Military of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC)) is the state military organisation responsible for defending the Democratic Republic of Congo. The FARDC is being rebuilt as part of the peace process which followed the end of the Second Congo War in July 2003.

The majority of FARDC members are land forces, but it also has a small air force and an even smaller navy. Together the three services may number around 130,000 personnel. In addition, there is a presidential force called the Republican Guard, but the National Congolese Police (PNC) are not part of the Armed Forces.

The government in the capital city Kinshasa, the United Nations, the European Union, and bilateral partners which include Angola, South Africa, and Belgium are attempting to create a viable force with the ability to provide the DRC with stability and security. However, this process is being hampered by corruption, the near-impotence of the government, and inadequate donor coordination. The various military units now grouped under the FARDC banner are some of the most unstable in Africa after years of war and underfunding.

To assist the new government, since February 2000 the United Nations has had the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC), which currently has a strength of over 16,000 peacekeepers in the country. Its principal tasks are to provide security in key areas, such as the Sud-Kivu and Nord-Kivu in the east, and to assist the government in reconstruction. Foreign rebel groups are also in the Congo, as they have been for most of the last half-century. The most important is the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), against which Laurent Nkunda's troops are fighting, but other smaller groups such as the anti-Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army are also present.


The first organized Congolese troops, known as the Force Publique (FP), were created in 1888 by King Léopold II of Belgium in what was then known as the Congo Free State. It was first conceived in 1885 by King Léopold who held the Congo Free State as his private property, ordered his Secretary of the Interior to create military and police forces for the state. In 1908, under international pressure Léopold ceded administration of the colony to the government of Belgium as the Belgian Congo. The FP was renamed as the Force Nationale, and remained under the command of a Belgian officer corps through the independence of the colony in 1960. The FP saw combat in Cameroun, and successfully invaded and conquered areas of German East Africa, notably present day Rwanda, during World War I. Elements of the FP were also used to form Belgian colonial units that fought in the East African Campaign during World War II.

With independence in 1960, the military elements of the FP were renamed the Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC), or Congolese National Army. The new army suffered from a dramatic deficit of trained leaders, particularly in the officer corps. This was because the FP had always only been officered by Belgian or other expatriate whites. The Belgian Government made no effort to train Congolese commissioned officers until the very end of the Colonial period and there were only about 20 African cadets in training on the eve of Independence. Ill-advised actions by Belgian officers led to an enlisted ranks' rebellion five days after independence in 1960, which helped spark the Congo Crisis. After five years of turbulence, in 1965 Mobutu Sese Seko used his position as ANC Chief of Staff to seize power in the Congo. As a general rule, since that time, the armed forces have not intervened in politics as a body, rather being tossed and turned as ambitious men have shaken the country. In reality, the larger problem has been the misuse and sometimes abuse of the military and police by political and ethnic leaders.

On 16 May 1968 a parachute brigade of two regiments (each of three battalions) was formed which eventually was to grow in size to a full division.

Zaire 1971–1997

The country was renamed Zaire in 1971 and the army was consequently designated the Forces Armées Zaïroises (FAZ). During 1975–1976, Mobutu directed the FAZ to intervene in the Angolan Civil War assisting the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA)'s fight against the Marxist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). This policy backfired when the MPLA won in Angola, and then, acting ostensibly at least as the Front pour la Libération Nationale du Congo (Front for the National Liberation of the Congo), occupied Zaire's Katanga Province, then known as Shaba, in March, 1977, facing little resistance from the FAZ. This invasion is sometimes known as Shaba I. Mobutu had to request assistance, which was provided by Morocco in the form of regular troops who routed the MPLA and their Cuban advisors out of Katanga. The humiliation of this episode led to civil unrest in Zaire in early 1978, which the FAZ had to put down.

The poor performance of Zaire's military during Shaba I gave evidence of chronic weaknesses (which extend to this day). One problem was that some of the Zairian soldiers in the area had not received pay for extended periods. Senior officers often kept the money intended for the soldiers, typifying a generally disreputable and inept senior leadership in the FAZ. As a result, many soldiers simply deserted rather than fight. Others stayed with their units but were ineffective.

