Time to pull out UN troops in Congo? Not so fast.
Congo’s President Kabila wants to pull out UN forces. But Congo is still at war and dealing with tremendous violence. The international community and the Congolese need to create a vision and strategy first.
With a fledgling democratic government and a formal peace process finally in place in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the country will celebrate its 50th year of independence next month. The country’s path to democratic self-rule has been marred by a long dictatorship, two deadly regional wars, and the near-collapse of the state.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
President Joseph Kabila has announced an incredibly risky way to mark the occasion: He wants to withdraw most of the United Nations peacekeepers before the big party, and the remainder by next summer.
It is not only a dangerous calculation for Mr. Kabila’s own regime and his people, but he risks squandering the billions of dollars invested in rebuilding Congo. He also risks destabilizing a fragile region in the heart of Africa.
Eastern Congo, notorious for shocking levels of sexual violence and widespread looting of the region’s natural resources, is still at war despite peace agreements and high-level reconciliation between Kabila and Rwanda’s President Kagame. Fighting between Congolese Army forces, led by commanders still tied to the ex-rebel movement Congrès National du Peuple (CNDP), and various armed groups, including the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), exacts a devastating toll on civilians and prevents state institutions from taking root, all against a background of growing ethnic tensions and land disputes.
In other parts of the country, the Congo’s military has failed to protect people from the Lord’s Resistance Army – a predatory group known for abducting children and ritual mutilations – that has wiped out villages in northern Congo for two years, almost unnoticed. Just last month UN peacekeepers had to help the Congo’s
Army fight off a rag-tag group of rebels who took control of a provincial capital in western DRC, an area the government and others have said is stable enough to merit immediate withdrawal of peacekeepers.
This environment is clearly perilous for the government, but it also poses serious risks for the UN mission established a decade ago to support the peace process that ended one of Congo’s most devastating wars. Unfortunately, the United Nations Mission in DR Congo (MONUC) faces its own credibility crisis as locals watch peacekeepers cooperate with abusive soldiers to fight against the FDLR while simultaneously failing to effectively protect them from violence. While MONUC and the UN Security Council might have believed their tactics would stabilize eastern Congo, so far they have failed to deter the FDLR threat, and the humanitarian situation is deteriorating.