Now that Laurent Nkunda is out of the picture and some other rebel groups have been integrated into the Congolese national army, what is the Congolese government’s excuse for neglecting to take care of the state’s men in uniform (FARDC in French acronym)? Consider the case of the Congolese soldiers deployed in the North Kivu province, where AFJN staff just spent more than a month. In this particular area, the harsh reality is that in every sector there is evidence of great suffering of Congolese soldiers, despite the relative end of hostilities between the FARDC and rebel groups.
In Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province, and especially in and around Katindo military base, soldiers’ families live in unbelievably poor conditions. In Himbi, a wealthy suburb of Goma, military families live in an unfinished complex with no doors and emergency toilets in their front yard, right in front of the house of late president Mobutu Sese Seko (now provincial government offices). In different localities such as Kibumba, Rutshuru, Nyamilima, and Masisi just to name a few, soldiers, their wives and children are seen on the move carrying their small mattresses and kitchen utensils to their new location at any given time. As a result of these deplorable conditions, the unpaid and hungry soldiers have become enemies of the people they are supposed to protect. In Rutshuru town, AFJN spoke with a man who was recently approached on his farm by two soldiers who asked him for his cell phone. As a pretext, they initially accused him of using his phone to talk with members of the Force Democratic for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). It has become all too common in DRC for soldiers to coerce people into giving them their belongings. The most popular items acquired are cell phones. Soldiers can then sell these stolen phones to get money to support themselves and their families. Instead of feeling secure upon meeting a Congolese soldier, especially at night, you feel uneasy because you may be encountering a thief and a dangerous enemy.
In some cases, soldiers kill those who try to resist their orders. On April 2, 2009,Radio Okapi released a story entitled “Luhofu: after the atrocities of the FDLR, FARDC harassment against the population.” The story describes the ongoing war against Rwandan Hutu rebels of the FDLR movement present in eastern Congo, and ends with this sad paragraph describing the pandemic of insecurity caused by Congolese army: “Some residents who we met Thursday morning at Miriki said they had no access to their crops because FARDC soldiers are forcing them to hand over all produce from their fields. These residents place blame on the unfortunate fact that soldiers who are deployed in this area are neither adequately paid nor well supplied, and consequently turn against the population. These people are not asking for anything more than the restoration of their security so that they can return to their work.”
The guilt for these crimes is shared by political authorities due to their failure to provide leadership. Before elaborating on the obvious, let us ask ourselves what will become of the children of these soldiers? While many Congolese children are in school, the children of these soldiers are constantly on the move, following their fathers to new places where they must experience the humiliation inflicted upon them by their leaders and an irresponsible government. Today more than ever before in the long history of DRC conflict, military generals are riding in nice private cars, buying land, building homes, and living like royalty. With a poor wage, how is this possible? From an undisclosed source, AFJN learned that military wages are often embezzled . Sometimes wages meant for soldiers are put into businesses for several months to generate profit for the high-ranking soldiers before it is given to those under their command. In many instances, a small percentage of each soldier’s pay is required by the army payroll agent as collateral to secure the next pay, that soldiers can only hope will come. Another money source for high-ranking soldiers is in the false listings of soldiers who do not exist or have died during the war. In other cases, the soldiers exist but their payroll agent, working in agreement with his superiors, withholds salaries for several months, while leading soldiers to believe that their names have not yet been processed by the national payroll offices. Additionally, high-ranking officers in the Congolese army are also making money by selling soldiers’ rations. They also are unofficially hiring young men into the army; assigning them to provide private security to citizens who need it. The salary is shared between the military officer and the private security guard who is disguised in a Congolese national army uniform. Once there is no job for members of this private security firm within the army, they are left to wander on the streets day and night harassing citizens trying to make money for themselves and those who hired them. Within the Congolese army, working as a private security guard is preferred because there is certainty of pay and it provides a bit of stability with few guards deployed for duty outside the city. Africa Faith and Justice Network demands that the Congolese government be responsible and accountable to its people, including its soldiers. Our advocacy efforts to the United States’ government on behalf of the Congolese peopleshould not be undermined by weak and irresponsible leadership within the Congo. No nation can enjoy a lasting peace and prosperity when its army does not undertake its main duties; namely, the protection of the state against external and internal enemies by defending its constitution and its territorial integrity, and most importantly by protecting all citizens and their property. It is fair to report that some government officials are aware of the issues, but do not take strong measures for fear of retribution. One of them reminded AFJN’s staff of three things: First, we are neither in times of peace nor in post war time, but still are in war time. Second, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is run by military power. Third, no government salary is enough to meet any family’s needs. Therefore, everyone must find means for survival where he or she works. As the saying goes: “he who works at a restaurant, eats at the restaurant.” Written by Bahati Jacques