During the months following the Shaba invasion, Mobutu sought solutions to the military problems that had contributed to the army's dismal performance. He implemented sweeping reforms of the command structure, including wholesale firings of high-ranking officers. He merged the military general staff with his own presidential staff and appointed himself chief of staff again, in addition to the positions of minister of defense and supreme commander that he already held. He also redeployed his forces throughout the country instead of keeping them close to Kinshasa, as had previously been the case. The Kamanyola Division, at the time considered the army's best formation, and considered the president's own, was assigned permanently to Shaba. In addition to these changes, the army's strength was reduced by 25 percent. Also, Zaire's allies provided a large influx of military equipment, and Belgian, French, and American advisers assisted in rebuilding and retraining the force.

The army's structure changed during Mobotu's long rule, but as of July 1975, according to the IISS Military Balance, the FAZ was made up of 14 infantry battalions, seven "Guard" battalions, and seven other infantry battalions variously designated as "parachute" (or possibly "commando"; probably the units of the new parachute brigade originally formed in 1968). There were also an armored car regiment and a mechanized infantry battalion. Organizationally, the army was made up of seven brigade groups and one parachute division. In addition to these units, a tank battalion was reported to have formed by 1979.

The poor state of discipline of the Congolese forces became apparent again in 1990. Foreign military assistance to Zaire ceased following the end of the Cold War and Mobutu deliberately allowed the military's condition to deteriorate so that it did not threaten his hold on power. Protesting low wages and lack of pay, paratroopers began looting Kinshasa in September 1991 and were only stopped after intervention by French ('Operation Baumier') and Belgian ('Operation Blue Beam') forces.

In 1993, according to the Library of Congress Country Studies, the 25,000-member FAZ ground forces consisted of one infantry division (with three infantry brigades); one airborne brigade (with three parachute battalions and one support battalion); one special forces (commando/counterinsurgency) brigade; the Special Presidential Division; one independent armored brigade; and two independent infantry brigades (each with three infantry battalions, one support battalion). These units were deployed throughout the country, with the main concentrations in Shaba Region (approximately half the force). The Kamanyola Division, consisting of three infantry brigades operated generally in western Shaba Region; the 21st Infantry Brigade was located in Lubumbashi; the 13th Infantry Brigade was deployed throughout eastern Shaba; and at least one battalion of the 31st Airborne Brigade stayed at Kamina. The other main concentration of forces was in and around Kinshasa: the 31st Airborne Brigade was deployed at Ndjili Airport on the outskirts of the capital; the Special Presidential Division (DSP) resided adjacent to the presidential compound; and the 1st Armored Brigade was at Mbanza-Ngungu (in Bas-Congo, approximately 120 kilometers southwest of Kinshasa). Finally the 41st Commando Brigade was at Kisangani.

This superficially impressive list of units overstates the actual capability of the armed forces at the time. Apart from privileged formations such as the Presidential Division and the 31st Airborne Brigade, most units were poorly trained, divided and so badly paid that they regularly resorted to looting. What operational abilities the armed forces had were gradually destroyed by politicisation of the forces, tribalisation, and division of the forces, included purges of suspectedly disloyal group, intended to allow Mobutu to divide and rule. All this occurred against the background of increasing deterioration of state structures under the kleptocratic Mobutu regime.

Mobutu's overthrow and after

Much of the origins of the recent conflict in what is now the DRC stems from the turmoil following Rwandan Genocide of 1994, which then led to the Great Lakes refugee crisis. Within the largest refugee camps, beginning in Goma in Nord-Kivu, were Rwandan Hutu fighters, increasingly well-organised, who were launching attacks into Rwanda. Rwanda eventually backed Laurent-Desire Kabila and his quickly organised Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo in invading Zaire, aiming to stop the attacks on Rwanda in the process of toppling Mobutu's government. When the militias rebelled, backed by Rwanda, the FAZ, weakened as is noted above, proved incapable of mastering the situation and preventing the overthrow of Mobutu in 1997. When Kabila took power in 1997, the country was renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo and so the name of the national army changed once again. By 1998, formations on the outbreak of the Second Congo War included the 50th Brigade, headquartered at Camp Kokolo in Kinshasa, and the 10th Brigade — one of the best and largest units in the army — stationed in Goma, as well as the 12th Brigade in Bukavu. The declaration of the 10th Brigade's commander that he no longer recognised Kabila as the state's president was one of the factors in the beginning of the Second Congo War.

