DR Congo: A conflict more than just war

DR Congo troops practice to make sure they can take on M23 rebels, but the conflict is more than just war.

It is very hard to get DR Congolese army officials to meet us, let alone film their soldiers.

The officials are nervous and generally they do not trust the international media, espcially since M23 rebel fighters captured the key eastern town of Goma in the east of the country there has been a media blackout.

So I am pleasantly surprised to get a phone call very early in the morning from a colonel of the DR Congolese army. His call was short and to the point: “I will pick you up in 30 minutes,” he says, “make sure your team is ready.”

After a week of trying to get the army to talk to Al Jazeera, we make sure we are ready to talk. We know we are not being taken to the frontline (the capital Kinshasa us about 1600km from the volatile east) but we  hope to see soldiers in the barracks training or doing something.

After the DR Congolese army was defeated by M23 rebels in the east, questions are being asked about the national army’s ability to deal with the M23 fighters and other rebel groups in the country.

We arrive in time for the morning training session conducted by government forces. For myself, a civilian, I find it fascinating. The men run around, fire their guns, climb trees and shout out orders, and work out co-ordinates.

It is as if they are on a real battle field and that they are stimulating an offensive against the M23 rebels.

There are a few mistakes- some trip, some shout out the wrong orders but they manage to put on a good show.

However, in reality they have failed dismally, they have lost towns, their weapons have been lost to rebel fighters and in some cases they did not even put up a fight.

Clearly the government forces need help as African countries will send in troops to assist.

Lambert Mende Omalanga, the government spokesperson told me: “It is a military fact we have an army that is in the process of rebuilding because we have experienced a long period of war. A army  must be disorganised when it doesn’t have new equipment, or guns or ammuunition. We were under an arms embargo for more than 15 years. So how can an army not be weak?”

It is a surprisingly frank statement by Omalanga.

The army knows it has enormous challenges, whether it can overcome them anytime soon remains to be seen.

I smile as one soldier trips and falls. His gun goes flying into the air. Accidents do take place , but had he been in an actual battle he might have been killed.

M23 rebels say they are pulling out of Goma and other towns in the east. However, I can conform army officials do not believe the rebels are sincere.

They say they know there will be fighting again. It could be in a week or a few months.

The trouble in the DR Congo, is that many believe the current conflict is more than just a few men who want to control the east, who possibly may march on to Kinshasa, the capital.

I think people on both sides of the conflict know this.

Even if the army becomes a formidable force one day with the latest military equipment, fire power and discipline – tackling the root cause of this conflict will take a lot longer.

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