVELOPMENTS IN THE THIRD WORLD - Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo - Essay


In today's 21st century where many states teeter on failure and chronic weakness it is becoming more and more accepted in the state failure and peacebuilding literature that security sector reform (SSR) is viewed as a critical step towards state reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. Dysfunctional states like Afghanistan, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Liberia, and even the former-apartheid state of South Africa have all required, and some still require, a comprehensive reform of the security sector. Within the context of the African continent, and particularly sub-Saharan Africa, there is widespread recognition that African militaries have been one of the largest eyesores on the continent in past decades. (1) In spite of a notable body of work, particularly in political science, very little attention is currently given to the role of African militaries in academic scholarship. Why is this the case? African armies, why have they been marginalized within the context of good governance discussions? Is this because African armies are no longer perceived as a threat to political and social stability as they once were? Have African states successfully contained the military threat to civilian rule? African militaries, have they learned from past mistakes and constituted internal reforms that no longer require an examination of military governance and their impacts on state and society? These questions are pertinent to an overall lack of attention paid to the military across the African continent, which is perhaps due to the idea that democracy and good governance is simply more interesting to discuss, or perhaps academicians find the military too static an institution and everything that has been learned appears to be nothing new. This paper seeks to refocus attention on the role of the military by examining post-conflict reconstruction efforts in The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the impact of reform efforts on state and society. In short, this paper seeks to address this lack of attention by academicians.

The main thrust of this paper will look specifically at SSR (known locally as brassage, or integration) (2) in the DRC by focusing exclusively on the evolution of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC). SSR is a multi-faceted process that requires an assortment of actors with skilled technical expertise that are supported by substantial resources with a broad vision of where SSR is not only headed, but also the problematic evolution of the FARDC as it currently exists.

This paper sees a professional and highly trained, fully functional, and adequately equipped FARDC as the institutional linchpin in the state's ability. to regain its footing to address ongoing security concerns. Without security, all other efforts and reforms will likely remain elusive. However, as it stands the FARDC remains the single greatest obstacle to governance and economic reforms, and current efforts have not produced the structural transformation of the FARDC that is needed in the DRC. Since the beginning of 2003, efforts to reform the FARDC have been severely lacking, (3) ultimately causing more insecurity throughout the DRC (particularly in the eastern Kivu provinces and the Ituri territory) with the effect of institutionalizing impunity throughout the ranks of the FARDC and causing widespread social disruption and dislocation.


Security sector reform is vital to the health and stability of the DRC. It has been acknowledged for some time by academics and political analysts that the DRC security sector needs to be completely reformed from top to bottom. (4)

The institutional history of the FARDC is one of un-professionalism and manipulation by not only political elites, but also military elites as a way to maintain a highly undisciplined force for narrow ends, which has been one of the main causal factors behind the state's dysfunction stretching back to independence. On the eve of independence it was the mutiny of the Force Publique rank-and-file that drove the country into an uncertain period of instability and into what is now known as the Congo Crisis of the 1960s. (5) During the 1990s it was the complete demoralization within the Zairian Armed Forces (FAZ) that led to pillaging and widespread looting by soldiers throughout Kinshasa and Kisangani that brought the country to a complete standstill. The FARDC, now former ex-FAZ, essentially was transformed into a highly politicized weapon employed by the Mobutist state to control political and social opposition to his Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR)dominated state.

Like many African states and leaders, President Mobutu in 1975 began to transform the role of the military into a domestic surveillance unit. Ebenga and N'Landu point out that "the gradual transformation of the FAZ from objective control to subjective control weakened the armed forces both operationally and organizationally." (6) An additional network of paramilitary forces and agencies provided the Mobutist state a vast-army of tools and instruments to effectively dominate the domestic sphere: The Civil Guard (LGC) under Kpama Baramoto; The Military Action and Intelligence Service (Le Service d'Action et des renseignements militaire, SARM) under the command of General Mahele Lieko; The Special Research and Surveillance Brigade (La Brigade speciale de recherche et de surveillance, BSRS) under the command of General Bolozi; The National Intelligence and Protection Service (Le Service national d'intelligence et de protection, SNIP); The National Immigration Service (L'Agence nationale d'immigration, ANI); The Special Action Forces (Les Forces d'actions speciales, FAS) which was later renamed the Special Intervention Forces (Forces d'intervention speciales, FIS) and locally known as the Owls (les hiboux). (7)

At the time of Mobutu's overthrow in 1997, former-rebel turned president, Laurent-Desire Kabila commanded a coalition of AFDL rebels (Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo) that turned out to be a loose-coalition of Rwandan Tutsi and a cadre of child soldiers (known locally as kadogos) with the support of regional allies. This period of distrust and uncertainty about the new AFDL/security service lasted until President Kabila forcefully asked for all Rwandan Tutsi to leave the country as their services were no longer needed, which immediately led to the 1996 Rwandan, and soon thereafter Ugandan, invasion. Eventually Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe along with a host of other countries would invade the DRC in 1998 and the country would morph into what has been labeled "Africa's First World War," or the deadliest war since WWII. (8)

According to Security Analyst Henri Boshoff, the FARDC is estimated to range between 120,000-150,000 soldiers, and could be as high as 170,000, while thirty to forty percent of these numbers are considered 'ghosts,' soldiers who don't exist. (9) This lack of precision perpetuates an entrenched practice of corruption and the pilfering by military elites of revenue that is urgently needed to complete the brassage process. Even so, the FARDC is bloated as an institution, and it has been acknowledged by respected organizations like The International Crisis Group and independent experts that a pairing down of the army to a more manageable force between 70,000-90,000 soldiers is more appropriate for the DRC. (10) As it is, the average rank-and-file soldier receives a meager salary between $10 and $12 U.S. dollars per month, if the soldier receives it at all. (11) The DRC remains isolated from the large scale Western assistance and resources that is required to rehabilitate and professionalize the national security sector. Furthermore, the challenges go deeper than simply resources, because the FARDC remains an extremely fragile and uneven institution with no real sense of national identity. (12)

Unlike the views promoted by political scientists of the 1960s regarding the role of the military, (13) the security apparatus in the DRC is highly politicized and fragmented, and appears so foreign to past Weberian views on the role of organizational matters. What was once perceived as a source of order is now a critical source of disorder. (14)


The literature on post-colonial African armies highlights some noteworthy patterns that help to contextualize and appropriately situate the FARDC within a largely personalized form of rule that is widely practiced throughout sub-Saharan Africa. In particular, three significant trends stand out in current academic literature: over time African militaries have been stripped of their autonomy by political elites and turned into political instruments; (15) African militaries have shifted their concentration from the classically-defined threat of external enemies towards a focus on internal elements and political developments; (16) and within the larger context of African politics, ethnicity over time has come to shape and influence politico-military decisions and the social composition of African armies. (17) In addition to these well-documented and established trends, the problematic evolution of the FARDC since 2003 underscores the growing importance and need to focus attention on widespread impunity (18) that is rife throughout the ranks of an un-professional and highly under-trained FARDC. (19)

Stripping of Autonomy

Current literature on the role of African armies refers to them primarily as unprofessional militaries that are the result of predominantly weak personal rule systems. (20) In the case of the FARDC, the state politicized the role of the military by stripping it of its autonomy while at the same time bleeding the state dry of vital resources that are necessary to maintain a well-trained and professional army. (21) Military elites were not only able to engage in political activities and prosper due...

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