Opinion: The crisis in Congo highlights the shortcomings of the UN | Reviews | DW
After weeks of deadly protests against the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, MONUSCO, Mathias Gillmann, the mission’s spokesperson, has been declared persona non grata on Congolese territory.
However, even that was not enough to appease the furious Congolese. They demand that the entire MONUSCO mission leave their country immediately.
Protesters have accused peacekeepers of failing to protect them from rebel gun violence that has plagued eastern Congo for nearly two decades.
Time for a system reboot
This is not the first time that the Congolese people have fiercely expressed their disapproval of the United Nations.
Editor DW George Okach
MONUSCO has been active in several regions of the Congo for more than a decade. But keeping the peace in the troubled east of the country has proven to be a daunting task.
A friend of mine once joked that MONUSCO is a slow learner or the conflict in Congo is just too complex a puzzle for them to solve.
According to its mandate granted by the UN Security Council, MONUSCO will leave Congo in 2024. But Kinshasa could even accelerate their departure after hinting at wanting to reconsider the withdrawal plan.
The continued dissatisfaction with MONUSCO serves as an incredible indictment but also offers an opportunity for a moment of reflection. Why does such a mission – one of the largest UN deployments in the world with 14,000 troops – fail so miserably?
Is the M23 better equipped than MONUSCO?
The failures are systemic and range from weak military support to a lack of local acceptance.
MONUSCO chief Bintou Keita has publicly acknowledged that “the M23 is increasingly behaving like a conventional army rather than an armed group”.
In this context, his main concern is that the March 23 Movement, also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army, possesses increasingly sophisticated firepower and equipment and poses a formidable threat to civilians.
This confession speaks volumes. In other words, MONUSCO says they have been overrun by the M23 and that is why they cannot contain the rebel violence. MONUSCO’s mission is not only one of the largest, but also one of the most expensive, with an annual budget of 1 billion dollars (972 million euros). But this is not reflected in the military support received by the mission.
Lack of local ownership
Besides the constraints on military resources, the mission unfortunately lacks a convincing approach on how to synchronize and deal with the situation on the ground.
There is no local ownership of the mission. To this day, some Congolese see MONUSCO as a foreign entity that has no interest in the locals at heart. The UN Security Council should therefore explore ways in which such missions can win the affection of locals. Understanding their pain and working with them to find solutions is a lesson MONUSCO has so far refused to learn.
In the past, MONUSCO has been accused of a litany of human rights abuses. Sexual exploitation tops the list. The mission is also said to have aligned itself with foreign multinational mining companies in the Congo.
In fact, some locals say the surveillance of foreign interests has earned MONUSCO its prolonged lifeline in the country. These accusations justify the climate of mistrust in the Congo towards the mission. Troops deployed for peacekeeping missions must demonstrate impeccable integrity, which can be achieved through careful and meticulous selection.
Peacekeeping troops from failing democracies
When reviewing the selection process, the UN should also take into account the perception that people in troubled regions have of some of the troop-contributing countries. “Go and fix your country before you meddle in our problems”, is a mantra launched to MONUSCO troops by many Congolese.
There is an overwhelming desire among residents for a full and rapid withdrawal, but the short-term consequences could be disastrous, analysts have warned.
While MONUSCO was able to mitigate some of the violent incidents against civilians, the mission’s lethargic response to large-scale hostilities compounded the country’s woes.
Following the resumption of hostilities by the rebel group M23, the UN Security Council should urgently rethink how MONUSCO can save face in its final days in Congo.