Sunday, July 11, 2010

Louisa Seferis 
Demagogues and Dictators Central African Analyst      
 
On the 28th of May, the UN Security Council reached an acceptable compromise with the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo for the future of its UN mission in the DRC. Kabila’s government, which had requested a complete withdrawal of UN troops for the 50th anniversary of DRC independence on June 30th, signed off on the following changes:

The resolution authorized the withdrawal of up to 2,000 UN military personnel by 30 June this year from areas where security has improved enough to allow their removal.
 [This, Alan Doss reported in May 2010, will mainly be from Western provinces to avoid troop withdrawal in the “volatile East.”]
The Council decided that MONUSCO shall comprise, in addition to the appropriate civilian, judiciary and correction components, a maximum of 19,815 military personnel, 760 military observers, 391 police personnel and 1,050 personnel of formed police units.(Source: UN Security Council)
MONUSCO, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly MONUC), now has a mandate until June 30, 2011. The new mandate prioritizes stability, as the name suggests, through the promotion of military and non-military solutions as well as the protection of civilians. Kabila would have liked to see MONUC depart this 30th of June, however, in time for his impressive display of development during the 50 years of Congolese independence. The main boulevard became a six lane highway, street lights were switched on with ceremonial fanfare, and the King of Belgium only waited for three hours for the parade to begin. But as one of my Congolese colleagues said to me, “We wait to see if the progress continues to be a reality. This is already better than Mobutu, but you can’t feed yourself on empty promises.”
 Image: monuc.unmissions.org

The big problem with celebrating 50 years of independence and demonstrating development is the presence of severe pockets of violence throughout the DRC.
Each area has its own set of issues, clearly outlined during the Protection Cluster security briefing I attended this week. The MONUSCO representative struggled to incorporate the new acronym and a fresh approach to the mission’s activities, but other attendees later told me that operations continue “business as usual.” To his credit, the MONUSCO representative painted a stark and realistic picture of the challenges faced by the mission – the lack of major attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) recently, for example, which Operation Rudia 2 is currently combating in the province of Haut Uélé, means that the U.S. has not made any political decisions that could support the mission’s activities. This international inertia stalled MONUC’s plans of collaborating with the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) against the LRA in early June. Still, MONUSCO should be commended for pushing to move battalions from main hubs to more volatile and remote areas such as Ango and Dingila (both in Haut Uélé) in an effort to improve civilian protection in ways that MONUC did not.

This post is too brief to follow MONUC down the rabbit hole of its tainted past, but suffice it to say that the mission has never been without some scandal or another. The latest is Alan Doss’s fall from grace – charges of nepotism and the uncanny ability to make nearly every international actor hate him. The hope is that Roger Meece, the former U.S. Ambassador to the DRC 2004-7, can transform MONUSCO leadership in a more dynamic manner than Doss could. We cannot blame the mission for wanting to re-brand itself and refocus its objectives on its previous weaknesses, namely the protection of civilians.

While the motives may be positive, they may also be insufficient to achieve these desired objectives in a volatile environment like the DRC. Has anything really changed? At first glance, only the sign posts and gates that now read MONUSCO. (Or in the case of the Bukavu airport, MONUS – they’re still working on the CO.) Those who truly believe that the change in name and mandate will make a difference don’t seem to be present on the ground. The daunting tasks faced by each battalion are different and complex, clouding a greater vision of how the pieces fit together in this difficult environment. MONUSCO hopes to measure the positive results of its new approach in the next six months, but its overall progress in the face of fragmented threats (LRA, FDLR, FRF, PNC, internal issues with the FARDC, etc.) remains to be seen.

Unfortunately, for the moment MONUSCO is a new label on an old product. The danger is not the assumption that this “new” organization will be the answer to the DRC’s problems – the real dilemma is that it has always been assumed that a UN peacekeeping mission was the comprehensive solution. The Congolese I’ve met, from Kinshasa to Bukavu, firmly believe in the very difficult but necessary reality that their government should be doing more to improve security and development. They rarely mentioned MONUSCO during discussions about improving the DRC, and ultimately I suppose that’s a good thing.

Louisa Seferis is a Masters candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, focusing on conflict resolution and human security. She has worked in Subsaharan Africa for 4 years specializing in internal displacement, reconciliation, and post-conflict reintegration, including 2 years in Gulu, and is currently working in the DRC

       

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