Views from the Field: General Lessons from DRC

Views from the Field: General Lessons from DRC

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a large country with a weak state apparatus. Since independence, the country has been prone to political turmoil, armed groups and militias, and civil conflict. On 30 May, 1999 the Security Council authorized the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC) to help restore peace in DRC; its mandate was reformed in July 2010 and its title was changed to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Since 1999 until now, the country has been kept afloat by the international community, which provides support to state institutions for post-conflict development. This relationship has been challenging, however; a case in point was when the Congolese government decided to declare persona non grata a MONUSCO officer in charge of the Department of Human Rights. When considering the UN presence in DRC, it will be important to think about the following points:

  • How do the Congolese experience the UN peace operation?
  • What are the effects: intended and unintended, positive or negative, of the peace operation?
  • How can the UN operate differently in this country to produce better results?

The experience of the UN peace operation and its effects in the DRC
MONUC’s deployment to DRC raised the standards and qualities of facilities when compared to nationally run entities. A great example is the country’s airports. In many airports inside the country the premises managed by MONUSCO are well kept and are different from the spaces left or occupied by the state-led Régie des Voies Aériennes (RVA). All the buildings belonging to MONUC were marked by good care and maintenance. The social impact of the presence of MONUC was enormous: houses were hired or rented to MONUC for high prices. Many Congolese were given job opportunities. By night, patrols undertaken by MONUC troops were a securing factor against insecurity and violence from thugs. MONUC troops displayed a positive role in pacifying some areas where they were deployed. The Radio Okapi (the UN radio) became a powerful tool for disseminating news nationwide and offered a new space for free expression of opinions.

High expectations were tempered by war fatigue. After a while, contradictions and stalemates on the ground induced a shift in the public opinion towards MONUC. In fact the mandate of the MONUC, well drafted in juridical language, was not well understood by the Congolese people. The operation aimed at monitoring the peace, whereas the common people felt it should have imposed peace and secure the population against any threat, should it come from state authorities or rebels warring in the country. As such, Congolese people were used to bringing any issues – protests of any kind linked to trade unions or claims of political parties– to MONUC officers.

MONUC created space for important political issues to be raised. Debates about these issues gave an impetus to political participation and expression. Issues related to human rights became publicly discussed; cases of violence against women and daily reports on the average daily experiences of Congolese were being broadcast. In the context of the DRC, media outlets only distill the truth for those who are in power, and listening to Radio Okapi was an alternative instrument for being informed. MONUC became a new source of authority in some places substituting for the ineffective Congolese state; MONUC was able to accomplish some of its duties and to face challenges the state could not handle. Election organization was backed by MONUC; the commitment of MONUC to organizing elections in DRC was so complete that all of the Missions’ resources were used – including airplanes, boats, and cars. These resources were utilized to transport ballots to remote areas of the country. Some grassroots development projects were funded by MONUSCO in domains as various as sustaining local NGOs, participating in community activities and services, organizing programs, and capacity building for civil society and state authorities. Many programs linked to post-conflict reconstruction were implemented by the Mission; that is the case of the demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration (DDR) of child soldiers and other combatants.

The Mission played a big role during the elections in 2006. Before the second round of the presidential election, Mr. Swing, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN in DRC meditated with relative efficiency between the two candidates running for the presidential post. There is a consensus that thanks to MONUC/MONUSCO, the DRC has avoided balkanization. Even though statehood in the DRC is strengthened and backed by the UN presence, it is worth mentioning the fact that the Congolese state is one in which the social, political, and economic structures are fissured and shattered; this country is experiencing severe economic decline, disintegration, social unrest, a loss of state legitimacy, massive human and capital flight, absence of the rule of law, poor governance structures, and a decline in public services.

The negative aspects of the UN peacekeeping operation are various. It created a kind of social and spatial ghetto within some cities where troops and officers of the Mission were settled. In cities like Kananga or Kisangani, the UN cars and vehicles were in the beginning the only modern vehicles whereas common people were using bikes for transportation. Electrical power supply is a challenge in the DRC. Whereas Congolese were living without electricity, the areas and compounds of the Mission were well served by electricity. Water for drinking lacked in some areas, and it was the Mission that brought mineral water for its usage and for the Congolese people. The Mission’s troops have been involved in pedophilia, prostitution, and traffic of minerals, and there are multiple rumors on traffic of arms sale to warring parties. This resulted in a kind of divorce and a loss of confidence amongst the Congolese people and the Mission. This loss of confidence was very strong among Congolese people living in areas of multiple conflicts, whereas in the western part of DRC people got another view and opinion of the UN presence.

This spatial division of the country is worth being considered for this issue of loss of confidence. The vast eastern part is the core battlefield in this country. It is in the eastern part of DRC that insecurity is rampant; it is in the eastern part that all the low intensity conflicts were located and all of the ‘’entrepreneurs of violence’’ were active. Looting of natural resources took place and became the casus belli. Rwanda’s and Uganda’s troops were involved and came and even clashed over looting resources; the negative forces, let us say those rebel movements outlawed in their respective countries such as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) in Rwanda and the Pour la Défense de la Démocratie (FDD) and Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) in Burundi operate freely in eastern DRC. The then Rwandan-backed rebel movements such as the Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP) of Nkunda Mbatware and the now defeated Mouvement du 23-Mars (M23) are active and are warring in Eastern DRC.

