In Africa, UN missions "at the end of the race"

In Africa, UN missions “at the end of the race”

The Congolese government has called for the resignation of the spokesperson of Monusco, the United Nations mission, we learned on Wednesday, when a wave of violent demonstrations against the presence of the blue helmets left 36 dead . On July 20, the Malian authorities also expelled the representative of the United Nations, 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 Congo headed for early withdrawal? A letter made public on Wednesday August 3 revealed that the Congolese government has asked the UN for the departure of its spokesman in the country. A request that comes in the context of violent demonstrations in the east of the country against the presence of peacekeepers, which have claimed the lives of 36 people in a week.

Existing 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 about 14,000 peacekeepers on the ground. But its effectiveness is questioned by the population, especially in the Kivu region, where civilians are the target of abuses by armed groups.

To examine this crisis of confidence in peacekeepers, France 24 spoke to 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 increase in tension over 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 large country, with great wealth but run by a weak power and which has fueled the greed of foreign powers as well as neighboring countries for decades.

The insecurity in Kivu, in the east, started from the refugee crisis caused by the Rwandan genocide (April 7 to July 17, 1994). But in general, the country has suffered from a lack of control over its territory since the war in 1996, 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 of being supported by Rwanda. This rebellion, made up of mutinous soldiers from the Rwandophone community, launched an offensive in 2012 and captured the city of Goma. A brigade was then established within Monusco to support the army, making it possible to neutralize it.

After almost 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 number of armed group that is already in this area and commits abuses, with the front line being ADF-Nalou, which is affiliated with the Islamic State, which is currently responsible for the highest number of civilian deaths.

This worsening security situation comes as Monusco begins a process of disengagement with the reduction of its troops, with the aim of leaving the country scheduled for 2024.

In the DRC there is a certain phenomenon of fatigue vis-à-vis this mission, which has existed for more than twenty years and which many citizens consider ineffective. This adds to the sense of frustration at the lack of interest of the international community in the country’s situation. 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 in Kigali.

Also read: DR Congo – Rwanda: why this renewed tension?

Many African countries have questioned the effectiveness of blue helmets on their soil in recent years. This is especially the case in Mali where the Prime Minister called for a repositioning of the mission and the establishment of a “stronger” mandate. What are these criticisms about? ?

These criticisms are due to the fact that peacekeepers are not an offensive force. They are not there to fight but to prevent this from happening. UN missions are deployed based on the consent of the host state, if the country’s situation threatens international peace and security. The goal 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 mandate. this force must in any case become a party to the conflict. This principle of impartiality is essential to guarantee the UN’s compelling arbitrator role.

Faced with a changing security context and the rise of asymmetrical threats, some international actors want to see peace operations evolve into more offensive mandates, with particular the establishment of brigades, in the model of the intervention force. against armed groups, such as the case against M23 forces in 2013.

The problem is that this offensive brigade formula is not very effective against the unconventional armed groups that abound in eastern DRC and the Sahel. In eastern Congo, these groups live from the theft of natural resources and target populations, sometimes without a clearly identifiable political project, and this situation makes the protection of local communities extremely complicated.

Could these tensions around the presence of the blue helmets, in your opinion, lead to the withdrawal of UN missions in Africa? ?

There is undeniably a major trend: large-scale multidimensional operations deployed in Africa are coming to an end.

With the evolution of conflicts and the proliferation of actors, these missions have become very 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 has been somewhat weakened by the war in Ukraine, which has made it difficult to reach consensus on some issues, including the evolution of mission mandates.

This adds to the political calculations of the leaders. Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi, in favor of collaboration with Monusco, now finds himself in a precarious position. Its position on this issue will have an impact during the 2023 elections because the two Kivu provinces are major reservoirs of votes. He was now forced to type the point on the table and said he wanted to review the mission release schedule.

In Mali, the phenomenon is the opposite because the criticism of the UN comes from the government. But the authorities know that by playing this card they are surfing the sovereignist sentiment that unites the electorate.

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 that seems most plausible now remains that of a gradual withdrawal of the Blue Helmets, which will eventually be replaced by more offensive military forces in the region, supported by the United Nations.

This option will make it possible both to give control while avoiding the creation of a security vacuum and to adapt the rules of engagement of the UN, which is currently considered insufficiently adapted to the current security challenges.

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