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DR Congo. The UN to stay for another twenty years

There are concrete signs that the mandate MONUSCO, the UN largest mission in the world, could be extended year after year for the next two decades. The problem however is its efficiency is questioned and that its relations with the Congolese authorities is deteriorating.

The United Nations Mission for the Stabilisation of Congo (MONUSCO), whose annual budget exceeds US $ 1.39 bn for a total staff of over 25,000 people, has no intentions to pack. Without even waiting for the renewal of its annual mandate which had expired on 31 March, the MONUSCO’s purchase section, Perry George Mc Carthy wrote last December to several landlords across the DRC to propose them to sign 20 years house rental contracts, beginning from 1er October 2015 until the 31 December 2035. This move is in line with statements by the UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous who told on several occasion that MONUSCO will not leave Congo before at least three years.

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The problem however is that the Congolese authorities are not delighted at all by such perspective. Last October, the then Defence Minister, Alexandre Luba Ntambo urged MONUSCO’s boss, Martin Kobler to start planning the withdrawal of the UN Operation.
Moreover, during the last weeks, the question of the disarmament and the demobilization of the 1,500 rebel fighters of the Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (DFLR) created by former officers of the late President Juvenal Habyarimana’s army who were involved in the 1994 genocide, has increased tensions between the Kinshasa authorities and the UN.
The last 2 January ultimatum launched by the UN to the DLFR to surrender was not followed as expected by a joint offensive by the UN troops and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). On the 29 January, the FARDC announced unilaterally the launch of the offensive without the UN. And on the 10 February, MONUSCO announced it would not support the FARDC offensive called Sikila 2 (cleansing in Swahili). The pretext raised by the UN is Kinshasa’s refusal to remove from the command of the Sikila 2 operations, two generals, whose name appears on a UN list of Congolese war criminals.

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The UN had given the Congolese government until the 13 February to sack Gen. Bruno Mandevu and Sikabwe Fall. But the Congolese government spokesman, the Minister of Communication and Media, Lambert Mendé said that the UN failed to hand over to the government evidence about these serious accusations. Other Congolese official sources expressed surprise about the UN insistence to obtain the removal of the generals, since both have been involved in the past in joint operations with MONUSCO, in the Eastern Province.
UN sources however disagree and claim that there is an agreement with the government not incorporate people who have been accused of human rights violations in a joint operation with the UN. At any rate, there is a crisis. Mende declared that the UN attitude and its refusal to participate to the offensive is unacceptable, specially if one bears in mind that it has a responsibility accordingly because the UN forced the late President Mobutu Sese Seko to allow Rwandan Hutu refugees and Habyarimana’s army including officiers who became later DLFR commanders to settle in the DRC. On the 15 February, President Joseph Kabila declared that the DRC declined all support from MONUSCO to the DFLR disarmament operations during a meeting with Kobler and a group of foreign ambassadors. Kabila reminded that the DRC is a sovereign states and that nobody has the right to interfere in the government’s decisions to appoint military commanders.

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There are suspicions in diplomatic circles that the decision not to remove the generals was a pretext found by the government to keep the UN out of the operation which Kabila and the FARDC army chief of staff do not really want to carry out. The joint plan of operations elaborated by MONUSCO’s military command was never signed by the FARDC. Moreover, a UN experts report dated from the 12 January 2015 provides useful explanations about the almost deliberate refusal during decades by the FARDC to engage and fight the DFLR. The report highlights their complicity in the charcoal production and trade in the National Virunga Park. In the Mubi area, DFLR barter gold extorted from artisanal miners for FARDC’s ammunitions. Other sources claim that Kabila has not abandoned the idea to use DFLR fighters as auxiliaries to fight either the Rwandan Army or other threats inside the DRC. A statement by Lambert Mende, on the 17 February saying that the hunt of DFLR in Eastern Congo could take “a month”, as well as “a year” or “ten years” has casted doubts on the real wish by Kabila’s government to dismantle this group. On the field however, some operations have taken place.
On the 2 March, the Sikila 2 operation spokesman, major Simon Tubajike said that the FARDC attacked DFLR positions at Karala in the Mwenga Territory. On the 16 February, Mende declared that hundreds of DLFR had already been disarmed by FARDC troops. On the last 3 March, Lambert Mende presented to the press in Goma 43 DFLR fighters who had been accordingly captured the week before in North and South Kivu. It still remains to be seen whether the FARDC operation will be efficient or not. One of the first results indeed has been the flight of DFLR fighters towards the Ituri district of the Eastern Province, which prompted the concern of the civil society in the Mambasa area.

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Yet, as the proverb says, « it takes two to tango ». The FARDC haven’t perhaps done everything they could to get rid of the DFLR scourge but there are also questions on the real political will of the UN to deal with the Rwandan Hutu rebels. After all, since 1994, the DFLR and their predecessors are being used by the Rwandan government as a pretext to interfere in the DRC and the UN mandate under Chapter VII of the UN charter is strong enough to enable MONUSCO to carry out operations of its own against the DLFR. Yet, so far, MONUSCO hasn’t done anything which prompted the Congolese Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda in an interview with the Paris panafrican weekly “Jeune Afrique” on the last 26 February to wonder whether the UN really want to carry out operations against the DFLR and whether they are seeking not to participate to it. At any rate, according to Tshibanda, UN’s explanations are fallacious, since in other operations, when it was convenient for them, they could obtain a waiver to guidelines to carry out an important operation. The impression is that the UN want to fight rebels only when it suits them. If they wished to do so, nobody would have prevented them to carry out an operation as efficient as the one led by South African, Tanzanian and Malawi soldiers against M23 in late 2013.

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At the same time, sadly, Lord Resistance Army in Eastern Province, Mai Mai groups in both Kivu, Maniema and North Katanga, which still represent “swamps of insecurity” may have to justify a UN Presence for a while. On top of that, the political future is uncertain. The looming 2016 Presidential and parliament elections seem a serious security challenge, as showed last January riots against the President’s will to amend the electoral law to delay the process. And Martin Kobler reiterated on the last 16 February the UN commitment to support free and fair election in November 2016. But the UN have still to deliver. Although, they participated to every stage of the logistics and date compilation of the results, the UN were not able to prevent a massive fraud in 2011. If the UN wish to stay for longer in the DRC, against Kabila’s will or not, in the opinion of many Congolese and expatriates, they should first provide guarantees that the rate of efficiency of their operations increases a bit.

François Misser

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