Is the DRC slowly falling into the trusteeship of the UN?

By IndepthAfrica
In Article
Feb 10th, 2012

The United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has a less than glowing image in the DRC, but there is no sign in sight of the mission’s end.

The United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has a current strength of 18,997 uniformed personnel. The figure breaks down as follows: 17,010 military troops, 746 military observers, and 1,241 police. The uniformed personnel are supported by around 4,000 civilians (mostly UN staff and local staff). Their mission is to help bring peace and stability in the DRC. As Clapham suggests, the UN does bring to the task not only some distinctive capabilities, but also a number of weaknesses[1]. It has therefore to be acknowledged that MONUSCO and Congolese Armed Forces’ military pressure has contributed to FDLR desertions and voluntary participation in MONUSCO’s ‘Disarmament, Demobilisation, Repatriation, Resettlement and Reintegration’ (DDRRR) process.

According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s report[2] last year, since military operations began in January 2009, 5,238 FDLR elements have been repatriated to Rwanda, including 2,266 former combatants and 2,972 dependents.

In addition, China’s 12th peacekeeping force is particularly to be commended. Made up of military engineers and medical staff, as Xinhua reported, the peacekeeping team successfully completed missions related to road and bridge construction, medical care, epidemic control and humanitarian aid in the DRC. The team’s 218 members renovated 102 km of roads, built 14 bridges and offered medical treatment to 1,878 people after being dispatched to the DRC in November 2010. This is according to a statement issued by the peacekeeping affairs office of the Lanzhou Military Area Command on 30 July 2011.[3]

Nevertheless, in page four of his report, the UN Secretary General acknowledged that serious human rights violations by the armed groups and national security elements also continue. For instance, between 30 July and 2 August at least 303 people were systematically raped in 13 villages on the Mpofi-Kibua axis in Walikale territory by FDLR and Mayi-Mayi Cheka elements (local Congolese militia). At least 923 houses and 42 shops were also looted, and 116 civilians abducted and subjected to forced labour by the assailants. Partial reports of the attacks reached MONUSCO only several days after they began, and MONUSCO patrols and protection mechanisms in this case were unable to detect the gravity of the situation, prompting widespread criticism of a perceived failure to protect civilians. FARDC units based in the area had been redeployed some two months prior to the attack.

David Smith reported that Atul Khare, the UN assistant secretary general for peacekeeping, conceded in a report that ‘while the primary responsibility for protection of civilians lies with the state, its national army and police force, clearly we have also failed. Our actions were not adequate, resulting in unacceptable brutalisation of the population of the villages in the area. We must do better’.[4]

If their mission is to help bring peace and stability in the DRC, how come UN troops have been involved not only in sex abuse of young girls, but also in gold smuggling and helping the rebels, as Escobales reported? American researcher Nile Gardiner (2005) even described what was going on in the DRC as ‘acts of great evil and barbarism perpetrated by United Nations peacekeepers and civilian personnel entrusted with protecting some of the weakest and most vulnerable women and children in the world, including forced prostitution of women and young girls across the country, including inside a refugee camp in the town of Bunia in north-eastern Congo. The alleged perpetrators include U.N. military and civilian personnel from Nepal, Morocco, Tunisia, Uruguay, South Africa, Pakistan, and France.’[5]

Two more facts: Reuters reported that Colonel Chand Saroha, an Indian peacekeeping officer, was investigated in 2008 after being accused of showing support for eastern Tutsi rebels. A transcript seen by Reuters and other UN sources identified Colonel Chand Saroha as the former commander at Sake, a strategic town in the eastern province of North Kivu.
‘We are like brothers,’ Saroha allegedly told Laurent Nkunda, Bosco Ntanganda and their fighters at the ceremony in April 2008 marking his departure from the zone, according to the transcript. ‘Officially we are not allowed to meet you. But your good conduct, your good discipline…made us feel we were associated with proud people,’ Saroha added.
Amid chants from his soldiers, according to the transcript, Nkunda thanked Saroha, saying: ‘You have helped us a great deal.’[6]

Agence France Press (AFP) reported that a driver working for the United Nations was sentenced to three years in jail for trying to smuggle minerals to Rwanda. He was caught trying to cross into Rwanda with more than a ton of cassiterite (tin ore) in a UN vehicle. This time the Congolese policemen at the border were to be recommended because they refused to be bribed by the driver and his accomplice – which is unusual for the Congolese military and the police. The 22,000-strong UN peacekeeping operation in the DR Congo denied any part in the affair and said the scam was the individual ‘work of a member of the national staff of the mission’.[7]

Despite this catalogue of scandals, the UN has been renewing the mandate of its scandal-hit peacekeeping force in the DRC since 2002. But its presence is having no impact or changing the Congolese people’s lives in areas in which it is deployed.

