What You Need To Know:
As MONUSCO, the UN’s 20-year-long failed mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo ended its operations late last year, a new force hailing from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has set its first pair of boots on the ground in the region.
The nation’s eastern regions, particularly Ituri, North and South Kivu have been embroiled in conflict since 1996, resulting in some six million deaths. A resurgence of rebel activity in 2022, mainly involving the March 23 Rebellion, (M23) has displaced approximately 6.1 Million civilians, triggering “one of the world’s most complex humanitarian disasters”, according to the UN Refugee Commission.
A New Intervention Force:
The Southern African Development Community Mission in The Democratic Republic of the Congo or SAMIDRC, utilises forces from Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa in conjunction with elements of the Congo-Brazzaville and Congo-Kinshasa Armed Forces. The Mission, led by South Africa’s Major General Monwabisi Dyakopu remains in accordance with a 2003 SADC Mutual Defence Pact, which states “Any armed attack perpetrated against one of the States Parties shall be considered a threat to regional peace and security and shall be met with immediate collective action.”
A Hard Task Ahead: Manpower, Resources, Hardware
SAMIDRC’s main directive is to reduce the threat posed by various rebel groups operating in the region, specifically M23, something which the East African Community Regional Force and the United Nations failed to do in 20 years. Insurgencies in Africa have historically proven immensely difficult to defend against. Vulnerable communities enable insurgents to entangle themselves with the local population leading to violence enacted from within as well as violence perpetrated by security forces unable to distinguish civilian from insurgent.
Furthermore, expansive jungle terrain provides optimal cover for insurgents on the move. During the drawdown of the MONUSCO mission, reports noted that extensive air support would be vital to the success of any counterinsurgency operation that follows. According to Thomas Mandrup, an African security expert from Stellenbosch University, the SADF has only one operational C-130 transport aircraft, and just eight helicopters (five Oryx, three Rooivalk) to cover all domestic and international missions.
Aside from the lack of hardware, many experts have raised the question of resources and manpower concerning South Africa’s large task in the DRC. During the Defence Budget vote in May 2022, Minister Thandi Modise stated, “The decline in the performance of the South African economy has placed significant pressure on the Government and households. It is becoming difficult to adequately meet all competing needs – this is fertile ground for instability. The historical downward trend in the Defence Allocation has not abated. It is likely to continue to the detriment of the SADF and the demise of the defence industry.”
Furthermore, Mandrup claims increasing deployments both domestically and internationally, without a steady influx of recruits has caused the reserve force to become increasingly relied upon to augment SADF ranks. Currently, the average age of a SADF reservist is 46 years old.
Additionally, South Africa is still facing rolling blackouts due to decades of power infrastructure neglect. Power outages were in effect for 79% of 2023, making it the worst year for load shedding on record.
Thus, various questions are raised regarding South Africa’s true operational capabilities to lead such an intervention force, in a region facing incursions from as many as 120 militias and coupled with an increasingly severe humanitarian crisis.