Tag Archives: peacekeeping

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.

Lull before the storm in DRC?

22 Apr

It has been unusually quiet in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of late. Is this a sign that things are getting better there? Don’t fool yourself. They haven’t for the last fifty years and won’t now unless several things happen.

First, the Congolese government must take responsibility for what has gone wrong in the region and correct it. It cannot continue blaming outsiders for its own failures. In the same way, it cannot rely on outsiders for solutions to its own weaknesses.

Second, the United Nations and others in the international community should stop treating Congo like a country more sinned against than sinning. They must show it its sins and pressure it to put its house in order. In any case they share the blame for the mess in Congo and have an obligation to put the situation right. That requires that they own up and see the situation as it actually is, not what they would like it to be. It requires respecting the lives of millions of Congolese and not putting narrow and selfish economic and political interests above them.

The silence is not about improvement in the Congolese situation. It is perhaps because the international media and their rights kin, those creatures who seem to enjoy beating war drums and then gleefully cheer as people tear each other apart and then pretend to be horrified,  have their attention turned to other areas that feed their lust for violence. Or it may be the proverbial lull before the storm. It is probably both.

While there hasn’t been much fighting on the ground lately, there is still an atmosphere of belligerence. There has been a great deal of sabre-rattling from all sides involved in the conflict in eastern DRC apparently caused by the imminent arrival of a military intervention force in the region.

The Congolese government has high hopes in the force and has felt so emboldened as to order the M23 rebels to disarm and disband. They give the impression that the intervention brigade has come to help the government fight M23.

Notice they do not mention other rebel groups like the FDLR. Is it because it has ceased to exist or is no longer a threat to its citizens and neighbouring countries? More likely, it is because the Congolese government and FDLR are now allies and the latter’s fighters have agreed to fight alongside  the government troops.

As usual in Congo, the government and the international community are living under self-delusion. Even if the M23 were the major problem and even if they were to disappear, it is doubtful that peace would return to eastern DRC. M23 is not the cause of the conflict. it is merely a response to an existing situation.

In their excitement about the intervention brigade, the government in Kinshasa has ignored the peace talks with M23 in Kampala, which shows they were never committed to them in the first place.

On its part, the M23 has been warning both the government and the countries that will contribute to the force against attacking its positions and has promised them a bloody nose if they do. They have reminded them that they have a cause to fight and even die for while the intervention brigade does not.

The M23 rebels insist that there are ongoing peace talks in Kampala which should be given a chance. They have therefore put the UN on the spot for its apparent preference for a military solution to eastern Congo’s problems, when its mandate should be working towards a political resolution of the conflict.

Countries contributing troops to the intervention brigade have also been flexing their muscle. For instance South Africa has said it is not afraid of a fight with the rebels. They obviously want to prove a point – that they are a capable force despite suffering heavy casualties inflicted by the Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic. There are, of course, other reasons for South Africa’s involvement, among them, protecting South African individual and corporate business interests in DRC.

Tanzania has been spoiling for a fight for different reasons.

Ever since Mrs Joyce Banda became president, Malawi has been cosying up to the west, and contributing troops is part of the effort to ingratiate itself to them. Besides, Malawi has a large Rwandan refugee population that includes Interahamwe, and it would not be beyond them to want to use the opportunity to infiltrate into Congo and join their FDLR confreres.

These are all the ingredients of a major conflict in Eastern DRC if good sense does not prevail and restraint exercised.

Amidst all this, the UN and the international community are making the same mistakes they made in Rwanda in 1994.

In Rwanda, they withdrew UN peacekeeping troops and looked on as the genocide was committed.

In DRC they are reinforcing an already huge force with a brigade that has been given a shoot to kill mandate. However, its role is not to protect vulnerable civilians, but to prop up an inefficient government and protect business interests of outsiders. It has nothing to do with getting rid of armed groups in, or return peace to, the region.