The keys to the Congolese army’s success

  • Motivated and well-trained troops, mainly by Belgium.
  • International pressures and effective logistics.
  • The Congolese army and Monusco are progressing.

Kibumba, Kiwanja, Rutshuru, Rumangabo: these are important military training camps. Soon Bunagana, a border outpost on the Ugandan frontier, will join them. For too long the names of these North-Kivu areas were synonymous with military defeats, retributions, massacres and exodus.

For the past three days now they represent the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (ADRC) victories against the M23 rebels. The press is now predicting the imminent surrender of the mutineers, even if the American special envoy continues to fear that the crisis can still cross borders.

The military offensive represents a dual political context. First, in Kinshasa, national policies are taking shape in view of the formation of a government that will be open to the opposition. Second, in Kampala, the rebels and government representatives have been negotiating for the past ten months (at Congo’s cost). The impasse had proven to be insurmountable.

The M23 military chiefs, as a matter of fact, had refused to reassign their troops to other Congolese provinces far from the Rwandan border. Kinshasa, in the meantime, under the pressure of public opinion, flatly refused to grant amnesty to the rebel chiefs targeted by international sanctions. It was time to end the impunity and the incessant cycles of rebellion.

From the military perspective, the ADRC’s success can be explained by the M23’s gradual weakening. Their troops numbers were reduced by fragmentation of the movement. Six hundred men sought refuge in Rwanda last summer behind their chief, Bosco Ntaganda, who has been transferred to the International Criminal Court.

The government has begun an offensive on several axes against this diminished enemy, forcing the M23 to dissipate its forces.  Furthermore, the Hutu M23 soldiers have refused to fight or have defected. They believe Tutsi officers were not sharing the revenues from customs receipts or from gold trafficking, which the American organization, the Enough Project, estimates at 500 million dollars.

International pressures, along with sanctions, have prevented the Rwandan army from being able to significantly aid its allies, even if recent infiltrations are still reported by the local population.

The Congolese army received a shot in the arm from several areas. The first were improvements in logistics and payment of salaries. UN rations replaced the bowls of raw beans, the only food available to the troops. There was more consistent command, less treason and less communication with the enemy. The population supported the Congolese units, elite battalions including Belgians among others, and with better than usual conduct. It was not uncommon to see Goma motorcyclists transport water barrels to the soldiers on the front.

The ADRC was also supported by Monusco, the ‘blue helmets’ and a more resolved African intervention brigade, which recently lost a Tanzanian officer. Even if Monusco is not on the front lines, it has demonstrated much greater firmness of will than in the past through the leadership of its new commander in chief, General Cruz, and of the political representative, Martin Kobler, a German fresh from Afghanistan. The UN forces could still feel the sting of the humiliation of the fall of Goma in November 2012, recalled by the M23’s defiance as they shot several times at UN helicopters.

Even with its back-to-back successes, it’s premature to declare victory. Rwanda doesn’t care if it loses its Congolese ally or access to North Kivu. It could still be tempted to cross the border in spite of international pressure. Uganda, whose neutrality is more and more suspect, could allow a new front to open up, further north where a sort of “M18” is making its appearance.

Finally, for the Congo, the main challenge is internal. If good governance isn’t reestablished in Kivu, if the Congolese Tutsis feel threatened, if the refugees are not allowed to go back home, the seeds of a new war will always be present.

Monusco and its African brigade’s credibility is on the line. If M23 is neutralized, they will need to pursue the other armed groups urgently and with the same energy, including the Hutus of the FDLR (Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda). For the past twenty years they have remained the primary destabilizing factor in the region.


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