After Peacekeepers Leave the Congo

In an above-the-fold, A1 article in today’s New York Times Jeffrey Gettleman shows UN peacekeepers are failing to control spiriling violence in eastern DRC. The most recent and high profile incident occurred in late July when a militia raped more than 200 women during an attack on a village just 11 miles from a UN outpost.

The Indian peacekeepers at the base nearest Luvungi, in Kibua, about 11 miles away, said that they started hearing reports of an attack on the following Sunday, but that they had been tricked many times before. Often, truck drivers claim a certain area is under attack, the peacekeepers said, when in fact they simply want a United Nations escort to the next town to ensure that no one steals their minerals.

Because there is no cellphone service in the area or electricity, it is not always simple to know when there is an attack. The United Nations, which has around 18,000 peacekeepers in Congo, is now trying to install solar-powered high-frequency radios in some villages.

Gettleman does a good job of explaining UN peacekeeping’s tactical failure. But what is left out of his analysis is the international community’s lackluster support for this mission.

You would not know it from reading his article, but the UN peacekeeping force in Congo, now known as MONUSCO, is actually in the process of shutting down. Last year, the Congolese government let it be known that it no longer wants UN peacekeepers in its country.  This led to some intense negotiations at the Security Council.  A compromise was reached in which the peacekeeping force would change its name, immediately withdraw some 2,000 troops, and begin to shut down the mission all together.

It is instructive that the Security Council responded to Congo’s request to end the mission by meeting them halfway.  Council members did not use their collective power to urge the DRC to accept a kind of peacekeeping surge, rather, they obliged the Congolese government and set into motion a process that will likely leave fewer resources available for civilian protection.