Arithmetics of peacekeeping: MONUSCO’s mandate

As much an evergreen topic in the Congo than at Turtle Bay, the recurrent debate about peacekeeping in the DRC’s cycles of armed conflict will be reason for yet another high-level gathering in the UN Security Council on March 26, when a new MONUSCO resolution will most likely be decided after preceding consultations among troop-contributing countries and Security Council members.

In 2015, MONUSCO is at one more turning point in its history. After the inception of its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), the first of its kind, in 2013 and the subsequent contribution to the defeat of M23 in eastern Congo, progress has slown down and so have the prospects of the peacekeeping mission as a whole. Interventions against ADF and APCLS knew modest success, especially on the side of the FIB, and the operations against FDLR so far take place without MONUSCO’s offensive forces.

New and enlarged peacekeeping missions in South Sudan (UNMISS) and CAR (MINUSCA) demand their tribute and MONUSCO is likely to transfer assets and personnel to these missions. In addition, most of MONUSCO’s senior leadership will leave the mission soon and a recent strategic review suggests the downscaling of the mission.

Both the looming electoral cycle and the pursuit of non-state armed actors are challenging MONUSCO’s capacity to protect the civilian population while at the same time contributing to the efforts of DRC’s government, two main responsibilities not always easy to match. It is against this backdrop that the UN Security Council is supposed to reassess and adapt, modify, and renew its resolution 2147 of March 2014. But what are the key areas for improvement and modification of the last mandate?

Very much in general, the upcoming personnel reshuffle bears a high danger for institutional memory within MONUSCO. In the past 12-18 months, a significant number of experienced staff had – for different reasons – already left the mission. Soon Force Commander dos Santos Cruz and SRSG Kobler may follow. It is key at this juncture to improve knowledge transfer and develop measures diminishing internal competition among units and increasing transversal share of information. The mission’s various units charged with intelligence and data gathering should improve their collaboration. The UN Group of Experts, however, should not be compromised in its independence as per resolution 1533.

Protection of Civilians remains the mission’s paramount objective. Given past weaknesses, the Security Council could use the new mandate to give a clear signal to troop-contributing countries including international judicial measures to sanction non-compliance in regards to protection duties. Prioritising the protection of unarmed Congolese civilians over other protection tasks can be a first, albeit dolorous step.

The controversy over MONUSCO’s retreat from supporting FARDC’s anti-FDLR operations should inspire stakeholders to revisit the current human rights due diligence policy (HRDDP) as a basis for the vetting process prior to joint operations. While the HRDDP is a promising approach, its technical implementation and exactitude should be be critically analysed and in conjunction with different peacekeeping missions’ JHROs, JMACs, and JOCs develop potential improvements of the policy and its practical implementation.

The implementation of the PSCF (11+4) has become a forum for politics rather than actual advance. It is time to abandon it for MONUSCO. Instead, the mission could emphasise its role in the ISSSS as a concrete support strategy for STAREC. As to the stalled PSCF process, certain specific elements, such as the EJVM or the implementation of the Nairobi ‘accords’ remain important in the puzzle of long-term solutions. However, the authority over the PSCF is to be left to AU and ICGLR and it concerned member states, including the DRC and its neighbours. As opposed to MONUSCO, the SESG could continue engage in related debates and push for rendering the PSCF’s benchmarks tangible. His recent speech painted a far too rosy picture though.

While the mission’s reputation among Congolese is remarkably high ever since roving German diplomat Martin Kobler took over from Kinshasa resident Roger Meece, MONUSCO’s relations with the government in Kinshasa have considerably soured over the past two years. The Security Council should encourage the mission to leave visible and tangible sovereign prerogatives to the DRC but maintain a critical, however more transparent, stance in its human rights policy.

Amongst the more contested issues, the FIB still finds a paramount place. Its range of action and goal-setting has lacked concreteness and the notion of a ‘versatile’ force slightly exaggerated. More so, its role vis-à-vis the Force certainly needs to be clarified and adapted. MONUSCO needs to scale up its capacity as an active peacekeeping force by strengthening the rules of engagement of its main Force to similar of the FIB’s. Based on its past experiences, the FIB also needs to re-interpret its idea of ‘neutralising armed groups’ and avoid any impression of taking sides or a politicised stand towards other conflict actors, avoiding examples of ‘deux poids, deux mesures’ such as between Nyatura and APCLS in 2014.

