Operation CROCODILE – The experience of Major Samson Young

Image Gallery

Article / June 19, 2014

By: Maj Samson J.N. Young

Directorate Information Management Capability Development (Military/Intelligence)

Defence Visible Minority Advisory Group (DVMAG) – Military Co-Chair.

In the summer of 2012, I submitted my name to deploy on Operation CROCODILE in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I was given the choice between two jobs: Training Officer in Kinshasa, the capital city of the DRC and the bulk of MONUSCO (Mission de l’Organisation des Nations unies pour la Stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo) HQ or Information Operation Officer in Goma, I chose the latter.

I knew very little about the DRC prior to my deployment. I left Ottawa on 17 March 2013 with the temperature at -10C and arrived in Kinshasa, at +38C! It was quite challenging to acclimatize to the heat and humidity during my week-long mission area indoctrination training at the MONUSCO HQ within the city.

The DRC has a continental size landmass. It is the largest French-speaking country in the world with a population of 67 million. It is situated at the heart of Africa with its land striding on both North and South sides of the equator. It is currently the largest peacekeeping operation undertaken by the UN – about 58 countries and 21,000 personnel. The geostrategic position of the DRC is important to the entire African continent because it borders with nine other nations. A destabilized Congo would have grave consequences to its neighbours, the African continent and the world. 

After my UN indoctrination, I flew 1,000 km to Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in the Eastern part of the DRC, bordering with Rwanda. Toward the end of November 2012, the town of Goma was overrun by the largest rebel group known as M23. Two weeks later, under international pressure, M23 withdrew from the town to Rutshuru area, about 70km North of Goma.

My British counterpart and I were the only two military personnel working at the Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Resettlement and Reintegration (DDR/RR) HQ. DDR/RR’s mandate was to get surrendered fighters from more than 25 rebel groups trained with a marketable skill and then send them home. In 2012, DDR/RR repatriated over 4,000 ex-combatants and their families back to their homes.

Part of our mission was to travel to remote villages to assess the conditions of the local DDR/RR camp sites. Our journeys brought us through areas controlled by various armed groups. We were unarmed, but for safety and security reasons, we were only authorized to travel in a convoy of vehicles with armed escorts during daylight. Since over 98% of the roads we travelled on were dirt roads (which during the rainy season become almost impassable), traveling a mere 130 km could take nearly 14 hours!

I lived in the Canada House, a rental property, with two other Canadian majors, one American officer and one French Gendarme. The house is surrounded with high concrete walls and manned by local staff. Since water is not potable and town electricity is often unreliable, we had to buy our food almost daily and cook just for that particular meal because we could not store any food afterward. All the leftovers were given to the guards and often, we cooked more food than we needed to, just so we could share it with them.

The general population is extremely poor, with many Congolese making barely $1.00 US per day. International troops have often taken on voluntary secondary duties to support the local initiatives. I took over two secondary duties from my predecessor.

The first was to build a latrine on a Congolese army camp. It included four sites of public outhouses with a total of 32 toilets to service 16,000 of soldiers and their families living on the camp.

The second was to provide assistance to an orphanage called the World Orphans Kids (WOK). Due to the ongoing civil war, there were a lot of orphans. The WOK housed over 180 children ranging from 5 to 13 years of age. These children lived, ate, slept and studied in a run-down shed built on lava rocks. The three rooms inside the shed each was the size of a regular living room that one would find in a typical home in Canada. There were only two outhouses, with no running water or electricity. The total land including the shed of this orphanage was about the size of a basketball court! As a short-term remedy, I collected donations from my brothers and sisters in arms, bought basic food items such as corn flour, rice, salt, sugar, cooking oil and charcoal as well as candies and cookies for the children every time we visited them, which was about once every two to four weeks.

My experience in the DRC has had a positive impact.  It was an eye-opener in a way that my tour of duty afforded me the opportunity to work with personnel from various countries, to travel to different parts of the Eastern provinces of DRC, and above all, to see, smell, hear and feel the suffering of people living in this part of the world.  My experience strengthens my sympathy and compassion toward the population of the DRC and reminds me to be even more appreciative of everything that we take for granted living here in Canada.

From a DVMAG’s perspective, I had truly witnessed how all personnel from all walks of life, each with his/her very different military doctrine, religious, linguistic, cultural background as well as our civilian counterparts and NGOs (non-government organizations like the Red Cross, World Vision, Save The Children etc.), all came to work together. I believe the key to a successful operation there was due to the fact that we treated each other’s diversities and differences with maturity, respect and dignity, as we were all working toward a common goal: bringing peace and stability to the people of Congo.

Date modified: