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Chapter 5. National Security


Kuba wooden cup

THE ZAIRIAN ARMED FORCES (Forces Armées Zaïroises--FAZ) are responsible for Zaire's national security. The FAZ consists of an army, navy, air force, and gendarmerie. Zaire also has a Civil Guard that is technically not part of the FAZ, although it does play an integral security role. The army is the most important branch; the other forces are either small (navy and air force) or marginal factors in the area of national defense (gendarmerie and Civil Guard). The FAZ totalled approximately 49,100 in 1993: the army consisted of 25,000 personnel; the navy, 1,300 (including 600 marines); the air force, 1,800; and the gendarmerie, 21,000. The Civil Guard had an estimated strength of 10,000 personnel in the early 1990s.

The stated mission of both the army and the gendarmerie is to secure Zaire against external threats, but in practice these forces mainly fulfill an internal security role and serve to bolster the rule of President Mobutu Sese Seko. During the chaotic and anarchic period of the early 1990s, this role has degenerated into occasional looting and violence against the population by armed forces elements that have not been paid. In view of the role of parts of the military (and the security services) in lootings and various mutinies in the early 1990s, it is unclear what de facto or de jure chain of command exists within the FAZ. Observers speculate, however, that Mobutu has shrewdly retained the loyalty of key units by paying them regularly. Continued loyalty on the part of at least some military and security forces is apparent from their role in suppressing political dissent and thus bolstering the Mobutu regime.

Lack of coherence in the armed forces and security services, of which there is a confusing array, is not new. For example, since the dissolution of the national police force in 1972, the National Gendarmerie has functioned as a de facto police force, and its ability to perform its paramilitary role is virtually nonexistent. The Civil Guard was formed to function as a national police force in order to permit the gendarmerie to resume its stated mission as the country's first line of defense. The interaction between these two organizations has, however, never been fully defined. As a result, Zaire in essence has two competing police organizations with overlapping responsibilities.

The FAZ's lack of coherence has at times degenerated into chaos. This situation did not start at independence but was rooted in the history of the Belgian colonial armed forces, the Force Publique. The Zairian military's lack of discipline was first displayed shortly after independence when the Force Publique mutinied against its Belgian officers. Despite the removal of the Belgian officers, and the renaming of the force as the Congolese National Army (Armée Nationale Congolaise--ANC), the disintegration of the armed forces continued.

Throughout the first five years of independence, the armed forces fragmented into several competing power centers, working for various ethnic political leaders as well as their own interests. A combination of ineffective national leadership and a chaotic political and social environment limited the ANC's ability to operate in a professional manner. As a result, the ANC was a national armed force in name only. It was not only incapable of protecting the country, but at times even threatened its existence. Only the performance of the United Nations (UN) forces in ending the 1960-63 secession of Katanga Province (now Shaba Region) kept Zaire intact.

A succession of governments proved unable to restore calm to the country until Joseph-Désiré Mobutu (subsequently Mobutu Sese Seko) seized power in a bloodless coup d'état in November 1965. From 1965 until 1970, Mobutu consolidated and expanded his power by pacifying the countryside, eliminating political and military rivals, and consolidating coercive power in his hands. Although Mobutu used the military to gain power, he did not establish a military dictatorship; instead, he relegated the armed forces to a secondary supporting role.

Throughout the early 1970s, Mobutu continued to build up his military with significant United States and Belgian assistance. Despite this effort, the armed forces, known as the FAZ from late 1971, were not much improved when Mobutu decided to commit them to support the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola--FNLA) in 1975 during the Angolan civil war. Mobutu hoped to prevent the Soviet-backed Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola--MPLA) from gaining power. Despite initial advances, the Zairian force was routed by Cuban and MPLA forces. Mobutu's bold adventure with a demonstrably weak force would prove disastrous eighteen months later, when a Zairian dissident group, the Front for the National Liberation of the Congo (Front pour la Libération Nationale du Congo--FLNC), backed by the now victorious MPLA, invaded Zaire in the first of two incursions of Zaire's mineral-rich Shaba Region. These invasions, in 1977 and 1978, highlighted the political and military weakness of the Mobutu regime, and only foreign intervention kept the Zairian state intact.

Zaire responded to this demonstrated lack of capability during the Shaba crises by an extensive reorganization of the military. This process, however, improved neither the discipline nor the performance of the FAZ. For example, in November 1984, the FAZ was unable to prevent a small armed band from the People's Revolutionary Party (Parti Révolutionnaire du Peuple--PRP) from taking the town of Moba on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. Although the town was retaken two days later, this action demonstrated that some portions of the country still escaped government control. Moba was again occupied by PRP partisans in June 1985, but government forces quickly retook the town. Reprisals against civilians in Moba after these incidents, particularly in 1984, were condemned by Amnesty International and served as further examples of the FAZ's lack of discipline.

Once again, Mobutu responded to the FAZ's poor performance by reforming and reorganizing the military. He forced many senior officers to resign, established the post of inspector general, and created a Civil Guard. Despite these changes, low and irregular pay, corruption, and poor morale continued to plague the armed forces and undermine their capabilities. The widespread political, economic, and social disintegration that characterized Zaire in the early 1990s further undermined military coherence and capabilities. As a result, the status of the FAZ in the early 1990s is uncertain.

Data as of December 1993

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