is UN in Congo beyond redemption?

23 Jul

Just over a year ago, I wrote an article suggesting that DR Congo was the unlikely source of redemption for the United Nations whose reputation has suffered greatly in that country (see The New Times 12/5/2013).

I posed the question whether the world body could redeem itself, at least in this region. The answer was yes – provided it was prepared to admit that it had done mistakes in the past and was now ready to correct them.

As you may recall, this was the beginning of the M23 rebellion in DR Congo.  The UN, because of its heavy presence on the ground, was bound to get involved.  And because of its historical blunders in the country, this was an opportunity to put things right.

Getting involved it did – by putting out dubious reports that placed blame in the wrong place and glossed over the real problems, doing nothing as atrocities were committed against civilians, or shielding the authors of such evil.

This was not the expected level and type of involvement.

The opportunity for redemption also presented itself. The UN could become the neutral arbiter, and with the amount of force and money at its disposal, force the DRC government and rebels to end hostilities.

Better still, the UN could use its organisational and financial clout to help the Congolese government reform and rebuild its institutions and extend control over the whole country.

The United Nations failed to seize the opportunity to redeem itself. It seems the organisation has not learnt any lessons from its earlier involvement in the Congo.

Today, the UN is again mired in the DR Congo, propping up an inefficient and incompetent government, standing by as untold horrors are committed against civilians they are supposed to protect and as has been reported recently, facilitating the cooperation of some of those rebel groups with the government army to commit more atrocities. Its reputation is again in tatters.

In almost every instance where the UN’s reputation has suffered, the reason has invariably been because it has gone against its core mandate and instead did the bidding of some of its more powerful members.

Successive UN Secretaries General since Dag Hammarskjold have learnt and perfected the art of self-preservation. The tenets of this art are very simple.

If you want to keep your job and life, don’t stick out your neck. Better still, be the willing errand boy (there is no girl yet) of the big boys. Inaction seems to be the unspoken rule within UN circles in DRC. It is not surprising that chances for salvation come and go and are not taken up.

But this region is generous and offers endless opportunities for redemption. The latest was the February 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for DRC brokered by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and signed by the eleven countries that make up International Conference for the Great Lakes Region.

Among other things, the Framework for peace and security recognised that the “recent crisis has created a window of opportunity to address the root causes of conflict and put an end to recurring cycles of violence”. It also recognised that “the current path is untenable”.

The Framework for peace urged the DRC government to make necessary reforms, extend its authority to all regions and to embark on reconciliation and democratisation and exercise tolerance.

Countries in the region were urged to not interfere in Congo’s problems, respect the territorial integrity of neighbours and their legitimate concerns of interest.

The international community was supposed to facilitate the realisation of these goals.

Everyone thought the framework for peace was the right way to go. Ban and his special envoy to the region, Mary Robinson, former president of the Republic of Ireland, were very enthusiastic about it. Finally here was an opportunity for redemption not to miss – for the DRC, the UN and the many meddlers from outside the region.

But that, too, has been spurned. The agreement was signed and shelved and business went on as usual.

The “untenable path” of war has been resumed. Indeed sabre-rattling has reached a new high with talk of the arrival and deployment of the UN Intervention Brigade. Peace talks have, for all practical purposes, collapsed.

MONUSCO seems to have finally abandoned any pretence to neutrality or playing the role of honest broker. It is in cahoots with various rebel groups, including the genocidal Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

Last week Rwanda complained about shelling of its territory from areas in DRC under MONUSCO and Congolese army control.

Rwanda has also reported to the UN Security Council that commanders of the much-touted Intervention Brigade that is under MONUSCO Command have met and planned military strategy against M23 rebels with commanders of the FDLR. The force has actually gone ahead to deploy its troops with FDLR fighters as the capture of a Tanzanian soldier belonging to the brigade demonstrates.

It looks like the UN in DRC is not penitent enough to earn salvation. Still, one hopes it can yet be saved – it is not beyond redemption. But for that to happen, it has to change its ways.

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