The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) held long-awaited general elections on 30 December to replace President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the country for almost two decades. The results were controversial: opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi was declared the winner, but another candidate, Martin Fayulu, has cried foul, stating that he is the rightful winner and that Tshisekedi’s victory is a result of a pact between him and Kabila. At the time of this writing the Constitutional Court has reportedly confirmed Tshisekedi’s victory.
While this new political crisis hits the African nation, one question that should be asked: What will be the future of the UN mission to the DRC, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO)?
The population of the DRC and the international community in general have waited for fair presidential elections in the African nation for a long time, not to mention a peaceful transfer of power. President Kabila took control of the country when his father, President Laurent Kabila, was assassinated in 2001. The young Kabila would then rule until today, presiding over a transitional government when the Second Congo War ended, and winning elections in 2006 and 2011, which were marked by controversy. The country was supposed to hold new elections in 2016 and Kabila was constitutionally barred from running again, but the polls were ultimately postponed, as Kinshasa argued that ongoing violence in the East, a lack of funds to organize the elections, and insufficient time to update the voter registry prevented the government from holding them. Elections were then supposed to occur on 23 December 2018, only to be postponed once again, and they finally took place on 30 December.
According to election officials, “Mr Tshisekedi received 38.5% of the vote, compared with 34.7% for Mr Fayulu. Ruling coalition candidate Emmanuel Shadary took 23.8%,” the BBC explains. “Fayulu has alleged that Tshisekedi’s win was the result of a backroom deal between Tshisekedi and Kabila that allows Kabila to maintain control over important ministries and the security services,” Al Jazeera reports.
There is widespread concern about the elections and the future of the country, with entities like the Southern African Development Community and other international organizations either requesting a recount or calling for calm in the African nation. The African Union has requested Kinshasa to suspend the announcement of final election results, which the DRC government has denied, insisting that the Constitutional Court’s assessment of the vote’s legality is impartial. It remains to be seen whether the international community will recognize Tshisekedi’s apparent victory – analysts that follow African affairs should monitor which heads of state and diplomatic delegations attend his swearing-in ceremony, which is “scheduled for Tuesday, January 22, according to the latest calendar of the National Independent Electoral Commission (Céni),” AfricaNews reports.
Discussing MONUSCO’s Future
It is in this scenario that MONUSCO continues to operate in the DRC. The UN Security Council, via Resolution 2409 (2018), extended MONUSCO’s mandate until 31 March of 2019, with a ceiling of “16,215 military personnel, 660 military observers and staff officers, 391 police personnel, and 1,050 personnel of formed police units,” including an Intervention Brigade. According to data provided by UN Peacekeeping, as of 31 December 2018, MONUSCO has 15,366 UN contingent troops; 1,364 UN police officers; and 263 staff officers, making it the largest UN peacekeeping operation in the world. As for the mission’s mandate, Article 31 of Resolution 2409 explains that MONUSCO’s priorities are 1) protecting civilians; and 2) supporting the implementation of the 31 December 2016 agreement to hold elections.
The critical question that must be addressed is: What is MONUSCO’s future? Should it commence a withdrawal from the country or continue operating there?
There is no consensus on MONUSCO’s future among experts as the situation in the DRC is so complex. On the one hand, the country did hold elections, which fulfills one of the mandate’s objectives; however, the polls were controversial to say the least, and violence has already occurred as the population takes to the streets. Scott Morgan, a long-time analyst of African affairs, argued to me that “the uncertainty of the presidential polls could lead to violence regardless of which candidate is declared the winner. Having the mission remain to monitor the situation is crucial at this time.” Moreover, violence in the Eastern part of the country continues, and the “situation in Burundi is not expected to show any improvement in the near future. The repatriation of FDLR fighters to Rwanda is another issue that needs to be addressed.” To make things even worse, as if that were possible, there is a new Ebola outbreak to deal with, and there have been over 600 reported cases and 368 deaths as of early January.
UN peacekeepers could be a key player in handling these challenges, particularly as the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) “either lack the capacity or the will to address these issues,” Morgan concludes, not to mention that the national police and the FARDC are guilty of plenty of crimes themselves. “Women and children are often kidnapped, frequently for the purpose of sexual exploitation, with rapes and gang rapes committed both by armed groups and sometimes by the army,” a UN report explains.
Alas, the mission’s own record so far is hardly ideal, considering widespread evidence of peacekeepers involvement in sexual abuse, human rights violations, corruption, or failing to protect Congolese civilians even though they are mandated to do so.
In a co-authored article entitled “Yes, MONUSCO Needs To Stay in the DRC,” published by the International Policy Digest in May 2017, Scott Morgan and I argued that, in spite of MONUSCO’s many, many shortcomings and flaws, it should stay in the DRC. Moreover, the mission’s troops should receive clearer mandates and orders about supporting and protecting Congolese civilians from violence and abuse. When I asked an African expert whether MONUSCO should stay in the DRC, the blunt reply I received was: “to do what? They do not protect civilians right now, so why should they stay?” The expert also argued that MONUSCO’s mandate needs to be more forcefully implemented by the blue helmets in the ground.
Other experts have argued that it is time for MONUSCO to leave, but in an orderly, well-planned, and structured fashion. This may have to occur anyways, as, given its size, MONUSCO is an expensive operation and the United States, among many other countries, are not paying their dues to the UN. One possibility is that the mission can be transformed into a political mission or a police one – akin to the UN mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, which became MINUJUSTH.
Finally, it is important to mention that a key factor that will influence the future of MONUSCO is the attitude of the new president toward implementing rule of law, transparency and security in the country. Relations between MONUSCO and Kabila were often tense, so we will similarly have to monitor the new government’s attitude toward the UN mission.
MONUSCO Is Trying
To be fair, MONUSCO has attempted to improve the situation in the DRC. For example in May 2018, the UN mission inaugurated “several projects in support of victims of sexual exploitation and abuse” in the North Kivu area. On 17 January, a vocational training center project for ex-combatants and young people at risk was launched, which was funded by the UN mission. Additionally, “MONUSCO has provided support to the Ebola response since the beginning of the outbreak through the provision of logistical support, office facilities, transportation, communication, and security,” the World Health Organization explains.
Even more, MONUSCO personnel have lost their lives trying to make the African nation a better place. According to UN data, the mission has suffered 167 fatalities; in one incident this past November 2018, six Malawian and one Tanzanian peacekeepers, in addition to several FARDC troops, were killed in Beni territory, North Kivu, while carrying out joint operations against a rebel movement called Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
It goes without saying that the UN Security Council will renew MONUSCO’s mandate for another year, however what is debatable is whether the UNSC will order a downsizing of the mission as a sign that it is time for MONUSCO to leave. Tragically, the country continues to face several challenges, including political instability. Thus, the weeks ahead will provide an idea of whether the DRC can have a peaceful transition of power and what this means for the future of the UN mission in the African nation.
Wilder Alejandro Sanchez is an analyst who focuses on geopolitical, military and cyber security issues. @W_Alex_Sanchez.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.