Painting by Cheri Samba

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

MONUSCO: Waltzing alone?

Martin Kobler in front of the UN Security Council (UN Photo/Loey Felipe)
Yesterday, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) was typically upbeat in his briefing to the Security Council. Martin Kobler emphasized the partially full glass, citing a "a ray of hope on one of the front lines" in MONUSCO collaboration with the FARDC in recent operations against the FRPI militia in Ituri. He was even quoted by Reuters later as saying that he had dropped the demand that the Congolese army remove two controversial generals from their operations in the East, which had sparked the suspension of collaboration between the two forces in January. (That may have been misleading, according to a source in the UN mission, who says that MONUSCO is still asking for an investigation to be launched into the two generals, which has not been forthcoming).

But the key, less sanguine, line came earlier in Kobler's presentation: "The success of our mandate rests on a continued, constructive, partnership with the Government."

So what's with that partnership? 

Following the suspension of military cooperation, and a sharp disagreement over how many troops should be reduced during mandate renewal in March (the UN decided on not renewal a temporary increase of 2,000, whereas the Congolese government had asked for a decrease in 6,000), the two sides began a "strategic dialogue" in order to iron out their differences. 

Alas, the dialogue has made slow progress. As one UN official told me, "the government wanted to get through the dialogue what they couldn't get at the Security Council: troop reductions." Recently, the two sides conducted a joint evaluation mission to the eastern Congo to assess the security situation. The government concluded that things were looking good and that MONUSCO should begin downsizing. While the UN can begin reducing troop levels without Security Council approval, this would be difficult to justify: the figure of 2,7 million displaced has remained relatively static over the past year, inching up to 2,8 million in March, and little progress has been made of late against armed groups or in the training of new Congolese army units.

The assessment mission did not break the deadlock in military cooperation. While joint operations started up again in Ituri, there is only informal collaboration in the Kivus in the Sokola I and Sokola II operations against the ADF and FDLR, respectively. And Kobler has ruled out launching unilateral operations against armed groups for now.

Military operations are only one part of the mission's mandate. However, the Congolese government has avoided discussing MONUSCO's political attributes. For example, the Security Council asked Kobler to provide his "good offices" to facilitate a dialogue among political parties concerning the electoral process. He tried to do so last year, but was quickly reprimanded by President Kabila. Since then, he has been forced to instead rely on one-on-one discussions with political parties. Kabila's stand remains firm; most recently, the government rejected the opposition UDPS party's demand that there be an international facilitation for any political dialogue.

Without a political role to play, and stonewalled militarily, MONUSCO has been increasingly marginalized, despite its 20,800 troops, 3,500 civilians, and $1,4 billion budget. This is not a new development––it is a trend that dates back to the end of the transitional government in 2006; the robust peacekeeping in Ituri of 2005-2006 and of the Force Intervention Brigade in 2013 are exceptions to this.

Will the trend continue? Will MONUSCO play an important role in the 2015-2017 electoral process, in negotiations with armed groups, or in the new DDR process? Or is the mission on its way out? As Kobler said, the answers to these questions are constrained by the government's attitude, which has been largely antagonistic in recent years. The challenge for UN leadership will be to find leverage and common interests where it can. As Martin Kobler will soon be leaving, that will largely be a task for his successor.

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