Congo: Army mutinies over pay hurt peace efforts

In Africa's biggest conflict, troops have attacked a UN base, leading a UN spokesman to say that the Army risks 'potential disintegration.'

Soldiers in Congo’s war-ravaged east have attacked a United Nations base, the latest in a series of mini-mutinies this past week, reports the BBC.

"There is a risk of a potential disintegration of the Congolese Army," said a UN spokesman cited in the report.

This would be bad news. Really bad news.

The 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping force – the world’s largest – has been explicit in telling people that its mandate is to protect civilians, not to dismantle the various marauding militias wreaking havoc in the countryside. That’s the Army’s job, and it’s supposedly in the middle of an offensive against the notorious FDLR group of Hutu rebels.

Congo: deadliest conflict since World War II

So, if the soldiers are busy now launching mutinous attacks, it weakens the chances for peace in the region that has seen more than 5 million people die in the past 10 years.

Why are the soldiers rebelling?

Basically, it boils down to lack of pay.

During a recent trip to Congo, I heard it so often that it became cliché: soldiers aren’t paid enough – or at all.

Over and over again, soldiers, police officers, UN officials, diplomats, and average Congolese citizens lamented the fact that the security forces were not given enough money to live.

No pay for months

Months go by in which soldiers don’t see a single Congolese franc. Then, when pay day finally comes, they only make about $25 a month, which, they say, is not enough to live on.

The consequences are serious, as seen in the recent mutinous attacks.

But beyond that, lack of pay forces soldiers to find other means of feeding themselves and their families. They use their guns to extort money from townspeople and plunder villages, stealing food, and raping women.

In other words, the soldiers become nearly as bad as the militias.

“The Army lives like militias,” says a colonel who spoke on condition of anonymity. After explaining the various reasons why soldiers rape when deployed to remote areas (more on that in an upcoming story), he told me that sometimes they only had two cups of beans and cornmeal to last him the whole month. To supplement that, soldiers would force villagers to give them food. “We are in debt for food and we are made into liars, because we can’t pay back people who’ve given us food.”

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