The Congolese government has called for the departure of the spokesperson for Monusco, the United Nations mission, we learned on Wednesday, when a wave of violent demonstrations against the presence of blue helmets left 36 dead. On July 20, the Malian authorities also expelled the United Nations representative, in a context of high tension. How can this growing distrust of UN forces in Africa be explained? Maintenance.
Is the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo heading for an early withdrawal? A letter made public on Wednesday August 3 reveals that the Congolese government has asked the UN for the departure of its spokesperson in the country. A request which comes in a context of violent demonstrations in the east of the country against the presence of peacekeepers, which claimed the lives of 36 people in one week.
Present for 22 years in the country, the UN mission in the DRC (Monusco) is one of the largest and most expensive in the world, with some 14,000 peacekeepers on the ground. But its effectiveness is questioned by the population, particularly in the Kivu region, where civilians are the target of abuses by armed groups.
To take stock of this crisis of confidence in the peacekeepers, France 24 spoke with Michel Luntumbue, researcher at the Group for Research and Information on Peace and Security (GRIP), specialist in security issues in Africa.
How do you explain this sudden rise in tension around Monusco’s presence in the country in recent weeks?
This crisis must be placed in the complex and fragile security context of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is a huge country, with fabulous wealth but run by a weak power and which has aroused the greed of foreign powers as well as neighboring countries for several decades.
The insecurity in Kivu, in the east, dates from the refugee crisis triggered by the Rwandan genocide (April 7 to July 17, 1994). But more generally, the country has suffered from a lack of control over its territory since the 1996 war, which led to the end of the long reign of Mobutu, replaced by Laurent-Désiré Kabila.
Today, the east of the country is facing the resurgence of the M23 rebels, which the Congolese state accuses Rwanda of supporting. This rebellion, made up of mutinous soldiers from the Rwandophone community, launched an offensive in 2012 and took the city of Goma. A brigade was then set up within Monusco to support the army, which made it possible to neutralize it.
After nearly a decade of exile in neighboring countries, a reconstituted M23 group has launched several attacks on army bases since March 2021. This new threat adds to the multitude of armed groups already present in this area and committing abuses, with in the front line the ADF-Nalou, affiliated with the Islamic State, currently responsible for the highest number of civilian deaths. .
This worsening of the security situation comes as Monusco has begun a disengagement process with a reduction in its troops, with a view to leaving the country scheduled for 2024.
In the DRC there is a certain phenomenon of weariness vis-à-vis this mission, present for more than twenty years and which many citizens consider ineffective. Added to this is the feeling of frustration at the international community’s lack of interest in the situation in the country. The Congolese consider themselves attacked by Rwanda but regret that, unlike the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, this “aggression” is not recognized as such and that the West continues to do business with Kigali.
Read also: DR Congo – Rwanda: why this renewed tension?
Several African countries have questioned the effectiveness of blue helmets on their soil in recent years. This is particularly the case of Mali where the Prime Minister has called for a rethink of the positioning of the mission and the establishment of a “more robust” mandate. What are these criticisms about? ?
These criticisms are due to the fact that the peacekeepers are not an offensive force. They are not there to wage war but to prevent it from taking place. UN missions are deployed on the basis of the consent of the host state, when the situation in the country poses a threat to international peace and security. The aim is to support a political process of dialogue and national reconciliation.
In theory, the use of force is limited to the case of self-defense or defense of the warrant. this force must in no case become a party to the conflict. This principle of impartiality is essential to guarantee the UN forces the role of arbiter.
Faced with the changing security context and the rise of asymmetrical threats, some international actors would like to see peace operations evolve towards more offensive mandates, with in particular the setting up of brigades, on the model of the intervention force. Monusco, to fight effectively against armed groups, as was the case against the M23 forces in 2013.
The problem is that this offensive brigade formula is much less effective against the unconventional armed groups that abound in eastern DRC and in the Sahel. In eastern Congo, these groups live off the predation of natural resources and target populations, sometimes without a clearly identifiable political project, and this situation makes the protection of local communities extremely complex.
Can these tensions around the presence of blue helmets, in your opinion, lead to the withdrawal of UN missions in Africa? ?
There is undeniably a major trend: the large-scale multidimensional operations deployed in Africa are coming to an end.
With the evolution of conflicts and the multiplication of actors, these missions are becoming too complex on the ground. The current climate of “quasi-cold war” within the Security Council will inevitably have an impact on the development of UN peace operations. The leadership of the United Nations is somewhat weakened by the war in Ukraine, which makes it difficult to reach consensus on certain issues, including the evolution of mission mandates.
Added to this are the political calculations of the leaders. Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi, in favor of collaboration with Monusco, now finds himself in a delicate position. Its position on this issue will have an impact during the 2023 election because the two provinces of Kivu are large reservoirs of votes. He is now forced to type the point on the table and says he wants to review the release schedule of the mission.
In Mali, the phenomenon is the opposite since criticism of the UN comes primarily from the government. But the authorities know that by playing this card they are surfing on the sovereignist feeling which unites the voters.
In this context, we can expect a snowball effect from calls for the withdrawal of these forces or, at the very least, from requests to change their methods. The scenario which seems the most plausible today remains that of a gradual withdrawal of the Blue Helmets, eventually replaced by more offensive regional military forces, supported by the United Nations.
This option would make it possible both to hand over control while avoiding the creation of a security vacuum and to adapt the UN’s rules of engagement, which are currently deemed insufficiently in tune with the current security challenges.
Source: France 24