Today, the United Nations Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) with resolution 2502. As steps to wind down the mission begin, it is important to assess the impact of MONUSCO’s various activities. When doing so, we may have to change the lens through which we look at UN peacekeeping. Indeed, peacekeeping missions have always been deployed with pocket money in places that are not high priorities and where the permanent members (P5) of the UN Security Council have limited strategic interests.
Under such circumstances, most missions have accomplished a lot, and are helping the “international community” keep an eye on those situations and to prevent conflicts from escalating to massive levels of violence. Looking at MONUSCO in this light was the aim of a research team part of the Effectiveness of Peace Operations Network (EPON). An overarching conclusion of the team’s research is that what MONUSCO has been able to achieve, with comparatively little resources allocated for an area of operations that is of the size of a continent, is very impressive. In the end, a peacekeeping mission is trying to do its best to implement often unrealistic or overambitious mandates, and measuring their effectiveness must also involve a reality check of the implementation of the mandate delivered by the Security Council against the means and the capabilities that have been given to the mission. In this context, the EPON report has identified a number of strategic impacts and of strategic constraints faced by MONUSCO over the years.
The first area in which MONUC—the precursor to MONUSCO—had a strategic impact is in its contribution towards the reunification of the country. In short, as one African diplomat put it, “If the UN mission had not existed, most probably DRC would not have existed in its current form.” MONUC/MONUSCO also had a strategic impact in preventing a recurrence of a major violent conflict, by using its presence to enable other international and national actors, including the private sector, to provide services and to stimulate the local economy and support democratic politics. The role of MONUC/MONUSCO has also been critical in monitoring, reporting, collecting, and sharing information related to human rights violations to support international criminal justice and the fight against impunity, including the International Criminal Court’s prosecution of Thomas Lubanga, Germain Katanga, Bosco Ntaganda, and others.
These achievements were done despite a number of strategic constraints, including: the diminishing degree of cooperation of the host state; the role of neighboring states fueling instability; and the absence of a champion for MONUC and MONUSCO in the Security Council in order to leverage a commonly-agreed blueprint for dealing with the conflict in a comprehensive fashion.
The mission has also faced a number of operational constraints: the eternal operational and tactical challenges of not having adequate means and capacities to fulfill the mission, of having contingents unwilling to execute the given mandate, and of lacking effective leadership and poor pre- or in-mission training; the problem of multiple interpretations of what peacekeeping is and of the mandate of the mission; and the lack of a strategic communications strategy to counter misunderstandings and to explain the mandate and the mission to the Congolese people or even internally.
After the mission’s initial success against the M23 militant group, a number of operational and political challenges faced by the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) also had an impact on the overall effectiveness of the UN mission. One was the unpreparedness of mission personnel for jungle warfare and for fighting a strategic asymmetric enemy. Related to this was a lack of capacity at headquarters and a lack of integration and coordination with the rest of MONUSCO’s contingents, who were operationally spread out and unsupported. Ultimately, the support of the FIB’s own troop-contributing countries (TCCs) has wavered over time, showing that robustness is as closely linked to political will and interest as it is to military capacity.
Since the release of the EPON report on the effectiveness of MONUSCO, the national context has changed. A new president was elected through peaceful elections, a transfer of power occurred, and the attitude of the host state towards the UN mission has shifted. In its first exchanges with representatives of the UN, the newly-elected president, Félix Tshisekedi, acknowledged the work of MONUSCO and showed that he sees the mission as a partner supporting the stabilization of the country. As underlined in the EPON report, the attitude of the host state is key to the way the UN mission will be able to implement its mandate.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Leila Zerrougui, spoke on October 9, 2019, of “new and positive trends” on the ground “which may help to transform the Democratic Republic of the Congo into a stable country.” The issue remains whether the President Tshisekedi and his government will have the means to embark on long-term needed reforms (disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, security sector reform, justice, rule of law). And, as underlined by the latest report of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “intercommunal violence and armed group activity continued to claim the lives of numerous civilians, with an upsurge in incidents in some areas in the east of the country.”
In light of the Security Council’s renewal of MONUSCO’s mandate, three issues remain at the core:
- The degree to which the situation in the Congo still represents a threat to international peace and security, whether the level of insecurity still justifies the deployment of 16,740 peacekeepers in the country (mainly in the East), and whether the dynamics of the conflict have changed to justify an exit strategy.
- The degree of political support given by stakeholders, in particular the new Congolese government, in transitioning the mission out—with a subsequent issue of how to transition a peacekeeping operation with deep divisions in the Council?
- How to transition the mission in a way that disruptions are as limited as possible for the populations on the ground.
In its previous mandate renewal in resolution 2463, the Council “underscored the need to progressively transfer MONUSCO’s tasks to the Government of the DRC, the UNCT and other relevant stakeholders in order to enable the responsible and sustainable exit of MONUSCO, based on the positive evolution of the situation on the ground, and in a way that contributes to sustainable progress towards the stabilization of the DRC, consolidation of State authority and reduction of the threat posed by armed groups.” Towards this objective, it requested the secretary-general to conduct an “independent strategic review of MONUSCO assessing the continued challenges to peace and security in the DRC and articulating a phased, progressive and comprehensive exit strategy.”
Many of the people interviewed for this study (June-December 2018) were already of the opinion that the UN Security Council has to elaborate a clear exit strategy for MONUSCO in the form of “a controlled and sound plan,” stick to this strategy along a number of benchmarks, and leave the DRC in an orderly manner with the government’s buy-in. Some other interlocutors have argued that, after about 20 years, the presence of the UN peacekeeping mission weakens the state. The longer the mission stays, the more it helps absolve the national authorities from the responsibilities of maintaining law and order, improving the living conditions of the population, and addressing the root causes of the conflict.
Nevertheless, as pointed out by the latest policy brief of Civilians in Conflict, “it is not the time to say good luck and pack up.” This transition will require as much attention paid by all stakeholders over the past 20 years of the UN’s continuous presence in the DRC.
Alexandra Novosseloff is a non-resident fellow at the International Peace Institute and research-associate at the Centre Thucydide of the University of Paris-Panthéon-Assas. She tweets @DeSachenka.