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U.N. Forces in the Congo Are Having Little Impact

U.N. Forces in the Congo Are Having Little ImpactAs a new rebellion remains active in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, talk of a neutral force, comprised entirely of neighboring African nation troops from the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), is heating up. This rebellion, which began in April, has already displaced over 250,000 residents in the tumultuous province in the last three months, according to reports.

The new neutral force, proposed at 4,000 troops, would include various soldiers from the 11 member states and would be utilized to help combat and quell the rebel force M23, led by former Congolese General and international fugitive, Bosco Ntaganda. Accusations that Rwanda has supported this rebellion with soldiers, money and weapons have remained prominent, especially in light of a U.N. Panel report released in June that claimed to find significant evidence of Rwandan support and interference in the Congo.

The new proposal for a neutral force is aimed to ease tensions between Rwanda and the DRC and halt the expansion of rebel army territory. However, why would a new army be required when the U.N. already has 19,000 troops in the area?

The problems with MONUSCO — the U.N. Stabilization Mission to the Congo — have been numerous since it onset in 1999. With a mandate that permits for 22,000+ troops, the actual number of boots on the ground is about 3,000 less than the authorized number, most of which are stationed in the eastern provinces to help in the fighting against M23.  But the issues that have plagued the U.N.’s presence in Eastern Congo began over a decade ago and have only compounded over time, as they have failed to protect the citizens in the east time and time again.

The origin of a United Nations sanctioned military force in the Congo began with a mission labeled MONUC, under Security Council Resolution 1279. The original mandate was expanded under Resolution 1291 to deploy a force of approximately 5,000 soldiers and observers to monitor the 1999 Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement. Almost immediately the ceasefire imploded and war continued for another three years. While the mission was simply to monitor the agreement, it was quite clear at the time that the parameters for a lasting peace between all nations and parties were not present.

The original mandate also included the verbiage, “protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.” Despite this offered security, an August 2010 U.N. Mapping Report lists 139 incidents in which international criminal law was violated, leading to crimes such as rape, murder, slavery and even genocide.

Eventually the mandate was expanded in 2004 and again in 2008 to include over 19,000 troops, namely to place the highest priority to addressing the crisis in the Kivus, while reemphasizing the need to protect civilians “under imminent threat of physical violence.” Once again this mission fell well short of its goals to protect civilians, as reports surfaced of massive violations occurring in the Kivus under the command of brutal warlords, such as Ntaganda and Laurent Nkunda.

Even more alarming were statements from civilians in the area that MONUC was not providing protection against the Congolese army (FARDC), while they committed crimes of their own against the inhabitants of the region.

With a long track record of blunders, ineffectiveness and indifference to violence against civilians, is it any surprise that once again reports are surfacing that M23 and local Mai Mai militia groups are committing more war crimes in the virtually lawless eastern provinces and the U.N. troops are doing little to stop them? The identified need for an additional force from neighboring countries is encouraging. However, it sounds as if this new army will be asked to carry out tasks that are already authorized for U.N. personnel.

Granted, the area the mission is asked to cover is vast, covering nearly 23,000 square miles in North Kivu alone, leaving only about one troop for every square mile. However, while the total number of M23 troops is unknown, the original number that mutinied with General Ntaganda was estimated at 300-600. Even with new recruits and claims of forcible recruitment of child soldiers, the strength of forces would not be able to match the full strength and capabilities of the U.N. Mission. MONUSCO needs to ensure that further violence against civilians does not occur by flexing it literal strength in numbers. However, in light of the limited successes thus far from these troops, how can any protection be expected by local civilians?

At $1.35 billion per year spent by the United Nations to maintain this standing army, and the lack of change that it has enlisted in a perpetual culture of violence, the U.N. may want to reassess the purpose of their troops and the protection they are actually providing for civilians. Just having the force on the ground does not mean that it is a priority for the U.N. and the history of 10+ years of service have certainly done little justice to the inhabitants of the DRC. The U.N. needs to step up and ensure that the original mandate is not only enforced, but expanded, ensuring that security for innocent citizens is provided, especially women and children. Otherwise, what are they doing there in the first place?



Daniel Donovan

Daniel is the Executive Director of a non-profit development organization that focuses on building infrastructure and training in rural Sub-Saharan Africa called the African Community Advancement Initiative ( . He has a Master's degree graduate in International Relations with an emphasis on conflict resolution and development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Coupled with his extensive financial background, Daniel also works as a consultant for Consultancy Africa Intelligence in Pretoria and the Centre for Global Governance and Public Policy in Abu Dhabi. In addition to his work at FPA, he is also a regular contributor to The Continent Observer and International Policy Digest. He currently resides in Denver, CO.