When conflicts and insecurity broke down in this area, the Congolese people did not understand the passive stand, let us say the non-interventionist attitude, of UN troops in the face of attacks on – and the suffering of – civilians. When the Rwanda-backed CNDP movement attacked Goma and tried to invade Bukavu in 2008, and when the M23 invaded Goma, the fact that the Mission’s troops did not intervene to stop these destabilizing forces turned the Congolese people in those areas against the UN. For these people the following byword is pertinent, “celui qui n’est pas avec moi est contre moi.” As the Mission’s troops did not intervene to stop the breakers of peace, they inadvertently sent the message to Rwanda that it was okay to support spoilers. Disappointment and anger led the Congolese people to throw stones against UN troops in Goma and in Bukavu. Even in Lubumbashi, people got angry and a march was organized against the Mission. The strong feeling of disappointment is shared among people living in Eastern DRC. They are on the frontlines, as they live at the epicenter of violence and experience direct suffering. The Mission is commonly reproached for its inability to impose peace and to use force against the spoilers and the rebel movements destabilizing the country. Congolese people in the East say that the UN troops in the DRC are there to fuel war. “No war, no job” is the leitmotiv used by the Congolese to castigate the UN.

Although the feeling of disappointment towards the UN mission is less so in the western part of DRC, this disappointment and anger against the Mission is based upon other issues. People do not understand why the UN peacekeeping mission was unable to organize elections in 2011, as was the case in the Ivory Coast, and take care of counting and publishing the results. Doing so could have created considerable confidence in the impartiality and objectivity of the results of the poll. The presence of MONUC/MONUSCO for a long time has been seen as a neo-colonial occupation. Fifteen years in the DRC, it has weighed heavily upon the Congolese people’s conscience. Many years have gone by, many resources have been used, and a great deal of logistics carried out while the Congolese state is still under an internal crisis of ineffectiveness. At this level there is a consensus among the Congolese people, be they in the West or in the East. The Congolese state is on the verge of becoming a failed state.

Many spaces in the eastern part and in the northern part of Katanga are what we call the stateless areas. People have to pay taxes and acquire a go-pass before going from one place to another, even before going to the bush for taking water or to the fields for agriculture. The new “Balkans” inside the DRC are places where people are suffering; they are abandoned to “no faith and no rules” leaders like Gideon and other Mai Mai groups. When we use the term “stabilization” found in the denomination of the MONUSCO, the Congolese people wonder about its meaning: stabilization of what and for whom? That is the question raised by peasants and villagers living in remote areas where they are caught in the hold of warlords, given the absence of the state apparatus.

The way forward: new ways for coming operations in DRC
It is worth observing that war in the DRC is very complex and diverse. There is no one conflict, but many multidimensional, large-scale, and hyper-complex conflicts. The case of the DRC is part of what are referred to as “complex political emergencies” (CPEs). CPEs are characterized by the proliferation of major crises in a transitional society, the majority of which are intra-state conflicts with multiple causes, and requiring multidimensional international responses, including a combination of military intervention, peace support operations, humanitarian relief programs, high-level political intervention, and diplomacy. The first approach used by MONUC was state-centered conflict resolution: trying to reframe and to sustain statebuilding by organizing elections and monitoring the peacebuilding process. MONUC was bound by the real-politik hypocrisy pushing the Mission not to intervene in case of threats against the population. The UN was blind in the face of assaults coming from neighboring countries (Rwanda and Uganda). It was also unable to protect people during the attacks from the Rwanda-backed movements like CNDP and M23. This stand of non-intervention became unacceptable for the Congolese people. It is why the shift to robust peacekeeping by MONUSCO is welcome and better appreciated. The M23 was defeated by the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) thanks to the logistical support of MONUSCO.

The shift made by MONUSCO in intervening militarily can be the basis for thinking about the best ways of improving UN operations in the DRC. Depending on the challenges in the country, best practices should consist of giving consequent means – in military, human and material senses – in order to help the UN mission to be effectively prepared to react to threats. The defensive posture of the UN mission should be converted into an offensive posture. A diplomat said elsewhere: “a peace force should be able to go beyond the defensive posture to the offensive posture in order to promote and to impose peace. There is no shortcut pass to this vision of implementing peace in international relations.” (Interview with a former Congolese diplomat, Lubumbashi, 2 October 2014). At the UN level, it is well-known that there is already a transition undertaken from traditional peacekeeping to multidimensional or “second generation” peacekeeping to meet the changing imperatives of conflict intervention, paved the way by Boutros Boutros-Ghali in his 1995 Agenda for Peace. If conflicts in the DRC are related to shortcomings in the exercise of power – lack of legitimacy, poor governance, political corruption, underdevelopment, and indifference towards the population – time is up and we need new ways to implement operations which tackle those issues directly. The concept of international trusteeship is used (see Jean-Claude Willame’s book, Les faiseurs de paix au Congo. Gestion d’une crise internationale dans un Etats sous tutelle) so as to express the involvement of the international community in the DRC. But this trusteeship is superficial; it should go deep in order to inculcate a new culture of state governance or statecraft and to sustain the building of a state which will be effective and competent. The transition adopted by the UN after the Cold War with regard to peacekeeping and statebuilding should be pursued, while being adapted and reframed for adjustments on the ground.


Prof. Germain Ngoie Tshibambe is the Dean of the Faculty of Social, Political, and Administrative Sciences at the University of Lubumbashi, Lubumbashi/Katanga, DRC