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Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The delusional peace: How has the UN failed in the Congo?

Since the M23 seized Goma in November, a cascade of criticism has rained down on MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo. The opprobrium was widespread and came from Congolese civil society, foreign diplomats and media alike. Why couldn't the 19,000 blue helmets prevent the biggest trade hub in the eastern Congo from falling? Why couldn't they live up to their mandate and protect civilians in imminent danger?

I, too, have been disappointed by the UN, but not for the above reasons. In short: the UN has been stripped of what it does best, brokering a political peace process and has been reduced to what it is worst at––military protection.

UN peacekeepers have never been very good at protecting civilians in imminent danger. In part, this is because it is extremely difficult to do––once the danger is imminent, it is often too late to intervene, especially in a country as vast and infrastructure-challenged as the Congo. (In part, of course, it is also due to poor leadership, as the Kisangani and Kiwanja showed). The way to do civilian protection is through pre-emption, not firefighting, but that requires more risky and aggressive operations, which many of the troop contributing countries (TCCs in UN lingo) did not sign up for. "We don't want to see our men come home in bodybags," is the frequent refrain from the contingents.

Not that these kind of aggressive operations are impossible––in 2005, for example, the UN conducted "robust peacekeeping" in Ituri, declaring certain areas demilitarized and then aggressively shutting down remnant militia there, killing dozens and dismantling entire groups. But even then, the UN military leadership felt that they wouldn't be able to apply the same tactics to the Kivus, with its more battle-hardened armed groups and difficult terrain.

What about Goma? The main problem in November was that the UN's modus operandi was to prop up the Congolese army, in accordance with its mandate. When the army crumbled between 19-21 November and fled from town, the UN was left holding the metaphorical bag. The UN there––who, with ill-advised braggadocio had said they would not let Goma to fall (as they had said in Bunagana in July)––was unwilling then to fight a difficult counterinsurgency against the M23 (and perhaps the Rwandan army, as well), especially since they would have to share the town with them.

No, the main problem with UN peacekeeping in the Congo is not its military failings, although there have indeed been many. It is that, since 2006, its mandate has been largely emptied of its political content. The UN is best at facilitating a political process, brokering a peace deal, and then shepherding that process through to its conclusion. This is exactly what it did during the Lusaka peace process, beginning in 1999 and culminating in the transitional government (2003-2006), when it was the legal guarantor of the transition. This was the UN's largely unsung success: making an unruly and difficult political compromise stick, stepping in every time the transition was about to go off the rails, and helping to then organize elections.

The problem is that since the 2006 elections, we have been living in a post-conflict fantasy. Kabila won the elections and promptly marginalized the UN peacekeeping mission, declaring the country sovereign and largely at peace. Although violence escalated in the Kivus––reaching levels similar to those at the height of the 1998-2003 wars––there was never an official, genuine peace process there to deal with the political challenges that remained there. So the UN stayed on, but wasn't given an official role in institution building, as could happen in a post-conflict period. Nor was it allowed to mediate or even facilitate in the conflict in the eastern Congo. The only deals made there were either backroom deals between Kinshasa and Kigali (as the mixage agreement of 2007 or the March 23, 2009 deal) or the hypocrisy of the 2008 Goma conference, when all sides were preparing for war almost as soon as they sat down to talk. While Olusegun Obasanjo was nominally involved in implementing the 2009 deal, the real negotiations happened behind his back, between Kigali, Kinshasa, and other regional capitals. The UN––and most of the international community with it––has been politically sidelined from the conflict.

Military force in the absence of a political framework is, at best, firefighting. While the UN obviously has a responsibility to protect vulnerable civilians where it can, its larger role should be in forging and implementing a political deal to end this crisis, as there does not appear to be a military way out.

The recent ICGLR initiative is a welcome one in this regard. There is some attempt by countries in the region to grapple with some of the underlying political drivers of the conflict––Congolese institutional failure, meddling by its neighbors, and communal conflicts at the grassroots level. The problem is that body appears to diplomats and many Congolese officials as too biased to be an honest broker.

There is currently a push at the United Nations to re-politicize the UN mission and to get involved in the peace process. There is little doubt that a "Super-Envoy" will soon be named, probably with both a mandate to broker regional peace and to manage the peacekeeping mission, and hopefully with an AU mandate, as well. Names are being bandied about––Ibrahim Gambari, Bill Richardson, and Benjamin Mkapa have been floated, as have other names. While the person will be key, the political lessons of the past are even more so. Without a political process that is able to obtain the buy-in of all key parties and that grapples with the key underlying issues, even the best military strategists will be stumped.


Unknown said...