The FARDC performed poorly throughout the Second Congo War and "demonstrated little skill or recognisable military doctrine". At the outbreak of the war in 1998 the Army was ineffective and the DRC Government was forced to rely on assistance from Angola, Chad, Namibia and Zimbabwe. As well as providing expeditionary forces, these countries unsuccessfully attempted to retrain the DRC Army. North Korea and Tanzania also provided assistance with training. During the first year of the war the Allied forces defeated the Rwandan force which had landed in Bas-Congo and the rebel forces south-west of Kinshasa and eventually halted the rebel and Rwandan offensive in the east of the DRC. These successes contributed to the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement which was signed in July 1999. In November 1999 the Government attempted to form a 20,000-strong paramilitary force designated the People's Defence Forces. This force was intended to support the FARDC and national police but never became effective.

The Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement was not successful in ending the war, and fighting resumed in September 1999. The FARDC's performance continued to be poor and both the major offensives the Government launched in 2000 ended in costly defeats. President Kabila's mismanagement was an important factor behind the FARDC's poor performance, with soldiers frequently going unpaid and unfed while the Government purchased advanced weaponry which could not be operated or maintained. The defeats in 2000 are believed to have been the cause of President Kabila's assassination in January 2001. Following the assassination Joseph Kabila assumed the presidency and was eventually successful in negotiating an end to the war in 2003. Much of the east of the country remains insecure, however. In the far northeast this is due primarily to the Ituri conflict. In the area around Lake Kivu, primarily in Nord-Kivu, fighting continues among the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and between the government FARDC and Laurent Nkunda's troops, with all groups greatly exacerbating the issues of internal refugees in the area of Goma, the consequent food shortages, and loss of infrastructure from the years of conflict.

Current organisation

The President, Major General Joseph Kabila is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Chikez Diemu, Minister of Defence, Disarmament, and Veterans (Ancien Combattants), with the French acronym MDNDAC, succeeded the former Defence Minister Adolphe Onusumba Yemba (of RCD-G) in February 2007.

The Colonel Tshatshi Military Camp in the Kinshasa suburb of Ngaliema hosts the defense department and the Chiefs of Staff central command headquarters of the FARDC. There are no local defence industries.

Below the Chief of Staff, the current organisation of the FARDC is not fully clear. However, it is known to be broken up into the Army, Navy and Air Force, which are distributed around ten military regions following the ten provinces of the country. The numberings in the chart below however may not be completely accurate as re-designations have occurred. Military regional commanders were deployed around the country in 2003 as the first move in military reform, superimposed on top of the various groups of fighters, government and former rebels.

Chiefs of Staff

  • 1960 - ?: Major General Victor Lundula (promoted in one leap from sergeant-major to major general on the formation of ANC)
  • Early 1960s (1964–1965): Joseph-Desire Mobutu
  • November 1965 to at least 1972: General Louis Bobozo, Commandant en chef de l’Armée nationale congolaise. Bobozo was a Major General in 1965 and appears to have been a full General by 1972.
  • 1970s – circa 1990: unknown
  • 1991–1993 : General Mahele Lioko Bokoungo, Chief of Staff of the Forces Armées Zaïroises
  • 1993–1996 : General Eluki Monga Aundu (February 1993 – 20 November 1996)
  • 1996–1997 : General Marc Mahélé Lièko Bokungu (assassinated 16 May 1997)
  • 1997–1998 : James Kabarebe, Chef d'état-major des FAC, until July 1998.
  • 16 July 1998 – 15 August 1998: Célestin Kifwa
  • August 1998–2001? : Joseph Kabila (given rank of Major General, but has no military training)
  • 2001–2004 : Admiral Baudouin Liwanga Mata Nyamuniobo
  • 2004–2007 : Général de division Kisempia Sungilanga Lombe, Chef d’état-major des forces armées
  • June 2007 : Lieutenant General Dieudonné Kayembe Mbandakulu, former DEMIAP director

