Article written

  • on 17.03.2015
  • at 03:26 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Peacekeepers in Congo: Changing the Mandate 0

Members of the United Nations Security Council will convene this Thursday in New York to discuss the performance of MONUSCO – the peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo – and ultimately renew its mandate. With tensions rising in the central African country, it is pivotal that the peacekeepers are given a clear mandate that accounts for the latest developments and the failures of the past year.

Protection of Civilians and the Force Intervention Brigade

The principal objective of MONUSCO is the protection of civilians. After the debacle of losing the provincial capital of Goma to the M23 rebels in late 2012, the Council had authorized the deployment of a 3,000-man strong Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) to neutralise armed groups. Its track-record over the past two years is mixed. While it helped the Congolese army defeat the M23, it was sidelined in fighting the ADF rebels, manipulated in confronting the APCLS rebel groups, and made to believe that it could yield substantial results battling the NDC rebels (when it could not).

For two years in a row, the Security Council has given the FIB explicit authority to undertake unilateral action against armed groups when deemed appropriate and necessary. What many forget, however, is that any unilateral action is unlikely to be politically expedient. Going into war alone would delineate and strain the relationship with the Congolese government. This is one of the reasons why the mission has so far abstained from using its full power, trying to balance its already tense relationship with Kinshasa, which maintains its sovereign right to launch unilateral operations (as has recently been the case against the FDLR rebels).

Despite this political reality, the Council will likely copy-and-paste the language from last year’s mandate, simply to give the mission a bargaining chip in further discussions with the government. Nonetheless, it is important to remember the limits of MONUSCO’s military engagement. As one member of the mission’s leadership admitted to me: “Militarily speaking, unilateral operations are nonsense. We can clear an area [of rebels] but we need the government to hold and build it.”

MONUSCO has largely been sceptical of unilateral action and failed to see its necessity in autumn last year when a spree of brutal machete attacks killed hundreds of people. MONUSCO should have acted unilaterally when it became increasingly clear that elements of the Congolese government and military might be complicit in these attacks, be it by commission or omission. As weeks passed, MONUSCO did not just fail to act unilaterally, it failed to act in a meaningful way altogether, partially because the FIB is not fully integrated into the wider MONUSCO structure.

Contrary to a widely held belief and public statements by the mission’s leadership, the FIB and the rest of MONUSCO’s military – the so-called ‘Framework Forces’ – are two distinct entities. Denying this fact has already hampered information-sharing and overall coordination, to the detriment of military operations.

Worse, the lack of unity has led members of the FIB to believe that they are deployed solely to do the “dirty job,” leaving the “soft stuff with civilians” to the “other MONUSCO,” as one FIB officer remarked to me. The framework forces, in turn, are increasingly tempted to outsource military engagement to the FIB, even when an incident is simply related to petty crime. As a result, it is sometimes unclear who is responsible for the protection of civilians (the core task of the mission.)

This, however, does not suggest that troop-contributing countries of the FIB truly honor their commitment to neutralise armed groups and ultimately protect civilians. Due to a combination of geopolitical interests and a lack of political will, the engagement of the troop contributing countries (Malawi, South Africa, and Tanzania) has gradually declined since the demise of M23. The Council should press these countries to make good on their previous commitments. It is unlikely, however, that New York will consider ending the mandate of the FIB, as recommended recently by the International Crisis Group.

While the FIB is a very important tool and the Council should keep it, MONUSCO needs to undertake a number of configurations to fully integrate the FIB so that it can utilise its full potential. Citizens continue to suffer from widespread violence, as recently reported by Oxfam, and the humanitarian situation remains dire. The Council should also urge peacekeepers to send more personnel to Katanga, where violence displaced hundreds of thousands of people in 2014 (here and here). Largely unnoticed to the world, the province requires much more engagement.

Continue reading on: African Arguments

by Timo Muller

Photo Credit: UN Photo Library/Clara Padovan

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