Jason, The root if the problem remains within Rwanda. The Special Envoy has been requested by Rwandan rebels since the failed Rome/ Kisangani/Kasiki process of 2008 between the DRC government and Rwandan rebels. The request was supported by Sant'Egidio Community of Rome, Eglise du Christ au Congo, and the Norwegian Government. Why did it take too long for the International Community to understand what the Rwandan rebels had found out long ago? Let us hope that this time, the Special Envoy will understand that a genuine solution requires getting the Rwandan government, the Rwandan rebels, and the DRC government at the same table, with the help of Norway, United States, Great Britain, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, and Angola at the minimum. James.

bfhend said...

Jason, A thoughtful piece as usual...and I'm aware you have made these same arguments elswhere. I guess I would make a couple of comments. The Lusaka process and the Sun City negotiations worked because the UN as an organization had the backing of an engaged international community. There seemed to be a tacit assumption by the P-5 countries that the UN mission carrying the imprimatur of the UNSC would be respected by member-states. MONUC/MONUSCO was never envisioned as a peace enforcement mechanism that would have to contend with external state theory, any such existential threats would be deterred by the threat of sanctions if the norms of international behavior were not respected.

In retrospect, that seems to have been a false assumption. I'm all in favor of the UN being involved in a wider political state-building process in the DRC; however, given the history of meddling by neighboring countries, it seems that some tough preemptive diplomacy by the P-5 UNSC members operating from a common position will be required to end the cycle of crises that erupt like clockwork in the Kivus every four years.

I suppose that was more than a couple of comments.


Unknown said...

what does a commaon man think on this? one must go out and ask them. When we enquire they do not want war but the peace. What they would mean is a military peace. But after that what? The government has to come up to take its responsibility. The common man should form their government. There should be police out of them, there should be taxation process to meet the expenditures for Army, there should be proper legal system to take care of culprits. With out proper administration, the common man is not living his common life. he is just passing his day and unknowingly getting ready to be shot by goons. M23 is past body of the government but future is upto them. Mere planning and skeptical analysis on military actions won't help this country if there is no proper administration. UN can not and will never up lift the administration because it is basic responsibility, duty and right of local people. Unless administration is improved there is no use saying that UN has failed in Congo. War is not the way of flexing muscles but is a process for stabilization. UN is not the first step for improvement of Congo. It is people of Congo who has to take first step.

arnaud Zajtman said...

Hey Jason,
Thanks much for this interesting piece. I think you should be appointed super-envoy. (Please don't censor me).
Arnaud Z

Ted Folke said...

Hi Jason, Many thanks for a very thought-provoking and intelligent piece, as usual. In terms of its mandate, one might argue that MONUSCO has, indeed, failed. However, the implementation needs to be discussed. MONUSCO support for the DRC elections was not intended to be unconditional, as it became. It was very clear to many that there were big problems before the elections. Second, MONUSCO was making real progress in helping the DRC build civil society and legal institutions until SRSG MONUSCO and President Kabila both announced on 23 January,2012 in Goma that Bosco had to be arrested. This started the whole M23 revolt. It would be interesting to know the strategy behind that announcement, since Bosco was, and has always been, the strong man in North Kivu, especially with Rwandan backing. Were MONUSCO and the FARDC really prepared for the fight that they knew would come? Had anyone talked with Rwanda?With big changes at US State Department, let us hope the US pursues a more even-handed policy in the region. Susan Rice has been a disaster.

Unknown said...

Once again as ever thanks Jason for the article. Unlike most, I will argue that MONUSCO has not “failed” , if one considers its mandate. I mean this mandate is vague, all-encompassing, complex and therefore void. MONUSCO did nothing because they were given no precise “mission” in DRC.
That said, no one today would deny that MONUSCO mandate should be amended, from NGOs, Presidents Kagame, Museveni, Ban Ki Moon to every single Congolese and many people of good will now.
The question is what should be the new mandate of MONUSCO that would restore credibility to UN and help save innocent lives in the Kivus? Few things:

(1)MONUSCO mandate should be made no more “complex”. It should be just simple : help “create peace before keeping it” and nothing else. MONUSCO are +- 20 000 armed soldiers with huge war equipments. So they can’t just be an ornament in DRC. Look how MONUSCO chops get shot at by M23, and MONUSCO is just morning ( Now it is time to eradicate all militia starting with FDLR and M23.

(2)Like NATO troops in Irak or Afghanistan, MONUSCO should have a “timetable” showing when they will exit DRC, and after what milestones. They can’t babysit DRCgov and FARDC forever. Congolese should be helped to be responsible for their destiny.

(3)UN can be involved in negotiation processes. But I am now wary of these “special envoys”. What happened to the envoy Barrie Walkley?


Unknown said...

I agree with your point 2. In your point 1 and 3, I think you miss the point.