Command structure as of January 2005

  • FARDC chief of staff: Major General Sungilanga Kisempia (PPRD)
  • FARDC land forces chief of staff: General Sylvain Buki (RCD-G)
  • FARDC navy chief of staff: General Major Amuli Bahigwa (MLC)
  • FARDC air force chief of staff: Brigadier General Bitanihirwa Kamara (MLC)
  • 1st Military Region/Bandundu: Brigadier General Moustapha Mukiza (MLC)
  • 2nd Military Region/Bas-Congo: .Unknown
  • 3rd Military Region/Equateur: Brigadier-General Mulubi Bin Muhemedi (PPRD)
  • 4th Military Region/Kasai-Occidental: Brigadier-General Sindani Kasereka (RCD-K/ML)
  • 5th Military Region/Kasai Oriental: General Rwabisira Obeid (RCD)
  • 6th Military Region/Katanga: Brigadier-General Nzambe Alengbia (MLC)
  • 7th Military Region/Maniema: Brigadier-General Widi Mbulu Divioka (RCD-N)
  • 8th Military Region/North Kivu: General Gabriel Amisi (RCD)
  • 9th Military Region/Province Orientale: Major-General Bulenda Padiri (Mayi-Mayi)
  • 10th Military Region/South Kivu: Major Mbuja Mabe (PPRD)

Land forces

The land forces are made up of about 14 integrated brigades, of fighters from all the former warring factions which have gone through an brassage integration process (see next paragraph), and a not-publicly known number of non-integrated brigades which remain solely made up from single factions (the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD)'s Armee National Congolaise, the ex-government former Congolese Armed Forces (FAC), the ex-RCD KML, the ex-Movement for the Liberation of Congo, the armed groups of the Ituri conflict (the Mouvement des Révolutionnaires Congolais (MRC), Forces de Résistance Patriotique d’Ituri (FRPI) and the Front Nationaliste Intégrationniste (FNI)) and the Mai-Mai).

The reform plan adopted in 2005 envisaged the formation of eighteen integrated brigades through the brassage process as its first of three stages. The process consists firstly of regroupment, where fighters are disarmed. Then they are sent to orientation centres, run by the National Commission for Demobilisation and Reinsertion (CONADER), where fighters take the choice of either returning to civilian society or remaining in the armed forces. Combatants who choose demobilisation receive an initial cash payment of US $110. Those who choose to stay within the FARDC are then transferred to one of six integration centres for a 45-day training course, which aims to build integrated formations out of factional fighters previously heavily divided along ethnic, political and regional lines. The centres are spread out around the country at Kitona, Kamina, Kisangani, Rumangabo and Nyaleke (within the Virunga National Park) in Nord-Kivu, and Luberizi (on the border with Burundi) in South Kivu. The process has suffered severe difficulties due to construction delays, administration errors, and the amount of travel former combatants have to do, as the three stages' centres are widely separated. Following the first 18 integrated brigades, the second goal is the formation of a ready reaction force of two to three brigades, and finally, by 2010 when MONUC is anticipated to have withdrawn, the creation of a Main Defence Force of three divisions.

Amid the other difficulties in building new armed forces for the DRC, in early 2007 the integration and training process was distorted as the DRC government under Kabila attempted to use it to gain more control over the dissident general Laurent Nkunda. A hastily-negotiated verbal agreement in Rwanda saw three government FAC brigades integrated with Nkunda's former ANC 81st and 83rd Brigades in what was called mixage. Mixage brought multiple factions into composite brigades, but without the 45-day retraining provided by brassage, and it seems that actually, the process was limited to exchanging battalions between the FAC and Nkunda brigades in North Kivu, without further integration. Due to Nkunda's troops having greater cohesion, Nkunda effectively gained control of all five brigades - not what the DRC central government had been hoping! However after Nkunda used the mixage brigades to fight the FDLR, strains arose between the FARDC and Nkunda-loyalist troops within the brigades and they fell apart in the last days of August 2007. The International Crisis Group says that 'by 30 August [2007] Nkunda's troops had left the mixed brigades and controlled a large part of the Masisi and Rutshuru territories' (of North Kivu).

