Published On: Tue, Apr 2nd, 2013

Democratic Republic of Congo: Finally, a Glimpse of Hope?

image (2)On Thursday 28 March 2013, the UN Security Council (UNSC) made history by unanimously approving the first offensive peacekeeping brigade to “neutralize” and “disarm” rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

DRC is a huge country (2.3 million square kilometers) with a vast array of natural resources (diamonds, copper, coffee, cobalt, crude oil). It is estimated that untapped deposits of minerals in DRC are worth more than 24 Trillion USD. Conflicts in DRC have existed since its independence in 1960. After one year of relative stability, the Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, was killed by troops of an army leader, Joseph Mobutu. With his seizure of power, the country became known as Zaire and assisted the Soviet Union with operations in Angola thus ensuring US support in line with the American actions to isolate the Soviet Union. Mobutu was a corrupt manipulative dictator, and once the Cold War came to a close, US support for the regime was terminated. In 1997, in line with the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in Rwanda, Rwandan militia invaded DRC to neutralize extremist Hutu militias who lived at the border. This gave rise to anti-Mobutu militias who captured the capital, and initiated President Kabila, renaming the country to DRC. While this should have brought stability to the country, Kabila clashed with former allies and a new rebellion started, setting on a civil war that has never been cleared up.

In 2003, in a hope to reunite the various ethnic minorities in the country, a transitional government took power. However, war has loomed over the country since its independence, and militias continue to threaten the country. Recently, after fighting resumed in the east in 2008, a new warlord, General Laurent Nkunda who had initially signed a peace treaty with the government, broke the treaty, attacking government bases in the capital. Eventually, tensions subsided and Nkunda became a government ally. In 2009, DRC called upon the support of Rwanda to cooperate with the government forces against the Rwandan Hutu Rebels in the Eastern part of the country. Instead of assisting with the neutralization of the Rwandan Hutu movement in the East, the Rwandan military captured Congolese Tutsi Nkunda. In 2012, Bosco Ntaganda and the M23 rebels, who were allegedly supported by the Rwandan and Ugandan governments, attacked the Congolese town of Goma. Civilians and troops fled, leaving UN peacekeepers at the source to hold the line, with little government support. M23 rebels took control of the town.

The UN Peacekeeping mission in DRC (MONUSCO) is the largest in the world, with a budget of over 1 trillion USD and over 19000 peacekeepers. The day of the M23 attack, there were 1500 UN peacekeepers in Goma, with helicopters, tanks and artillery.  Their mission was to support the Congolese army, which they did, until the Congolese (undisciplined and poorly paid) army fled as the M23 approached. Much like the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and the Srebenica Massacre of 2005, the UN peacekeepers, under the mandate of UNSC resolutions stood idly by as the town was taken by rebels. On 28 March 2013, however, emerged a hope for change. The unanimously adopted UNSC Resolution calls for the establishing of an intervention brigade to “carry out targeted offensive operations…either unilaterally or jointly [with the Congolese Army], in a robust highly mobile and versatile manner…to prevent expansion of all armed groups, neutralize these groups and to disarm them.” The intervention brigade will additionally make use of surveillance drones to secure the borders of DRC preventing militias from entering the country.

For the first time in UN history has a peacekeeping operation been given the authority to intervene in neutralizing and disarming militia groups, and in this case secure Congolese borders with Rwanda and Uganda. The war in DRC, thus far, has displaced over 2 million people and claimed at least 3 million lives. It is about time that serious action was taken to prevent rebel groups from taking control of regions in DRC. While usually, UN peacekeepers played a catalytic role in peace processes, the conflict in the eastern part of DRC has gone much too far and has become far too complicated for the UN to stand idly by. This intervention brigade, by having the ability to neutralize militia groups, has received the political charge that it needs to be effective in the conflict. According to Congo analyst, Jason Stearns, the UN has not been very successful in the region within the framework of a military strategy. By giving these forces a political charge for change, human rights, and equality, the UNSC has taken a positive step to actively stand for the rights that it so firmly supports in its charter.

This resolution is the first step in the right direction to change the course of DRC altogether. If adequate action is taken, on the basis of this resolution, the UN can be the glimpse of hope that the Congolese people have been waiting for decades. The fact of the matter is that the UN has lost the war of public diplomacy in DRC and neighboring states, and has simply become seen as a powerless force. This resolution serves as a reinforcement of UN credibility in the region, and is a demonstration of the evolution of peacekeeping. The UN can no longer afford to work against the social forces in the region, and therefore affirmative powerful action was long overdue. This resolution is the manifestation of this action, and now all that’s left to do is wait and see how it all plays out. For now, we can be proud of this development and hope this document can change the face of peacekeeping forever.

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