Thoughts on MONUSCO’s upcoming mandate renewal

On 28 March 2013, the UN Security Council did something unexpected in many years before. It made clear, in its resolution 2098 that a peacekeeping force could, under given circumstances, actually implement chapter VII of the UN Charter. To this end, the so-called Force Intervention Brigade has been established with separate rules of engagement and an own, albeit integrated, chain of command within the MONUSCO force. The FIB – as it is referred to in shorter version – assembles 3069 soldiers from South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi and is tasked to “neutralise armed groups” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in case those do not respond to final calls for self-dismantling.

So far the theory. Reality often proves to be slightly different. For the FIB’s case, as known, this meant engaging the M23, the region’s most organised and powerful non-state armed movement between April 2012 and October 2013. While Resolution 2098 clearly provided for the FIB to deal with all armed groups, political imperatives in Turtle Bay were obviously driving the momentum towards M23. The Congolese state and its army, to whom M23 had inflicted a major loss  when they captured Goma, were of course not unhappy with these dynamics. And lastly, MONUSCO itself was rather keen in repolishing its (certainly not entirely self-inflicted) bad image. Aiding a much improved Congolese army – several key commanders and battalions had been reshuffled – the FIB was one instrumental part in quickly defeating M23. Ever since the success story has become a bit stalled, with current operations against ADF being partly successful in chasing the Ugandan rebels out of their strongholds, but potentially counterproductive since insecurity in and around Beni has massively risen from the start of these operations and chunks of ADF fleeing into neighbouring Ituri where they are likely to wreak havoc in future. Similarly, much-anticipated anti-FDLR campaigns appear unlikely to start anytime soon (despite numerous announcements).

MONUSCO’s other pillars, not to be forgotten for they have been the key cornerstones of the mission since at least 2008, are the protection of civilians and the restoration of state authority. Both tricky endeavours in such, they sometimes even contradict each other and make MONUSCO’s stand a rather complicated one in the DRC.

On 31 March, MONUSCO’s current mandate expires. The delayed deployment of the FIB and the not-so-much improved situation in terms of both security and governance increase the likelihood of a new mandate being given for another year, most probably with almost the same wording. This, despite a few positive signals, would not be the right way forward. A few – certainly not exhaustive – suggestions on how MONUSCO should be re-shaped and adapted to realities and necessities:

1. MONUSCO needs to reconfigure its QIPs (Quick Impact Projects). Instead of blurring the lines between humanitarian action and peacekeeping (i.e. blue helmets through running hospitals), the mission needs to re-focus on what it is capable to do and on what would be really needed. A new MONUSCO mandate must therefore include at least two battalions only to build roads across the DRC. This is an opportunity for MONUSCO to play out its logistic strengths without sabotaging the work of others.

2. MONUSCO needs to respect humanitarian neutrality, impartiality, independence. Under the current doctrines such as ISSSS or Islands of Stability and with practises such as armed escorts or the involuntary linkage of humanitarian organisations to MONUSCO by the fact that some depend on the UN-led Pooled Fund, this is far from being guaranteed. MONUSCO, as well as its UN partners, should take this question serious and allow all humanitarian actors to develop the biggest possible operational independence instead of pressing on agendas to link stabilisation with humanitarian action.

3. MONUSCO needs to scale up its capacity as an active peacekeeping force. 3069 FIB soldiers are not enough to carry out an offensive mandate, nor suffice their logistics to ensure rapid deployment everywhere. Following a meaningful interpretation of chapter VII (even if it never happened before either…) other MONUSCO segments must take up similar roles. Fearful paymasters and reluctant troop-contributing countries are not helpful when it comes to make peacekeeping a sustainable business. And in order to build up instruments of pressure across the Kivus (and not only Rutshuru and Beni) it is necessary to have either a larger FIB or a more FIB-like force.

4. MONUSCO needs to claim its role in SSR and DDR. Two neuralgic points of the ‘stabilisation’ in DRC, these agendas have witnessed a certain absence, or powerlessness, of MONUSCO lately. However, the expertise prevailing through a functioning DDRRR unit and a SSR unit within the UN mission must be displayed more forcefully (even if questions of sovereignty make this difficult), especially on a technical level but also politically on the supranational scene. In other words, MONUSCO should help making the currently endangered DDR III plan work by helping – under conditions of proper vetting and monitoring – the Congolese government and advocating for engaged and sustainable donor commitment (one of the main reasons for past DDR failures, together with mismanagement on the Congolese level, was total disinterest on the donor side despite disbursing millions of dollars).

5. MONUSCO needs to develop a sentiment for the real root causes of the numerous connected conflicts across the DRC, notably the Kivus. This includes shifting the focus from simplistic, orthodox explanations such as ‘state failure’ (why this does not make sense has been convincingly explained here) or ‘conflict minerals’ (why this does not make sense has been convincingly explained here) to more nuanced approaches of understanding the complexity of competing legal arrangements (state-centred vs. community-centred), land issues, politics of identity, bigmen struggles, and the everyday negotiation of authority and power on the backs of the everyday struggle to survive.

If a new mandate, and subsequent MONUSCO action can draw from these points there is a chance to further improvement for UN peacekeeping in the DRC. Otherwise, even the recently hailed FIB can converge into a muddling-through like MONUC in its old days.

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