Both formally integrated brigades and the non-integrated units continue to conduct arbitrary arrests, rapes, robbery, and other crimes and these human rights violations are "regularly" committed by both officers and members of the rank and file. Members of the Army also often strike deals to gain access to resources with the militias they are meant to be fighting.

The various brigades and other formations and units number at least 100,000 troops. The status of these brigades has been described as "pretty chaotic" and there is no reliable information available on whether they resemble normal brigades in strength (brigades typically have a strength of 3000 to 5000 personnel).

Known integrated brigades

  • 1st Brigade (integrated), human rights reports in April and August 2007 place the Brigade in the Mahagi territory, Ituri area, Orientale.
  • 2nd Brigade (integrated), Butembo, North Kivu, 28 July 2007
  • 3rd Brigade (integrated), Bukavu area, late March 2007 (now 101st Brigade)
  • 4th Brigade (integrated), elements reported at Lopa, Ituri area, 24–25 July 2007
  • 5th Brigade (integrated), previously stationed in North Kivu but now at Kananga, Kasai-Occidental
  • 6th Brigade (integrated), Jiba, Ituri area, Orientale, May 2007 Ordered to leave Ituri for North Kivu for offensive against Laurent Nkunda, June 2007.
  • 7th Brigade (integrated), finished forming Kitona March 2006. Stationed in Kinshasa August 2006. Elements of this brigade at Bolobo, Bandundu province, May 2007.
  • 8th Brigade (integrated), elements at Luberizi & Luvungi, in South Kivu
  • 9th Brigade (integrated), North Kivu
  • 10th Brigade (integrated), Gemena, Equateur
  • 12th Brigade (integrated), HQ at Baraka, DRC, South Kivu
  • 13th Brigade (integrated), Marabo, North Kivu, mid June 2007. Second battalion of this brigade in process of formation near Bunia mid August 2007.
  • 14th Brigade (integrated), Kalima, South Kivu, May 2007, now numbered 105th Brigade. Africa Confidential reported in January 2008 that the brigade was a part of a 25,000 strong government attack on 4,000 of Laurent Nkunda's soldiers in December 2007, but was beaten back, with the loss of its 'entire arms and equipment.'
  • 15th Brigade (integrated) (waiting for deployment as of May 30, 2007, with 2,837 men assigned. Ordered to leave Kisangani for North Kivu for offensive against Laurent Nkunda, June, and then routed by Nkunda troops in the Sake area, early September 2007.
  • 16th and 17th Brigades (integrated)(beginning 'brassage' integration process as of May 30, 2007, both over 4,000 strong at the beginning of the process)
  • 18th Brigade
  • 103rd Brigade (integrated)—previously designated 11th Brigade. Elements reported at Walungu, 110 km SW of Bukavu, South Kivu in the course of rape allegation 27 March 2007.


Attempting to list the equipment available to the DRC's land forces is difficult; most figures are unreliable estimates based on known items delivered in the past. The IISS's Military Balance 2007 and's Concise World Armies 2005 give only slightly differing figures however (the figures below are from the IISS Military Balance 2007). Much of the Army's equipment is non-operational due to insufficient maintenance—in 2002 only 20 percent of the Army's armoured vehicles were estimated as being serviceable.

Republican Guard

In addition to the other land forces, President Joseph Kabila also has a Republican Guard presidential force, formerly known as the Special Presidential Security Group (GSSP). FARDC military officials state that the Garde Républicaine is not the responsibility of FARDC, but the Head of State. Apart from Article 140 of the Law on the Army and Defence, no legal stipulation on the DRC's Armed Forces makes provision for the GR as a distinct unit within the national army. In February 2005, President Joseph Kabila passed a decree which appointed the GR's commanding officer and 'repealed any previous provisions contrary' to that decree. The GR is more than 10,000 strong (the ICG said 10,000–15,000 in January 2007), and has better working conditions and is paid regularly, but still commits rapes and robberies nearby their bases.