Your Point 1: war has never and will never solve much. Let us take FDLR, for example. Why does it exist? Because of political problems in Rwanda, including repression (By the way Kagame just made the list of the Foreign Policy Magazine most repressive leaders in the World, just behind Bashir Al -Assad and Kim Jong Un). Rwanda government can continue to use the 1994 excuse, but this is a tired argument. Kids who left Rwanda in 1994 on their mother's back now form the bulk of FDLR and Other Rwandan rebels and Some rebels were not long ago RPF members. The international community must push Rwandan Government to find a political solution to its FDLR problem, instead of creating militia in DRC. Why is DRC government asked to negotiate with the Congolese militia/rebels and Rwandan government is not asked to do it? Why Karzai of Afganistan is asked to negotiate with Talibans? and so on.

Your Point 3: UN and US Envoys have failed because they do not deal with the real problem: Rwandan government repression against its citizens that is at root of endless flow of refugees in Great Lakes region, and ultimately the perpetuation of FDLR and other Rwandan rebel groups.

This is how I see the peace coming back to the region:

1) As long as the Special Envoy is not able to bring Rwandan Government to the negotiation table with its armed opposition, then Special Envoys will continue to fail. John Prendergast of Enough nailed the requirements of a Special Envoy during his last testimony in front of the US Congress.
2) Rwandan Government, DRC Government, Rwandan Rebels, Congolese Rebels, the UN Security Council P5 (especially USA, GB, France), Tanzania, South Africa, Uganda, Angola, and Norway (that funds most of the peace keeping activities in DRC), a few NGOs such as Enough, ECC, HRW, must be at the table.
3) Rwandan Government and its Rwandan Rebels on one side and Congolese Rebels and its Congolese rebels on the other, must agree on their respective roadmap to peace.
4) The Special Envoy will then have the role to make sure these roadmaps are executed and propose sanctions to UN SC if one party fails to honor its share of obligations.
5) Rwanda, unlike the DRC is a dictatorship. The democratic requirements on Kabila must also be on Kagame.


Kongo in NYC said...

Fine piece, Jason.

I guess my only concern with it is that it doesn’t recognize, or demand, Congolese agency- or Africans for that matter. Like Muana Congo, I am perfectly fine with a more beefed up and more political posture from MONUSCO. But, like Bruce, that really does require a coordinated front from the Big 5 on the Security Council which, as we’ve seen with other crises in the world, is particularly challenging. That leaves the big elephant in the room- the Congolese and to a considerable degree African interstate institutions- like the AU and SADC.

Thus, the big question for me is at what point are we going to really demand more from both Kinshasa, the region, and the entire continent to resolve this crisis?

Like many Congolese, I am growing weary with more UN “help” when it often comes late, half-heartedly, or not at all. It is for this reason that I so strongly support the AU/ICGLR process- for all its many flaws. As Africans, we simply must get much better at resolving internal rebellions which, over time, means getting way more serious about institutional failure within our various states that give rise to them. Rwanda would not be able to consistently destabilize our country if Kinshasa were not threatened by governing effectively or democratically and the regional powers- Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya- were not so willing to tolerate internal meddling if they were accountable to a supra-national body that explicitly forbade it.

What does that look like in practice? I’m not sure but finding a way to strengthen the AU- financially, militarily, and institutionally along the following lines would make sense I think:
a) bans member states that are not democratic (based on a commonly accepted view among Africans as to what “democratic” should mean)
b) increases incentives to actively participate in it
c) requires member states to invade a nation that is invaded or the subject of a foreign-supported rebellion

@Muana Congo- I agree with all your recommendations but I would add a 4th. I would require that 50% of the full budget for MONUSCO be footed by the regional powers or, perhaps, the AU itself. As long as folks are not willing to put some skin in the game- be it blood or treasure- they will not be accountable to any re-formulated mandate.

What’s the likelihood of any of these recommendations coming to light? Probably NADA but if we really want to see an end to this crisis- and really any other on the African continent- we need to do a little more than simply demanding one of the most political institutions humankind has ever produced- the UN System- get better at the politics.

In this context, the starting place for reform must begin, and end, with the Congolese themselves and, by extension, Africans.

I fully realize many Congolese have real and understandable concerns with our institutions and those we belong to on the international level. Well, I think we need to get over this and actively patronize them nonetheless.

Modern life is not possible without transparent and accountable institutions.

Anonymous said...

Mostly agree with what everyone’s saying about the right political process a (hopefully) revitalized UN mandate for MONUSCO could achieve.

To add my worthless two cents:

-This UN “super envoy” must be ballsy. By that I mean, he or she must be very willing to put the fear of god in all the participants and thus must be empowered to do so from all the members on the Security Council. A real head butter. My preference would be former Governor, UN Rep, and son of Mexican migrant workers/American success story, Bill Richardson.

