In several cities in eastern Congo, Monusco bases were attacked by the population

‘Congo is sick and tired of UN peacekeeping mission’

UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

What does it mean when UN blue helmets are attacked by — and shoot at — the civilian population they are supposed to protect? Ever since the arrival of the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO in 1999, the Congolese civilian population has been strongly opposed to it. MO*journalist Kris Berwouts, who worked at MONUSCO for 6 months in 2015, understands the frustration. Who or what can offer the East Congolese population the security and stability it so desperately desires?

This article was translated by Kompreno, with support from DeepL. Original Source

The UN base in eastern Congo was raided and destroyed last week, on 26 July. This happened after demonstrations against MONUSCO — the UN peacekeeping mission — which took place in Goma and Butembo, ended in violence.

The effect of the violence was catastrophic: 15 people were killed and 61 wounded. Among the fatalities were 3 UN blue helmets and 12 civilians. Tensions rose further in the days that followed — in other locations — with 5 more victims in the city of Uvira.

Independent investigations must clarify exactly what happened. There are indications that the riots were preplanned.

The situation continues to remain tense. On 31 July, UN blue helmets shot at civilians in the town of Kasindi, again killing two people. This new incident further inflames tensions.

Outraged

The Monusco UN peacekeeping mission has been in place since 1999. Ever since its inception, it has evoked fierce negative reactions from the Congolese civilian population. They feel that the Monusco mission’s impact in eastern Congo is minimal, even though at the start it was the largest and most expensive UN mission in history. Emotions run high, especially when the security situation on the ground intensifies.

Ever since the inception of Monusco, it has evoked fierce negative reactions from the Congolese civilian population.

That is also the case now. For several months, the legendary rebel movement M23 has re-emerged in eastern Congo. Ten years ago, M23 almost brought down the Kabila regime. In 2013, the movement was neutralised by a brigade of soldiers from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi. But now they are active again, and just as 10 years ago, they are supported by Rwanda.

The Congolese are outraged by the continuing violence in their country. They demand that the UN peacekeeping mission leave Congo as soon as possible.

The mistrust of the MONUSCO mission is so high, that many not only feel that the blue helmets do not provide any kind of added value to the situation, but they also see them as complicit in the violence. Congo is fertile ground for conspiracy theories, and these circulate wildly around the mission.

The misconduct of individual UN personnel does not help. Nor does the fact that the MONUSCO mission is very reluctant to comment on Rwanda’s role.

Container yard

In 2015, I walked away from a job for the first and last time. I had been recruited as an expert on local conflicts in the MONUSCO unit that was steering the effort to stabilise the eastern part of the country (the Stabilisation Support Unit). It turned out that I was working in a container. The container yard, with its endless rows of white barracks bearing the black lettering “UN,” soon became — to my mind — a symbol of the parallel world in which I had become entangled.

For the first time in my life, I was living in Congo, but never had I felt further away from the Congolese than there. The UN mission lived in its own bubble, and most employees preferred to have as little contact with the Congolese as possible. And I couldn’t find my way out of this reality that easily.

After a while, I found a point of contact with Congolese society: I hung out with my young, nonconformist friends from La Lucha, and with the critical and creative minds in the arts scene — reggae singers who approached me with their Swahili lyrics about a political elite that seeks re-election, but does not understand that the people want jobs, roads, water and peace once and for all.

I was recruited by the Monusco mission for two years, but after six months I went back home.

They found a listening ear in the neighbourhoods and schools — and in me. The wind of change was blowing, but it was outside the container yard.

I was recruited by MONUSCO for two years, but after six months I went back home. I felt increasingly uncomfortable inside of the UN bubble in which I was working, as I struggled with feelings of guilt — I received a generous salary, but was not making any difference whatsoever.

Barely had I gotten out of my container that I had to deal with all kinds of jealousy and competition between the different units that characterise such a peace mission. I was there because I was supposed to know something about local conflicts in Kivu. But I got caught up in a kind of trench warfare within the UN.

Contradiction

MONUSCO’s mandate has to be renewed every year, which makes it very difficult to pursue sustainability. As a result, nobody was working on sustainabilty.

This also means that there is a high staff turnover. Many do not stay long enough to get to know the complex Congolese realities. Most realise that, and don’t even bother anymore.

Added to thist by 2015 the UN mission had been there for a decade and a half. When dealing with conflict, that’s a kind of eternity. Being somewhere for 15 years — without any option or ambition to deliver sustainable results — made the Monusco mission a contradiction in terms that I found difficult to deal with.

In addition, it was very paralysing to work in a context with so many units and departments. These were full of ambitious and intelligent people who knew they could make little difference. So they did their best — for the sake of a hopefully glorious next appointment — to appear as relevant as possible by denigrating the work of other — rival! - units and departments, in as denigrating a way as possible.

UN staff were also played off against each other on the basis of their national loyalties. Embassies and security personnel of different countries always tried to keep in touch with their seconded UN staff. This is not surprising, but at times it creates an iron grip. The legendary crippling tensions within the highest echelons of the UN also became something of a reality on the ground.

The UN mission in Congo had, I thought, refined the noble art of navel-gazing to the extreme.

All these factors, together with the widespread arrogance on the part of many employees within the UN — not all, the last thing I want to do is devalue the commitment of several exceptions I have known — meant that I ended my contract after six months. The UN mission in Congo had, I thought, refined the noble art of navel-gazing to the extreme. To each his own, but I had better things to do.

Exit

Back to today: MONUSCO has been following an exit strategy for some time, whereby the UN troops are being reduced. There are now fewer soldiers, and they are being encamped in fewer places.

The question now is to what extent recent events will accelerate that exit. For a long time I felt that the Monusco mission had at least a deterrent effect, despite its lack of assertiveness and pro-activeness. The fact that they were there, even though soldiers barely left the barracks, meant that some of the armed actors did not take action.

Now, however, there is no evidence of this. It becomes difficult to imagine that a peacekeeping mission that is stormed by the very people it is supposed to protect — and that also shoots at them — can still credibly accomplish its mission.

It becomes difficult to imagine that a peacekeeping mission that is stormed by the very people it is supposed to protect can still credibly accomplish its mission.

So what is the alternative? The Congolese army continues to suffer from divisions and inefficiency. It is guilty of human rights violations and poor management. In several places in the east, the army is behaving like an armed group among other armed groups. It seems very unlikely that this army will be able to protect the population and the territory in the short term.

East African Community

Many have therefore called for military intervention by African multilateral institutions. I concur with this view. An intervention by the East African Community (EAC), of which Congo has been a member for four months now, is in the pipeline.

But it is not easy, because Rwanda and Uganda are also members of the EAC. In the past, both countries had a very negative impact on civilian security in eastern Congo, and enriched themselves with Congolese raw materials. The roles of poacher and forester are becoming dangerously close.

In the short term, there is only one solution: the Congolese state must rise from its ashes. The instruments that should enforce and defend the rule of law must be rebuilt.

Until that happens, the civilian population in the east will remain extremely vulnerable and exposed to unbearable suffering. The question is: who has the credibility, trust and competence to protect that civilian population?

This article was translated by Kompreno, with support from DeepL. Original Source

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