In an effort to extend his personal control across the country, Joseph Kabila has deployed the GR at key airports, ostensibly in preparation for an impending presidential visit. At the end of 2005, there were Guards deployed in Mbandaka, Kindu, Lubumbashi, Bukavu, Kolwezi, staying many months after the President had left. They are still deployed at Kisangani's Bangoka airport, where they appear to answer to no local commander and have caused trouble with MONUC troops there.

The GR is also supposed to undergo the integration process, but as of January 2007, only one battalion had been announced as been integrated. Formed at a brassage centre in the Kinshasa suburb of Kibomango, the battalion included 800 men, half from the former GSSP and half from the MLC and RCD Goma.

Other forces active in the country

There are currently large numbers of United Nations troops stationed in the DRC. The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) currently has a strength of over 16,000 peacekeepers and has a mission of assisting Congolese authorities maintain security. The UN and foreign military aid missions, the most prominent being EUSEC DR Congo, are attempting to assist the Congolese in rebuilding the armed forces, with major efforts being made in trying to assure regular payment of salaries to armed forces personnel and also in military justice.

Groups of anti-Rwandan government rebels like the FDLR, and other foreign fighters remain inside the DRC. The FDLR which is the greatest concern, is some 6,000 strong, as of July 2007, while the other groups are smaller: the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army, the Ugandan rebel group the Allied Democratic Forces, in the remote area of Mt Rwenzori, and the Burundian Parti pour la Libération du Peuple Hutu—Forces Nationales de Liberation (PALIPEHUTU-FNL).

Finally there is a government paramilitary force, created in 1997 under President Laurent Kabila. The National Service is tasked with providing the army with food and with training the youth in a range of reconstruction and developmental activities'. There is not much further information available, and no internet-accessible source details the relationship of the National Service to other armed forces bodies; it is not listed in the constitution. President Kabila, in one of the few comments available, says National Service will provide a gainful activity for street children.

Air Force

All military aircraft in the DRC are operated by the Air Force. Jane's World Air Forces states that the Air Force has an estimated strength of 1,800 personnel and is organised into two Air Groups. These Groups command five wings and nine squadrons, of which not all are operational. 1 Air Group is located at Kinshasa and consists of Liaison Wing, Training Wing and Logistical Wing and has a strength of five squadrons. 2 Tactical Air Group is located at Kaminia and consists of Pursuit and Attack Wing and Tactical Transport Wing and has a strength of four squadrons. Foreign private military companies have reportedly been contracted to provide the DRC's aerial reconnaissance capability using small propeller aircraft fitted with sophisticated equipment. Jane's states that People's Air and Air Defence Force of Angola fighter aircraft would be made available to defend Kinshasa if it came under attack.

Like the other services, the Congolese Air Force is not capable of carrying out its responsibilities. Few of the Air Force's aircraft are currently flyable or capable of being restored to service and it is unclear whether the Air Force is capable of maintaining even unsophisticated aircraft. Moreover, Jane's states that the Air Force's Ecole de Pilotage is 'in near total disarray' though Belgium has offered to restart the Air Force's pilot training program.


The 2002 edition of Jane's Sentinel described the Navy as being "in a state of near total disarray" and stated that it did not conduct any training or have operating procedures. The Navy shares the same discipline problems as the other services. It was initially placed under command of the MLC when the transition began: the current situation is uncertain.

The 2007 edition of Jane's Fighting Ships states that the Navy is organised into four commands, based at Matadi, near the coast; the capital Kinshasa, further up the Congo river; Kalemie, on Lake Tanganyika; and Goma, on Lake Kivu.

The IISS, in its 2007 edition of the Military Balance, confirms the bases listed in Jane's and adds a fifth base at Boma, a coastal city near Matadi.

Various sources also refer to numbered Naval Regions. Operations of the 1st Naval Region have been reported in Kalemie, the 4th near the northern city of Mbandaka, and the 5th at Goma.

The IISS lists the Navy at 1,000 personnel and a total of eight patrol craft, of which only one is operational, a Shanghai II Type 062 class gunboat designated "102". There are five other 062s as well as two Swiftships which are not currently operational, though some may be restored to service in the future. According to Jane's, the Navy also operates barges and small craft armed with machine guns.

References and notes


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