After weeks of deadly protests against the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, MONUSCO, Mathias Gillmann, the mission’s spokesman, has been declared persona non grata in Congolese territory.
However, even that wasn’t enough to appease the furious Congolese. They are demanding that the entire MONUSCO mission immediately leave their country.
The protesters have accused the blue helmets of failing to protect them from the armed rebel violence that has ravaged the eastern parts of Congo for nearly two decades.
Time for a system reboot
It’s not the first time the people of Congo have fiercely expressed their disapproval of the United Nations.
MONUSCO has been active in several parts of Congo for more than a decade. But peacekeeping in the country’s troubled east has proven to be a daunting task.
A friend of mine once joked that MONUSCO is either a slow learner or the Congo conflict is just too complex a puzzle for them to unravel.
According to its mandate granted by the UN Security Council, MONUSCO will leave Congo in 2024. But Kinshasa could even expedite their departure after hinting that it wants to reexamine the withdrawal plan.
The ongoing dissatisfaction with MONUSCO serves as an incredible indictment but also offers an opportunity for a moment of reflection. Why is such a mission — one of the UN’s largest deployments in the world with 14,000 troops — failing so miserably?
Is M23 better equipped than MONUSCO?
The failures are systemic, and range from poor military support to a lack of local acceptance.
The head of MONUSCO, Bintou Keita, is on record as admitting that “M23 is conducting itself increasingly as a conventional army, rather than an armed group.”
In this context, her 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 admission speaks volumes. In other words, MONUSCO is saying they have been outgunned by M23 and that’s why they cannot contain the rebel’s violence. MONUSCO’s mission is not only one of the largest, it is also one of the costliest, with an annual budget of $1 billion (€972 million). But this is not reflected in the military support received by the mission.
Lack of local ownership
Apart from the constraints on military resources, the mission sadly lacks a convincing approach on how to get in sync and deal with the situation on the ground.
There is no local ownership of the mission. To date, some Congolese view MONUSCO as a foreign entity that has no interest of the locals at heart. The UN Security Council should therefore explore ways how such missions can win the affection of locals. Understanding their pain and working together with them to find solutions is one lesson that MONUSCO has so far refused to learn.
In the past, MONUSCO has been accused of a litany of human rights violations. Sexual exploitation tops the list. The mission has also allegedly aligned itself with foreign multinational mining companies in Congo.
In fact, some locals argue that watching over foreign interests has earned MONUSCO its prolonged lifeline in the country. These accusations justify the climate of mistrust in Congo against the mission. Troops deployed for peacekeeping missions should display integrity beyond reproach, and this can be achieved through careful and meticulous selection.
Peacekeeping troops from failed democracies
In reviewing the selection process, the UN should also consider the perception the locals of troubled regions have toward some of the countries that are contributing troops. “Go fix your country before you meddle in our issues,” is a mantra hurled at MONUSCO troops by many Congolese.
There is an overwhelming desire among locals for a complete and expeditious withdrawal, but the short-term consequences could be disastrous, analysts have warned.
While MONUSCO has been able to mitigate some of the violent incidences against civilians, the mission’s lethargic response to large-scale hostilities has compounded the country’s woes.
In the wake of renewed hostilities by the M23 rebel group, the UN Security Council should urgently rethink how MONUSCO can save face in its remaining days in Congo.