The United Nations Security Council is soon going to renew the mandate of the peacekeeping mission in the Congo. There is some debate around the role that MONUSCO should play in the electoral process, with the head of the mission Roger Meece arguing that other organizations are better equipped than MONUSCO to conduct election monitoring and observation. After all, MONUSCO has a relatively small electoral division, which in addition has also suffered the tragic loss of some of its leaders in a recent place crash in Kinshasa. He also points out that MONUSCO did not do much direct election observation in 2006.
Instead, Meece wants to preserve MONUSCO's "good offices" in order to better manage election disputes between the various contenders. This is in line with his overall objective of re-establishing good relations with the Congolese government after they had reached their nadir under his predecessor. Meece has argued, quite reasonably, that as long as the Congolese see them as antagonists or rivals, they will accomplish little in the country.
However, this drive to preserve good relations could become a slippery slope, as MONUSCO begins to barter away more and more of its leverage and moral authority in order to stay in President Kabila's good books.
For example, in their latest report to the UN Security Council, the UN mission said that they have documented over a hundred human rights violations related to the electoral process between January and May 2011. Other than including one paragraph in their report, however, the mission has not made any of their information on these incidents public. The publication of his kind of information could help deter further abuses and put pressure on authorities to rein in their local officials (most of the violations I have heard of appear to be orchestrated at at the local level).
Some human rights advocates have spoken of the possibility of setting up an election abuse team headquartered within MONUSCO - drawing on members of its military, election workers, human rights division and intelligence cell - that would focus solely on this issue for the next 6 months. I think this could be an excellent idea, albeit not one that would probably please the authorities in Kinshasa.
Ambassador Meece argues that MONUSCO is not the best equipped organization to monitor the elections. He may be right on some fronts. However, for now MONUSCO is probably the only organization with representatives in almost province and will the ability, finances and clout to investigate the voter registration process as well as other abuses. Soon, the Carter Center and the EU will have official monitors on the ground, but by that time the tone for the campaigning will have already been set and the voter register will be complete. Congolese organizations are also increasingly calling for the UN to use its authority to prevent repression and intolerance.
MONUSCO does not necessarily need a strong election mandate - although a sentence telling it to use its resources to document and investigate abuses related to the elections would be helpful - but it should not value its good relations with the government more than the most important political event in five years.