MONUSCO needs to take a more coherent public and internal approach in pressing FDLR to disarm and pool its capacities to effectively confront FDLR in both Kivus. In order to avoid deadlocks such as the endless FDLR gamble, MONUSCO’s credibility depends on following its mandate’s prescriptions. If unilateral operations are permitted, they should logically follow suit. Otherwise, this passage has to be deleted. Moreover, previous mandates were often unclear about the quality of non-state armed actors.  A tentative classification could group FDLR, RUD-Urunana, ADF, and FNL as foreign armed groups. It could then refer to three clusters of national armed actors, Mayi-Mayi, Raia Mutomboki, and Nyatura. This would represent a more succinct and still more balanced and neutral assessment in comparison to the former resolution. The notion of bandits and armed gangs can be considered in addition to stress the fact that not all armed groups in the area are classic rebel or militia outfits. Among currently 30 or more organised armed actors in DRC (not counting nameless groups of bandits), there is high variety as to size, degree of central organisation, coalition-building, political objectives, human rights records, etc.

The full electoral calendar published in February 2015 is yet under pressure and MONUSCO’s good offices certainly not sufficient to guarantee the holding of elections. While the mission plays a pivotal role in supporting the electoral process and accompany specialised institutions such as CENI and others to work incessantly towards the fulfilment of the schedule announced, its efforts will have limited impact if not backed by the Security Council. If the UN decides to push for constitutional compliance in regards to the electoral cycle in the DRC, its credibility would benefit from avoiding double standards in the wider Great Lakes region. At the same time, MONUSCO should be outspoken on this calendar’s feasibility too.

A neuralgic aspect of DRC’s long-term stabilisation and development, SSR was a field MONUSCO was absent lately. This relates both to a lack of national ownership and progress in SSR matters and centrifugal dynamics among UN member states running their own bilateral programmes. Both on a technical level but also politically, previous efforts failed to be successful for unfortunate reasons. Nonetheless, SSR-related progress can only be meaningful if the assistance is as multilateral and coherent as possible. Last year’s military reshuffle has not only shown a lack of reform spirit across national stakeholders, it is also the disintegrated nature of projects across the donor and partner landscape that has become an enabling factor in the wider neglect of SSR and justice issues.

Many areas in eastern DRC remain out of reach for the peacekeepers. Hence, training of army and police units to trigger ‘economies of scale’ is a central aspect through which the UN can increase the number of capable security forces across the territory. MONUSCO’s concrete role herein can lie in coordinating and encouraging other international partners to deepen and harmonise their investments as to the formation of Congolese security forces. This would also include an improved vetting process to avoid training former militias as policemen, as happened in certain areas.

Staying in the realm of security forces, the ‘new’ DDR3 process is another stumbling block. The UN has been one a the few actors positively influencing the stalemate, but its efforts could be enlarged through mixed teams of military and civilian staff to engage alongside the UEPN-DDR and other involved institutions, similar to its efforts in the DDRRR process. One thing, though it cannot do. Therefore, the Security Council needs to put pressure both on international donors and the DRC government to meaningfully support the DDR3 plan, so far exclusively funded by the mission. Beyond the role and fate of national combatants, MONUSCO needs to reinterpret its role in the DDRRR process. With pending military operations and a new FARDC/ANR-led FDLR demobilisation process, DDRRR statistics have plummeted.

Human Rights and humanitarian action are both tremendously important things. But they are definitely not the same. By putting them together in resolution 2147, Security Council members have shown an embarrassingly little understanding of these matters. Or a lack of interest. Humanitarian neutrality, impartiality, and independence could be anchored it in a renewed mandate as far as it does not prevent continuous informal dialogue with humanitarian partners, but offering them UAVs for humanitarian purposes is unnecessary. While UAV use bears potential for humanitarian preparedness, the same assets should not be used for military purposes.

MONUSCO can, even if it is not part of its core business, engage in the reform of the Congolese artisanal mining sector by kick-start the ‘centres de négoce’, a project that has been associated with non-implementation and failure so far. However, a series of risks are attached to any involvement in this complex politico-economic terrain. Bearing in mind the problematic narrative of so-called ‘conflict minerals’, the smartest would be not openly endorsing traceability initiatives that exclude the majority of economic operators from the markets.

Finally, MONUSCO remains with considerably leeway of increasing emphasis on root conflict causes such as legal pluralism, land issues, identity politics, local power struggles, elite manipulation, and the negotiation of statehood. In a period described as a critical juncture, the UN approach (their last) opportunity to develop a sentiment for the real root causes of the numerous connected conflicts across the DRC, notably the Kivus. This would also mean moving away from previous territorialising attempts of stabilisation to more in-depth approaches (which is currently being tried, I hear). A shift from partly simplistic, orthodox explanations such as ‘state failure’ or ‘conflict minerals’ 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 other phenomena could redefine the mission’s standing. ‘Dangerous Tales and Dominant Narratives’ have for too long haunted the performance of international assistance and involvement – also the DPKO’s – in DRC. Much of all that, however, will ultimatley depend on the evolution of DRC’s pre-electoral and electoral marketplace.

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