A protest taking place in Goma against the United Nations peacekeeping force (MONUSCO) deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tuesday July 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Moses Sawasawa)

Last week, at least 15 people died in protests demanding United Nations (UN) peacekeepers leave the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The week before, the military junta ruling Mali halted troop rotations for the UN mission there and ejected the mission’s deputy spokesperson. These incidents are not just urgent practical challenges for UN peace operations. They highlight the deep-seated crises of consent and legitimacy unfolding in these missions.

The UN mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, has the government’s weak consent to operate and wield force, but it has failed to build legitimacy and consent among the ordinary people who are most affected by the conflict. The government has been trying to get the mission to leave since 2010, and the UN has been in the process of drawing the mission down since 2020. Protestors, meanwhile, say they want the UN to leave because it has failed to protect civilians. This week, UN peacekeepers returning to the mission from their home country opened fire on a crowd, killing two people and injuring others—a serious incident that drew the UN Secretariat’s outrage and seems likely to accelerate demands for the mission’s departure.

In Mali, government consent for the stabilization mission (MINUSMA) that began in 2013 soured following a 2020 military coup. A recent mandate renewal initially stalled over how freely the mission could move in the country, and over how to manage the reported increase in the Malian armed forces’ alleged human rights violations. Blue helmets in Mali today are operating in a political context that their mandate is not suited for, with decreasing benefit to the civilian population and at great risk to themselves: for eight consecutive years, MINUSMA has been the deadliest mission in the world for peacekeepers. Read more