Military side-income

Security personnel in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are involved in a wide range of income-generating activities. These can be small scale, like the petty trade in cigarettes, or they can be big business, like the import/export trade. What consequences do these activities have for civilians? How are they affected and how do they respond?

This is what NAI researcher Judith Verweijen is looking into, most recently in relation to the naval forces and fishermen on Lake Albert.

Every day the fishermen have to give part of their catch to the marines. This taxation is thoroughly organised, and the soldiers’ wives are involved in trading the fish.
– Most fishermen don’t question the taxation itself, a practice that has become normalised, but they do complain about the lack of service in return, says Judith Verweijen.

The lake is on the border between Uganda and the DRC, and Ugandan riverine units patrol the waters to combat illegal fishing. According to Congolese fishermen, these patrols often cross into the Congolese territorial waters, and then pillage their catches or nets. In other cases, fishermen end up on the Ugandan side, as the border is not visible in the lake’s waters. Unfortunately, the Congolese marines do little to help them when such pillage happens, as they are not provisioned with fuel for conducting patrols.

Civilians are not only victims of military income-generating activities. In fact, many also benefit from them.   Most of the fishing techniques practiced on the lake are illegal, and if one pays the military, they turn a blind eye. Some civilians also work directly for the navy, which provides them with illegal fishing nets. The navy also permits the traffic of goods at night, enabling them to avoid customs duties.

– From all these activities, the navy generates a lot of income, but the lion’s share ends up in the pockets of high-ranking officers, including the hierarchy in Goma and Kinshasa. This is also why so little is being done to tackle military trafficking and illicit taxation, says Judith Verweijen.

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