The United Nations in the DR Congo: Promoting peace or provoking war?

Is the United Nations (UN) setting a new precedent by changing its role from peacekeeping into peace enforcement activities? This question, must be in many people’s minds, especially those who are seriously concerned by the recent development at the Security Council (SC) and by the decision to authorise the so called ‘intervention brigade’ in the Eastern DR Congo.
Joe B. Jakes
Joe B. Jakes

Is the United Nations (UN) setting a new precedent by changing its role from peacekeeping into peace enforcement activities? This question, must be in many people’s minds, especially those who are seriously concerned by the recent development at the Security Council (SC) and by the decision to authorise the so called ‘intervention brigade’ in the Eastern DR Congo. Those familiar with policy discussions about the UN peacekeeping would certainly know the usual debates which are essentially of technical nature, such as the language, discourse and wording of resolutions rather than big strategic questions. The resolution 2098 authored by France and the United States (US) gave an unprecedented offensive mandate for the ‘brigade’ which simply means opening fire without being fired upon.

Let us assume this is the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) concept being introduced to the region for a moment, just as some of its champions have used the same rationale to win support. If so, will the military action of around 3,000 men be able to correct the shortcomings of nearly 20,000 peacekeepers already deployed in the East of the DR Congo? Quite frankly, the SC seemed to have been interested in a more aggressive language (i.e. to be seen doing something) for short term political gains rather than being concerned with real operational risks (i.e. massive displacements and death toll) and complex political struggle in the region. Is the new intervention force or, for that matter, the principle of R2P being used in this case as a cover for the on-going hot pursuit of economic and political interests?

One would be excited if the new brigade, alongside the MONUSCO, were to carry out the ‘targeted offensive operations’ against all armed groups so the civilian population can have a break at last, but it is astonishing that only the M23 was singled out by the UN an organisation that is supposedly neutral. Unfortunately, one is less optimistic because the UN mission in DR Congo had long been undermined by its inability to carry out its original mandate, its involvement in illegal activities, and the proposed brigade will certainly not bring peace. The main question in this article, however, is whether we could potentially see a UN sponsored war breaking out in the region. One hopes this war remains an ‘imagined one’ because of its potential explosive and sensitive nature but also its proxy dimension. Could you imagine, for instance, Tanzanian troops firing and killing hundreds of Congolese citizens (i.e. military or civilian targets) and its implication on the relationship between the two peoples? One could arg
ue that the brigade’s task is to target armed groups only, but in all military conflicts the civilian population always pay the heaviest price and this will be no different in the Eastern DR Congo. After all, fighting against rebel groups which often use guerrilla tactics is not an easy task and the outcome of such military confrontation would be indeed unpredictable.

Let us be frank and accept that the Real Politik is at play here. More importantly, the UN is trying out something new and to see if this could be a new model for future ad hoc military interventions. But why choose Africa and the GLR that has suffered enough as a testing ground? Why not Syria whose neighbours have petrol dollars and would be willing to arm and fight? If there is genuine political will to pursue peace in the Eastern Congo, the UN must avoid undermining the ongoing talks in Kampala and should encourage dialogue because, after all, the M23 is a legitimate challenger to the government of the DR Congo.

Failing to support peace talks and continuing the discredited military approach in the region will only bring misery to the same people, the UN is supposedly trying to protect and defend. Indeed the M23’s political leader Bertrand Bisimwa made it clear that the resolution was a de facto declaration of war “against one of the partners for peace”.

The decision to authorise a violent military confrontation on Rwanda’s border is another indication of a complete detachment from reality by the UN’s decision makers in New York City, and a total disregard to the value of human life in the GLR. This act has raised many questions and some have argued that the SC’s credibility deficit has developed and this, once again, casts an obvious shadow on the reputation of the United Nations systems as a whole.

Easy to lay the blame on somebody’s door? Unsurprisingly yes, and let it be said that the regional leadership, especially the country in question, has failed miserably to solve this conflict once and for all. Blaming the neighbours, UN and international community for your own misfortune does not bring any peace dividend, but embracing and applying the motto of ‘African solutions for African problems’ would be the best approach to actually get things moving.

Do you ever wonder why we reached at this stage? Do the regional stakeholders actually allow self-critique or self-evaluation? Why do African governments lack political will to resolve their differences let alone stop massacres?

Where have the ideas and ideals of African renaissance and Pan Africanism gone? What will the new economic revival mean without unity among the peoples of Africa? True, the UN ‘intervention brigade’ might as well be an uninvited guest but for the stakeholders this is too late, and their energy should be in trying to use their possible leeway to tilt the balance, and also to find lasting solutions to the problem of the Eastern DR Congo.

Avoiding a new regional war requires genuine commitment and effort from both the UN and regional political leaders.

The UN must stop this new aggressive approach in the region if its intervention is genuinely humanitarian inspired, or else it will be viewed as a mere cover military offensive to achieve the goals of the great powers. The regional political elite must stand up and show their commitment to peace, but also prove to the populace that they earn their pay.

Should the Kampala negotiations be undermined by the military attacks on the M23, then the region surely risks being plunged into a new protracted conflict with new war scenarios. Do you think African states whose forces are to be deployed would be able to resist the pressure from the UNSC to do that what is against their conscience? Where is the critical reflection upon the citizens’ current conditions or potential and disastrous consequences of another war?

Why is it acceptable for the UNSC to allow military confrontation in the region without consulting all governments involved in the crisis? Are the enlisted military contributors having an open debate with their democratic institutions, or are their parliaments deliberating on what will be their armies’ role in the DR Congo Intervention Brigade?

Lack of cross-examination prior to authorising the ‘intervention brigade’ simply brings the organ’s decision-making into question, and this can only fuel the ongoing debate about UN’s much needed radical reform and democracy. People in the GLR ought to know better that international politics remains a space of conflicting principles and contingent political interests, hence crafting their own solutions will be the only guarantor of a peaceful future.

Peace is ultimately a birthright to all children in the GLR as it is elsewhere. It cannot be brought by unprecedented attempts of new ‘intervention brigades’ nor can it be a product of war for that matter as the citizens of that region know it too well.

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