The people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.) are frustrated. Especially in the eastern providence of North Kivu, where problems are particularly high. The Congolese have endured decades of conflict and disease. According to Al Jazeera, the situation in the country is only getting worse as days go on. With each coming day, a growing number of people are being killed by rebel groups. Feeling ignored, they have taken their ire out on the UN’s peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO and the D.R.C’s security forces.
MONUSCO, the United Nations organization stabilization mission in the D.R.C., was adopted from an earlier UN peacekeeping operation in the country. It came into effect in July 2010. According to the UN, MONUSCO’s mission “has been authorized to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate relating, among other things, to the protection of civilians, humanitarian personnel and human right defenders under imminent threat of physical violence and to support the Government of the DRC in its stabilization and peace consolidation efforts.” As of September 2019, MONUSCO has 20,029 total personnel and an annual budget of a little over one billion dollars. It is the largest peacekeeping operation in the world.
Frustrations were heightened on Saturday when eight people were killed in an attack by the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces). In response to the deaths, Congolese protesters targeted the UN facilities in Beni, setting fires and destroying buildings on Tuesday. The UN personnel used tear gas and rubber bullets to regain control. Videos of the UN compound following the attack show it in near-complete destruction, with staff members standing guard around the carcasses of destroyed, burnt-out buildings.
The protest spread to Butembo, one of the three major cities, where a protester was killed while clashing with D.R.C. security forces and UN staff. It also spread to Goma, the capital of the North Kivu, where protesters were prevented by government soldiers from attacking the UN base there.
The United Nations chief of military forces in Beni, Omar Aboud, announced that live ammunition was not used by the UN forces. He told Al Jazeera, “We are making every effort to continue the dialogue with these demonstrators and their leaders, as well as the national authorities … to ensure calm and return to peace and security.”
Meanwhile, protestors have made it known that they want MONUSCO to leave. A protester told Al Jazeera, “The UN is supposed to keep the peace in North Kivo but we never see the peace. We are angry, we don’t want them to stay here.”
To give a brief history, the D.R.C. was originally colonized by Belgium and gained independence in 1960 when the Congolese took part in an uprising. After independence, the D.R.C. faced challenges, including two civil wars and a rebellion that left half of the country in rebel hands. Instability and conflict have been a long-running issue in the DRC. The Allied Democratic Forces are, in a way, more of the same.
The ADF was created in 1995 and has a presence both in Uganda and the DRC. The armed rebel group’s motivations and vision are hard to pin down. The ADF is one of the oldest and least understood militant groups in Africa: it has a shifting ideology, from Jihadism to secular-nationalism. Regardless of their obscurity, they are highly active. In 2019, the ADF took part in 132 violent events and were responsible for over 415 fatalities, including MONUSCO peacekeepers. Since 2014, 700 civilian deaths have been attributed to ADF. The Congolese are tired of the ADF repeated violence in North Kivu.
Spread across 14 countries, UN peacekeepers are the second-largest military force positioned abroad. However, UN peacekeeping missions often have mixed results for a variety of reasons. In Africa in particular, peacekeeping missions have been heavily scrutinized for their ineffectiveness, as the BBC has reported. In South Sudan, for example, UN troops failed to protect civilians when clashes occurred between government forces and former rebels in 2016. Near UN compounds, women and girls were raped without interference from peacekeepers. Additionally, the UN mission situated inside the country of Central African Republic has also been accused of inaction when 75 people were killed in an outbreak of violence that occurred in September 2016. The DRC is part of this unfortunate trend.
To better the situation in the D.R.C., the UN needs to consider new strategies. The Better World Campaign has offered several improvements to the MONUSCO’s peacekeeping operation. The Congolese seem to be frustrated with the longevity of the violence and how it has led to civilian deaths, so MONUSCO needs to refigure their strategy to solve this problem in a way that has long-lasting results. The MONUSCO also needs to be bettered structured, equipped and trained in order to be able to handle crises when they occur. Finally, the UN needs to make sure it is working with the local government to ensure legitimate elections and law following. If this is achieved, then the Congolese might feel better represented in their government. Average people might come to feel like their voices are heard and that there wants and concerns are being addressed. Of course, this is not as easy as it sounds, but it should be prioritized.
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