I won’t lie. I’m not a huge fan of the entire UN system and this sentiment is one I’ve aired very often. While certain UN agencies such as the WHO, UNICEF, UNESCO and FAO do some really good work, many other bodies are not worth their financial burden, especially the peacekeeping department. Can anyone actually remember a conflict where a UN peacekeeping force had a positive role? Not in the former Yugoslavia, not in Rwanda and not in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And their failure in the Congo is despite the US$ 8.73 billion that has been spent since 1999.
Where has this money gone? To fund an operation that, in 2011, included 19,084 uniformed personnel, out of which 16,998 were military personnel, 743 were military observers and 1,343 were police. In addition the forces included 983 international civilian personnel, 2,828 local civilian staff and 600 UN volunteers. That’s a grand total of 23,495 people. That kind of force equals and exceeds the armies of 55 different nations in the world. I don’t mean just little Pacific Ocean atolls but ‘proper’ countries such as Iceland, Botswana, Slovakia, Belize and New Zealand.
With that kind of fire and manpower, one would think that the Mai-Mai, FDLR and, most recently, the M32 mutineers would think twice about even attempting to do battle with this Armada of international forces. But that isnt the case at all. The Umoja Wetu offensive undertaken by a Rwanda-DRC military, which almost broke the back of the FDLR, didn’t involve MONUSCO. In fact, it had failed to do anything about the FDLR’s reign of terror and rape.
No one has confidence in it anymore. Not the Congolese people, not the Kabila administration and not Congo’s neighbors. I found the just concluded AU Heads of State summit extremely eye-opening.
The Presidents of Rwanda and Congo met for ninety minutes on Sunday and then endorsed an agreement hammered out at a meeting Thursday of foreign ministers of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). The ICGLR-led agreement called for, among other provisions, “an immediate establishment of a neutral international force to eradicate M23, FDLR and all other negative forces in eastern DRC (Congo), and patrol and secure the border zones.”
So, here are two things I noticed. Firstly, the UN, despite its millions and ‘power’, couldn’t get two member states to sit down and iron it its issues. In fact, what we’ve seen is that this very body, meant to ensure world peace, was through its actions and inactions (and accursed reports) actually escalating tensions.
As a result, a small regional body was forced to do what the UN should have done. Bring people to the negotiating table. That’s UN failure number one.
Failure number two is MONUSCO’s perceived lack of neutrality befitting UN peacekeeping troops. The need to establish a ‘neutral’ force to do what the behemoth was mandated to do is its biggest indictment. So, here is the question I ask. If the Congolese, the Rwandans, the Ugandans, the Burundians, the Kenyans don’t think that the MONUSCO is a neutral force, then why is it still being allowed to operate in the Eastern DRC?
Is it perhaps because it’s ‘too big to fail’ and that its failure will make a similar peacekeeping force impossible to justify? Or is it because it’s too lucrative for too many people? One cannot ignore the fact that those billions are entering someone’s pocket.
This situation reminds me of the entire Somalia debacle. United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM), headquartered in Mogadishu from March 1993 until March 1995, made things worse instead of better. Instead of peace, the Somali people had to deal with the ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident, increased insecurity and famine. Its only today, with the AU force, taking care of business, that the Somalis finally have a real chance to build a viable and stable central government. So, once again I must ask, “so, what exactly do we need MONUSCO for?”