"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many fears while we also sorrow with the poor

A lot of people will tell you that the first step to solving Congo's problems in the east involves finding a way to regularize, professionalize, and, most importantly, regularly pay and supply the national army. The army is called the FARDC, which sounds like a condo development in Reston but is actually the French acronym for "Army Forces of the DR Congo." In an attempt to create a united military force, part of the 2002 Sun City (the one in South Africa, not the Del Webb community) peace agreement calls for the integration of troops from the various rebel forces into the national army, along with the demobilization of both rebels and national army troops. So, troops who leave their units in this province are not treated as deserters (as they would be elsewhere in Congo), but instead are given a choice: they can join the national army, with a salary for a regular soldier of $12/month, which is only sometimes actually disbursed, or they can choose to demobilize, which starts a process of entering MONUC camps for retraining and weapons collection. A soldier who chooses to demobilize is given an initial payment of $110 and then $25/month for the next twelve months.

Guess what everyone chooses?

Fighters here are rational actors, so of course they pick the internationally-backed demobilization payout over getting paid less than $150 by the government for the year if they're lucky. The army does not always get its food supplies either, meaning that the choice to stay in the force means you will more likely than not have to support yourself and your family "off the land," a euphemism for the looting that often occurs where the army is camped.

But, Congo being what it is and MONUC being what it is, there are bound to be flaws in the process. And sure enough, this month the army actually did get paid, but they only received 90% of their salaries. Why? Because about 3,000 soldiers chose to enter the brassage process of demobilization, giving their unit names and correctly identifying their commanders when they turned themselves in to MONUC. So, quite rationally and according to plan, their salaries were removed from the FARDC payroll for the month. Turns out, though, that quite a number of those 3,000 were not actually soldiers, so the payroll and rations fell short. I'm telling you, everything – even a United Nations demobilization program – is an opportunity for revenue generation here. Unbelievable, and yet not so much. If only there were a way to apply such creativity and ingenuity to legitimate revenue-generation schemes, Goma's economy might improve.


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