Is MONUSCO’s intervention brigade up to show some teeth?

This noon, MONUSCO, under its new force commander Dos Santos Cruz, MONUSCO announced a countdown of 48 hours, to end Thursday, 1 August at 4pm Goma time, for all “individuals who are not members of the national security forces and who carries a firearm” (sic!). According to the MONUSCO communiqué,  a currently defined “security zone” largely includes Goma, its outskirts, and Sake on the Western end. The Northern end will go straight from Sake till close the Rwandan border, which means the recent arena of skirmishes including Rusayo, Mutaho, Munigi, almost Kibati, etc. are largely included. The Southern end is Lake Kivu, the eastern mostly the Rwando-Congolese border. Troops deployed to that zone will, according to the communiqué include the North Kivu brigade (NKB) and the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). So far the MONUSCO facts.

Many armed groups have recently underlined that they either consider themselves not as illegitimate and potential target of MONUSCO and/or will defend themselves if attacked by MONUSCO.  But given the relatively small zone, who could this be in a first step? Much is unclear in that regard. Most probable candidates would be M23, given their positions close to Goma. Despite losses in the last 2 weeks, it is highly probable they still occupy some spots within MONUSCO’s disarmament zone. Secondly, smaller units of FDLR could be in the zone too, and members of Nyatura and APCLS with a high probability, though their status would be difficult to define for MONUSCO given some of them have, whether officially or not, integrated the army to join its fight against M23. The rest would rather be bandits. Given these framework conditions, a few questions arise.

This article just picks three of much more to be discussed soon on this site.

One: The troop mixing, putting together NKB and FIB raises questions about MONUSCO’s strategy. According to S/RES/2098 (the name of the resolution fixing MONUSCO’s current mandate) that clearly states that, while the whole MONUSCO acts under the general guidance of the force commander, the FIB has separate, specific rules of engagement and tasks. One of these is characteristically named “neutralising” armed groups. If now MONUSCO deploys in a mixed way, it could of course be the force simply backs up the FIB. However, the concerns raised by many humanitarians and, surprisingly by many civilian and military staff of MONUSCO is that such a strategy would result in blurring the mission’s ‘offensive combat force’ with the whole of the UN, maybe even humanitarian presence in the Kivu provinces.

Two: MONUSCO has never had an ‘armed group’ definition that would allow for an exact analysis of the Congo’s militarisation landscape. This is not the UN’s fault (or: partly, if at all) but due to complexity and variance of actors. However, in connection with Resolution 2098 and the FIB, it poses considerable challenges: Whom to attack, and whom not? Whom to attack first? MONUSCO’s new force commander seems to have chosen an areal strategy in order to circumvent parts of these challenges with meaningful logistics-based arguments. It makes sense, from a strategic viewpoint to first secure the region’s major political centre and hub for supply. But it would be difficult to justify having a de facto front against M23 to start with, from a purely mandate-based point of view. Resolution 2098 does not imply any hierarchy among the groups it lists (FDLR, M23, APCLS, ADF, MM Bakata Katanga, and others).

Three: In the midst of accelerating developments comes the void left by Roger Meece’s succession plan. Martin Kobler will only arrive in a few days in the DRC, which means that one of the Deputy SRSG’s has to fill in the blank. For one reason or anouther, the UN has chosen Moustapha Soumaré. He is the UN’s Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator. Ironically it is him who, from the political leadership of MONUSCO, announces the disarmament ultimatum. It is also him assuming the chief humanitarian role across the country. From a (principled) humanitarian viewpoint, this is a huge problem, if not a scandal.

It remains to be seen, how MONUSCO addresses these, and other challenges in the days to come. Another particularly striking aspect is, the ultimatum will run out a day after the ICGLR summit in Nairobi. So far, however, there is no real indication of Kampala Talks being effectively revived there. As so often, a suivre…


Postcriptum – some other analyses/reports on the Intervention Brigade


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