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Time to end the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo

Every year the United Nations Security Council renews the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in the DRC. In 1999, exactly 20 years ago, the UN Security Council established the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) with the mandate to monitor compliance of the Lusaka peace agreement. In July 2010 the mission changed its focus to a stabilization role and was renamed the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

Several times the Congolese authorities asked the UN to wind down its mission. Unfortunately, it was for the wrong reasons namely its criticism of the government. Also citizens called several times for an end to UN presence in DRC because it was not protecting civilians.  This pressure contributed in part to the creation of the intervention brigade in March 2013 with the mandate to neutralize armed groups which had taken control of a vast territory and seriously threatened civilian security. Unfortunately, armed groups still pose a serious security challenge in Eastern DRC.

This time, the call for a more serious look at an exit strategy is very compelling and appropriate for several reasons:

DRC Is Now Politically Stable

The historic peaceful power transfer from President Joseph Kabila to President Felix Tshisekedi provides an opportunity for the UN to leave. The chaos predicted before and or after the elections did not materialize.  Given the fact that elections were funded fully by the Congolese government and intentionally rejected any foreign help to prevent further external interference in DRC’s internal politics means that with more political will it is possible to improve governance in that nation. Currently, there are many signs that show that the DRC is for the most part politically stable, but far less economically stable. The UN and some NGO can hardly make such a statement because it undermines their existence.

Eliminating Armed Groups is DRC Government’s Responsibility

The UN cannot and will not restore and reestablish state authority in all the ungoverned spaces in the DRC.  In some areas the conflict and insecurity is the result of bad governance. During his recent visit to Goma, President Felix Tshisekedi held a security meeting and promised that he will rotate the military personnel and bring new units to eastern DRC. This decision was widely welcomed because top military officers own kidnapping gangs who share the ransom money with them.  Since the announcement of this measure, kidnapping has intensified. This is a challenge the Congolese government must and can successfully take care of without UN intervention.

UN Staff No Longer Cares About the Mission, But Rather Keeping Their Jobs

After 20 years in the DRC, the UN mission runs the risk of becoming a problem rather than a solution. It has been alleged by credible sources that UN officials who have been in DRC for very long have lost their objectivity and have begun taking sides in ethnic conflicts. Furthermore, expatriates who are supervisors, have become used to the very generous wages and benefits by the UN and see no urgency in bringing a lasting solution to the security and governance challenges facing the DRC. Generous benefits available to UN expatriates include, but not limited to tuition for their children in any school of their choice.

People with inside information have described MONUSCO as a corrupt mafia like organization when it comes to kickbacks, fictitious employees, sale of UN fuel on the black market, submitting false invoices and much more. The Africa Faith and Justice Network, an advocacy organization based in Washington DC has formally requested a congressional hearing on this matter and has asked for an independent UN investigation on these matters.

Loss of Relevance and Credibility

UN staff are commonly referred to as tourists because they are seen enjoying a wonderful life in cities across the DRC, in the best restaurants, bars and with beautiful women. Actually, from 2010-2017, the UN has reported 37 cases of sexual exploitation, 19 sexual abuse and one pending. Of these 57 cases 11 involved children.

Conditions For MONUSCO To Remain In DRC

For MONUSCO to remain in the DRC there has to be very minimal presence with a more focused mandate whereby experts, especially Congolese nationals, are embedded into different government services particularly in recently created provinces to help build their capacity.  It cannot be said enough that the number of expatriates has to be very minimal and that management posts have to be nationalized to avoid the mistakes made after independence. Financially, this approach is far less costly and more beneficial to the DRC. This approach will also put an end to the current situation whereby UN expatriates  find themselves without much to do and instead spend time as tourist and patrolling  in big cities where there is calm.

In conclusion,  it is obvious that even if there are no public protests calling on MONUSCO to leave, there is strong evidence that the UN has done so much in the DRC and that the time has come and conditions are right for an exit. A compromise to this position is a very reduced UN presence mission with a very limited number of expatiates focused on stabilization and reinforcement of the capacity of the Congolese state. Such a mission must have an exit strategy and should not be renewable for more than two years.

By Ntama Bahati, Policy Analyst, Africa Faith and Justice Network, Washington DC