-Political reform in Rwanda must also be on the agenda.

-I would limit participants to the following: Kinshasa, the Congolese opposition, Rwanda, M23, other armed groups, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, and Tanzania.

-The mediator at the ICGLR should be changed to a Tanzanian. My preference here would be the remarkable Dr. Anna Kajumulo Tibajuka. I’d further like to see a clear deadline for coming up with the peace deal so as to clearly telegraph to all sides that this is serious and not simply more time to gear up for more war.

-The final deal must have clear benchmarks, milestones, and deadlines all the relevant parties must agree to fulfill with clear consequences for missing any of them. Sure, the UN is good at “creating peace” but, as the Balkan and current Congo example makes clear, really bad at implementation and follow up.

-I’d like to see some kind of ICGLR Coordinating Committee, with representatives from all the various parties, serve as the main vehicle of implementing the accords. Ask Howie Buffett to pay for it. Ideally, this committee could have a research arm that replaces the “UN Group of Experts” that is entirely led and managed by Africans from the relevant countries that are parties to the peace accord.

-I’d also like to see some way to empower Congolese, Ugandan, and Rwandan political institutions- perhaps their respective national assemblies- that allows citizens in each country to hold their governments to account to implementing the peace deal. The ICGLR process applies pressure from “above” and there will need to be another lever to apply it from “below”. Perhaps my “ICGLR Coordinating Committee” is made up of elected representatives from all three countries?

-Finally, I’d like to see some kind of resolution at the UN or AU that places a series of increasingly severe sanctions on the parties to the accord for failing to implement or outright violations of the accord. And I mean VERY severe. Perhaps all IMF/World Bank aid is tied to the benchmarks of the peace plan.


bfhend said...

@ muanacongo, Kongo in NYC, and others,

I'm totally with you on the issue of Congolese agency and the need to think about an end to the UN mission in Congo - probably based on some benchmarks being met rather than a timetable that belligerents can simply wait out. The retrospective analysis of scholars regarding ONUC (1960-64) is that the UN withdrew prematurely because U Thant feared the Congo crisis in the context of Cold War geopolitics might fracture the entire UN system. But UN involvement should be part of a transition process, not an open-ended mission - we aren't living in the Cold War world. When I think of Congolese agency, I start from the premise that 70 million Congolese want a stable, peaceful, and prosperous future. The UN can provide a useful peace-building insitutional structure to make that an existential reality.

If a "super-envoy" is going to be an American face, I concur with Mel that Bill Richardson is a good choice. Yes, it has been years since he was last involved in the DRC - but he has considerable skills in consensus building and establishing mutual trust on all sides. He can also deliver tough messages his immediate audience might not want to hear. Bill Clinton gave hime the unenviable task of going to Mobutu and telling him that the Cold War was over and that time had passed him by.

President Obama has given us some insight into his thinking: institutions trump individual leaders and the myth of the indispenasble politician is a self-delusion.

This might come as a startling revelation to a number of heads of state in the Great Lakes region. But we have reached a critical point where some candor would be a welcome change.


Unknown said...


Your point is taken especially regarding the need for inter-Rwandan dialogue, reconciliation and respect of basin human rights in Kagame’s Rwanda. Just skeptic so long as Kagame has staunch apologists like S Rice in high places.

But my main point is the revision of MONUSCO’s rules of engagement so it is able together with FARDC at very least to protect civilians from militia invasions in free areas in DRC,and prevent camps of IDPs being ransacked as the M23 militia did around Goma recently.

@ Kongo in NYC

Absolutely, it is us Africans who should be first responsible for resolving our conflicts. Unfortunately we are the ones creating and maintaining these conflicts. As African I am ashamed that today,(since the departure of Ghana’s J Koffuor, Mozambique’s J Chisano, Tanzania’s B Mkapa, S-A’s T. Mbeki), “Africa is now leaderless”. There is no more a core of leaders who have a vision for the continent. All we have now is a bunch of mercenaries, freeloaders, aid-seekers who are busy impeding the continent integration and progress.
In fact to me, the former OAU (fought colonization and apartheid) was better than today’s AU.

@Bruce and Mel

your takes are insightful on the need for a “ballsy Super-Envoy" on this issue. I also agree that Amb. Bill Richardson is the perfect fit (I would bet that besides the Belgians, he had a hand in convincing Kinshasa on the ICC candidate B. Ntanganda issue) .

That said, one has an impression that the US policy on this conflict is somewhat disjointed or rather compartmentalised. You have the White House (forthright but busy with other issues), the State Department (with the balance keeper Amb. Carson) and then the UN representation with the lone ranger, Her Majesty Susan Rice XII ; who not only acts on personal whims and for ex-clients’ causes. But she seems to wield disproportionate say on this issue.


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