Congo: Fighting for peace

4 September 2013 | ResolutionPossible

Summary of recent events in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo

21 August: A new round of fighting erupted around Goma between UN-backed Congolese government troops and other armed groups. As the fighting began, Martin Kobler, the head of the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), ordered UN troops to “take necessary action to protect civilians and prevent armed groups from advancing”.

Tanzanian forces of UN Intervention Brigade at training session, Aug 2013: Reuters

Tanzanian forces of UN Intervention Brigade at training session, Aug 2013: Reuters

22 and 24 August: After UN troops shelled the positions of the M23 group in an area north of the city known as the Kibati heights, “suspected rebel rockets” were fired on Goma, killing five civilians. Hundreds of protesters in Goma threw stones and molotov cocktails at a UN facility, which they then “tried to storm”. As UN soldiers and the Congolese police responded, two protesters were shot and several injured.

25 August: As fighting continued outside the city, local sources reported 82 dead on this day alone, including 23 government soldiers.

28 August: UN heavy artillery and Mi-24 helicopter gunships attacked M23 positions in Kibati in support of a government offensive. Jason Stearns, author of the blog Congo Siasa, said UN helicopters “fired 216 rockets and 42 flares on M23 positions in Kibati” on a single day.

29 August: South African snipers from the UN’s Intervention Brigade claimed to have killed six M23 targets, while on the same day a Tanzanian UN peacekeeper was killed and seven others injured in “fierce fighting” around the Kibati heights.

31 August: After ten days of fighting, M23 announced that it was withdrawing its troops to the north.

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Felix Basse, a military spokesman for MONUSCO, said that an investigation would be launched into the protesters’ deaths. Since it will be conducted by the UN and the Congolese police, the impartiality of the investigation may be questioned. In a wider sense, the UN’s presence – and especially that of the Intervention Brigade, which is tasked specifically with carrying out offensive operations against armed groups, seems to have emboldened Congolese president Joseph Kabila’s government.

Congolese army soldiers walk towards the frontline to fight M23 outside Goma: VOA

Congolese army soldiers walk towards the frontline to fight M23 outside Goma: VOA

Kabila, according to Pete Jones of Reuters, has “effectively ditched the peace negotiations” with the M23, believing that the presence of an aggressive UN force will enable government troops to push back the group and negate the need to negotiate with them. In the short term, this seems to have been the case, but conflict in the Congo is likely to remain cyclical as long as underlying grievances are not addressed. The M23 cites the government’s failure to fulfil a promise to address their concerns as a reason for its attacks, which was made after the group briefly took Goma last year. The government, having strengthened its position, is now less inclined to negotiate. For the M23, Goma is likely to represent leverage in negotiations.

M23 soldier walks past UN personnel carrier: Phil Moore/ AFP/Getty Images

M23 soldier walks past UN personnel carrier: Phil Moore/ AFP/Getty Images

Goma’s residents are caught in the crossfire of a conflict in which they rarely know who is shooting at them. Since 24 August, their potential aggressors include the UN, Congolese government forces, M23 and other armed groups, and Rwanda, which is accused of actively supporting M23. Asha Malota, a local resident, spoke to Al Jazeera, pleading “I just ask God. I just need this war to stop”. As Friends of the Congo spokesman Kambale Musavuli comments, “the real tragedy here is that we have a population that’s been indiscriminately bombed… the Congolese lives have no value”.

This is not the first time the UN has attempted aggressive peacekeeping in the Congo. During the 1960-65 Congo Crisis, large-scale offensive land and air operations were conducted against the breakaway state of Katanga to force its reintegration. But as before, fighting for peace in the Congo is controversial, and will lead to difficult questions regarding the UN’s objectives in the DRC. When assessing its actions during the Congo Crisis the UN concluded that it “became embroiled by the force of circumstances in a chaotic internal situation of extreme complexity” – a context which remains the same today.

