On February 3, 2009, the media quoting a letter released on the same date from the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reported that the UN is struggling to find 3000 new peacekeepers for the eastern Congo.
According to the media reports, Ki-moon had asked the Security Council to put pressure on countries to contribute troops to the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, known by the French acronym as MONUC.
However, Ki-moon lamented that of the 65 countries, which the UN had approached to contribute troops, or police, only Bangladesh and Belgium had made firm offers.
Bangladesh, would contribute one infantry battalion, one engineering company and one police unit, while Belgium would contribute a C-130 transport aircraft.
How valid is his frustration, at a time when Rwanda and Congo have launched a joint military operation against FDLR rebels, largely responsible for insecurity in eastern Congo, and at a time when Congo’s rebel groups have laid down arms and reintegrated with the government forces.
The answer to this may depend on who is answering the question. But precisely one would say a big No, since the fighting seems to be winding down.
I have heard several Congolese say the period of war is over. From the time the joint operation was launched, many Congolese who had been displaced are resettling, according to media reports.
I presume there might be little or no work left again for UN peacekeepers in DRC. If anybody claims there is, it will no longer be worth the huge budget in billions that is allocated to that mission.
If the war is over, it’s over, one man said on the BBC’s Imvo Nimvano Kinyarwanda programme last Saturday. The remaining battle is to totally defeat and disarm armed groups - which UN troops had failed to do over the years.
The MONUC soldiers built a bad track record ever since they were deployed in Congo which has caused them to be resented.
As early as 2004, there were reports that UN soldiers from South Africa and India were involved in massive abuses against Congolese children in Bunia.
In a related incident, a soldier at the rank of a Colonel was accused of molesting a boy who was doing interpretation work.
Other soldiers from Morocco, Nepal and Uruguay who were operating in Kisangani were cited among those abusing children.
Most recently, in September 2008, even after Indian peacekeepers previously alleged to be notorious had left DRC, reports of misconduct among the troops continued.
Coming from the horse’s mouth, the UN last year confirmed that an internal investigation had unearthed credible evidence implicating soldiers from India in sexual exploitation and abuse.
About 100 peacekeepers reportedly used Congolese children as domestic servants. And because of the UN rotational guidelines after about six months, those who commit such crimes in most cases go scot-free, thereby abusing children with impunity.
Between 2004 and 2006 at least 140 sexual offences were recorded against these soldiers. The same report detailed accounts of commercial sex workers in Goma revealing how UN soldiers were paying them more for unprotected sex.
According to the accounts, most of their UN soldier customers who were nicknamed the ‘Blue Helmet’ insisted on unprotected sex.
“They have sexual intercourse with us, without condoms, in their jeeps, during a patrol and in their camps. The soldiers pay US $ 20….above the going rate of US $2,” one sex worker was quoted as saying.
This type of reckless behaviour, I believe, is criminal negligence, more especially when HIV/Aids scourge is brought into play. So, how sure can one be that more soldiers will not instead open the old wounds of Congolese nationals? It is not far fetched for one to say that UN soldiers are there to make money.
Apart from the huge budget allocated to that mission, many individual soldiers have benefited largely from illicit trade in minerals (Gold) and weapons with rebels, probably the reason some observers see them as arms traders masquerading as peacekeepers, taking advantage of the lawlessness of Congo for personal enrichment.
In light of that bad reputation, how then can one take Ban’s appeal seriously? The best option for the UN now is to actively help the Rwanda-Congo military option to disarm all Congolese fighters once and for all-than put pressure on reluctant nations to contribute troops.