The Democratic Republic of Congo’s national army (FARDC) has launched a nationwide recruitment drive as it battles armed groups in the country’s restive North Kivu province.
Information minister Lambert Mende says the government wants to encourage youth to enlist in the army as part of its effort to improve security in the Central African nation.
“We need to renew our military personnel with our young men [and] young women who can serve and replace those who will retire, as any army should do,” said Mende.
“We have two types of situations - those who have served a long time, [after about] 30 years, they must retire, and those who have attained a number of years like 60. This would bring a lot of empty [positions] in the rank and we must fill it by recruiting new personnel.”
Mende says the ongoing FARDC recruitment drive is needed to strengthen the army since, he said, the government’s objective is to stop the rebellion in all parts of the country.
But, some Congolese have expressed concern that the national army has often been unable to defeat armed groups that are blamed for attacking unarmed civilians.
Analysts say FARDC soldiers are poorly equipped and not regularly paid, which they said, lowers morale as the army battles insurgents, including the M23 rebels.
Mende admits that the national army is not fully equipped, but denies that soldiers have refused to fight the rebels.
“We didn’t face any refusal by our soldiers to fight,” he said. “What we met is the shortage of ammunitions, because we were under embargo for more than 10 years, when our aggressor was being given all [the] opportunities to arm, [and] to buy ammunitions. So that is the problem we met in the field, not the problem of people refusing to fight.”
Mende acknowledged that there were problems keeping up regular payments to soldiers in the national army. He said the administration is taking steps to resolve those problems.
“We had that problem of payment not only for soldiers but [also] for all civil servants, like teachers, and let me say [even] the ministers. But, now we have put in new ways of paying salaries to everybody working for the state, including soldiers,” Mende said.
The FARDC is often supported by the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in the DRC (MONUSCO). The U.N. Security Council mandated its peacekeepers to protect unarmed civilians in the country from attacks by rebel groups.