Tuesday, 19 July 2011

World Politics Review on U.N. in DRC

Congo experts will not learn much from this posting which is an email interview I did for World Politics Review. It may however introduce you to an interesting web platform on international relations.

Global Insider: The U.N. Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

By The Editors | 18 Jul 2011

In late-June, the U.N. Security Council renewed the mandate of the peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), despite calls by DRC leaders for its withdrawal and fierce criticism of the mission's failure to halt the country's rape crisis. In an email interview, Theodore Trefon, senior researcher at the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Belgium and author of the forthcoming book "Congo Masquerade," discussed the U.N.'s peacekeeping mission in the DRC.

WPR: What are the main challenges facing the U.N. in the DRC?

Theodore Trefon: Powerlessness is the word that best captures the challenges facing the U.N. in this Western Europe-sized country of 70 million people. Congo is a fragile state with overwhelming macroeconomic, security and governance troubles. The territory is fragmented, with no real central government. Those in power lack political expertise and tend to be driven more by personal gain than the common good.

After decades of dictatorship, state collapse and war, both the state and society need to be rebuilt. Public health, education, infrastructure, security, the economy and establishing trust between government and people are all priorities. But the U.N. has neither the financial means nor the conceptual or operational capacity to deal with these fundamentals in a coherent way.

There is no master plan to piece the country back together. The reconstruction agenda is a series of isolated actions by partners with diverging perceptions and objectives. This is exacerbated by the fact that Congolese authorities see their sovereignty undermined by the U.N., and so have not accepted the relevance of the imported state-building agendas.

WPR: What successes has the U.N. Mission in the DRC achieved?

Trefon: It makes more sense to start with failures. The U.N. Mission in the DRC (MONUC), as it was originally called, is powerless to protect civilian lives. It has been accused of sexual abuse of children, gold and diamond smuggling, arms trading and running away from rebels. It has formal links with the national army, which is the major perpetrator of human rights abuses.

Nonetheless, the mission can claim some tenuous achievements. It participated in peace building and the transition toward democratic rule by overseeing the Lusaka Agreement and the Sun City national dialogue. It provided logistical support for the 2006 elections and helps coordinate humanitarian aid while monitoring human rights abuses. MONUC has monitored cease-fires between foreign and Congolese forces, brokered local truces between rival groups in the Kivu provinces and disarmed and repatriated thousands of foreign combatants.

The mission's aviation sector plays a major role in reuniting the country through the transportation of goods -- electoral kits for example -- and people. Its Radio Okapi is one of the best sources of nonpartisan information.

WPR: How have the mission's objectives changed over the course of the mission, and what impact will the recent one-year extension have?

Trefon: There has been a shift from a military approach toward a political one. The mission's military strategy was justified in the early years because of the illegal exploitation of natural resources, institutional weaknesses, ethnic rivalries, land disputes, the perpetration of human rights violations and the presence of heavily armed rebel groups.

The world's largest U.N. mission had 20,573 uniformed personnel in early 2010. But 2,000 troops withdrew in July 2010, and the operation was rebaptized the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in in the DRC (MONUSCO). "Stabilization" implies development work and political support, along with the ongoing priority of preparing for this year's presidential and legislative elections.

Withdrawal will not be easy. By staying, MONUSCO continues to artificially replace the state, perpetuating dependency. When it leaves, a security vacuum could result with the likelihood of renewed armed conflict.

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