Associated Press (AP) reported that in May 2010, President Joseph Kabila met with officials from the UN to discuss when the 20,000-strong peacekeeping force will withdraw. He initially wanted it to leave before 30 June 2011 when the DRC celebrated its 50th independence anniversary so the country can ‘fly with its own wings’. After meeting UN officials, he suggested that the force leave by the end of 2011. The UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, perhaps reckoning that Kinshasa has yet to display the ability to control the violent outbreaks in North and South Kivu in eastern Congo, said he wants to ensure that military operations against rebels in eastern Congo are successfully completed, that well trained and equipped Congolese army units can take over the UN force’s security role, and that the government extends its authority in areas freed from armed groups before the largest UN peacekeeping operation in the world departs. The secretary-general did however recommend in the report to the Security Council that the withdrawal start immediately, with up to 2,000 troops leaving peaceful areas of the central African nation by 30 June, the 50th anniversary of Congo’s independence.[8]

Moreover, Congolese opposition leaders (who reckoned that they could only feel safe during the election campaign if MONUSCO was present), Western media and international NGOs added to the skepticism. A few hours after Kabila’s request, Enyele insurgents attacked Mbandaka, the provincial capital of Equateur Province in the west. The insurgents’ entry point into the city was very close to the Mbandaka UN headquarters (the UN is expected to have enough intelligence sources to have prevented this). The UN has now made itself indispensable in the DRC arguing that instability continued not just in the east but now also in the west. The mission was eventually extended as the Congolese government and the UN agreed to a UN presence in the country during the 2011 elections. MONUSCO was to provide the logistics, especially the transportation of ballot boxes and other materials throughout the country, according last year’s June 2010 UN Security Council’s report.[9]

The following fundamental question therefore arises: ‘What is the role of the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC if the blue helmets are backing the rebels in eastern Congo, as the above reports confirm, and if peace in western Congo is still volatile after Enyele insurgents could attack Mbandaka, the provincial capital of Equateur Province last year? (with the support of neighbouring countries such as Congo Brazzaville and even Western countries, including Great Britain and Luxembourg, according to revelations made by Colette Braeckman.[10]) Is MONUSCO playing ‘a double game’, creating or contributing to the insecurity or the criminalisation of the areas in which it operates in order to continue to traffic in minerals which it evacuates via Rwanda; so much so that the more the destabilization lingers, the longer the UN peacekeepers will stay on to do business?

What is shocking is the fact that every announcement by the UN Secretary General that MONUSCO has renewed its mandate has always been preceded by a massacre in the east. Ban Ki Moon announced on 10 January 2012 that he was for the extension of MONUSCO’s mandate in the DRC up to 2014. That was after a massacre of Congolese took place in Shabunda, South Kivu province between 31 December 2011 and 4 January 2012. Forty-five people were killed, reportedly by Hutu rebels of the Forces de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR).[11] It is estimated that there are still 5,000 to 8,000 FDLR left in South Kivu. How can 5,000 to 8,000 FDLR pose a challenge to the whole Congolese army, 18,997 UN troops and the Rwandan army, which has intervened many times in Congo to eradicate them? It beggars belief, doesn’t it? What is at stake here is eastern Congo’s most wanted strategic minerals, especially coltan – out of which mobile phones and computers are made and on which the whole world’s high tech industry depends.

If you take into consideration the catalogue of scandals that has been attributed to the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC, it becomes rational to put ourselves in the shoes of former South African President Thabo Mbeki (2011) and ask: ‘How many blatant abuses of power will Africa and the rest of the developing world experience before the vision of a democratic system of global governance is realised?’

Mbeki who served as the mediator for Côte d’Ivoire from November 2004 to October 2006, came to the realisation that the UN became a casualty in the Ivorian conflict, severely undermining its acceptability as a neutral force in the resolution of internal conflicts, such as the one in Côte d’Ivoire.

Mbeki concluded that ‘it will now be difficult for the United Nations to convince Africa and the rest of the developing world that it is not a mere instrument in the hands of the world’s major powers. This has confirmed the urgency of the need to restructure the organisation, based on the view that as presently structured the United Nations has no ability to act as a truly democratic representative of its member states’, adding that ‘thus, in various ways, the events in Côte d’Ivoire could serve as a defining moment in terms of the urgent need to reengineer the system of international relations. They have exposed the reality of the balance and abuse of power in the post-Cold War era, and put paid to the fiction that the major powers respect the rule of law in the conduct of international relations, even as defined by the UN Charter, and that, as democrats, they respect the views of the peoples of the world’.[12]

Antoine Roger Lokongo is a journalist and PhD candidate at the School of International Studies, Centre for African Studies, Peking University, Beijing, China.


[1] Clapham, Christopher. (1999) ‘The United Nations and Peacekeeping in Africa’, Monograph, no. 36, April 1999.
[2] Available online
[3] Xinhua:‘Chinese peacekeepers return home from DR Congo’, 30 July 2011.
[4] Smith, David. (2010) “UN has failed Congo mass rape victims, says investigator”, Press, 8 September 2010.
[5] Gardiner, Nile, Ph.D. (2005), “The U.N. Peacekeeping Scandal in the Congo: How Congress Should Respond”, The Heritage Foundation Report, 22 March 2005.
[6] Reuters: ‘UN Congo probes Indian officer over rebel ‘support’”, 10 July 2008.
[7] AFP: ‘DR Congo court jails UN driver for mining scam’, 25 August 2011.
[8] AP: ‘Congo’s president urges peacekeepers to leave’, 6 April 2010.
[9] See.
[10] Braeckman, Colette (2010). ‘Un commando vise Mbandaka’, Le Soir, 6 Avril 2010.
[11] Radio Okapi (2012). ‘Massacre de Shabunda: les ressortissants de ce territoire déplorent l’inaction des autorités’, 14 janvier 2012.
[12] Mbeki, Thabo (2011) ‘What the World Got Wrong in Ivory Coast’, Foreign Policy, 29 April 2011.

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