The overriding objective of the UN, according to its Charter, is “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”; for Goma’s residents, though, this mission is not being fulfilled, at least at present.

What do you think?

It may be argued that offensive action was required to remove the M23 as a threat to Goma’s civilians. Others could argue that more pressure could have been put on the myriad actors in the war in eastern Congo to resolve their differences at the negotiating table. Could, or should, things have been done differently? What is the best way forward now?

Should the UN be doing more to restart stalled peace talks between Congo’s government and M23? Should UN support for government forces be conditional on a demonstrated willingness on the part of the government to negotiate?

In fighting – and killing – in the name of peace, is the UN losing sight of its overriding objective? Should peace be fought for in eastern Congo militarily, or should political solutions be explored further and pressure put on the relevant actors?

Is there a danger that MONUSCO is becoming a part of the DRC’s insecurity problem? Can the presence of another armed group in Goma benefit civilians in the area?

Contributing writers/research: Tom Hardy

Comments

2 Responses to “Congo: Fighting for peace”
  1. ResolutionPossible says:

    In my own opinion, I do think the UN intervention was a gross mistake in several fronts. One, the UN has presented itself not as a peace-keeper, but fighting along the side it contents itself was the right party to the conflict – government. Two, the UN has set such a horrible precedent that would see its forces attack without any remorse from the so many negative forces that operate in DRC. Three, MONUSCO has also set a record in that, its very uncommon for peace-keepers to directly engage in cross-fire with the “wrong party” according to it instead of brokering process that would see the belligerent parties to a negotiating table.

    The instability in the DRC is a complex form of conflict involving all of the the Great Lakes Region comprising of tribal, independence error, mineral wealth, deliberate external saboteurs and manipulators etc etc. By engaging the rebel directly, the UN is either is a subject of “organised” manipulation to aid in the above negative factors or acting in ignorance of some of the crucial issues some of which may include considering if there is anything at all the government could do to change the status quo. Important to note is also that M23 rebels are not the only forces fighting the DRC Congo government. Its therefore not accidental the the whole mineral rich eastern DRC wants to pick up arms against Kabila government with mere unfounded malice.

    I do think MONUSCO should rethink its approach to solving the DRC problem otherwise, before they become suspect themselves in DRC …the numerous minerals in DRC can be so tempting!

    – Comment from Kilara Sunday, Program Support Manager, MEDAIR International (via LinkedIn)

  2. ResolutionPossible says:

    “Is there a danger that MONUSCO is becoming a part of the DRC’s insecurity problem?”

    MONUSCO has not been without its limitations. One of the major differences between MONUC (the former peace-keeping operation in the DRC) is the change of mandate; moreover, “to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate relating, among other things, to the protection of civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders under imminent threat of physical violence and to support the Government of the DRC in its stabilization and peace consolidation efforts”. However, this was also a component of MONUC’s mandate as well, only with slightly different wording.

    This component of the mandate has rarely been enforced in the past. Case in point: MONUC did little to nothing in 2004 when Bukavu fell to Nkunda’s forces. The fallout from MONUC’s abstinence from action was catastrophic: http://www.hrw.org/news/2004/06/11/dr-congo-war-crimes-bukavu. This inaction sends the message that rebels (and the national forces, for that matter) can act with impunity, more often at the expense of civilians.

    This new, more pro-active face of the peace-keeping operations in the DRC is good, yet flawed in many ways. Changes need to occur in the political and societal realms if the DRC is to see any positive change. However, in terms of immediate security in eastern DRC, MONUSCO’s presence should be welcomed. The alternative is the Congolese national army which is just as brutal and notorious as the militias. As the late Des Forges points out, “a national army staffed by war criminals is unlikely to provide any security to its citizens…”. http://www.hrw.org/news/2006/07/21/dr-congo-vote-nears-abuses-go-unpunished-katanga

    – Comment from Eric Bell, Graduate Student at the University of Manchester, Institute for Development Policy and Management (via LinkedIn)

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