- Lawrence White
Chaos in the Congo and the potential for peace
For over twenty years, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been plagued by ethnic violence and clashes over resources. Over seventy armed groups are believed to be active in the country and the vast majority of these groups are based in the east. Yet, the country is host to one of the largest United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions in the world. The UN mission in the Congo involves nearly 12,000 military personal and has been operational since 2014. Considering the scale of UN deployment, it is striking that ethnic conflict continues to persist throughout the east of the country. Indeed, the conflict remains so serious that hundreds of thousands of people were displaced in 2019 alone. Thus, it is clear that the UN peacekeeping force in its current form is insufficient to stabilise the country. However, it should not be abandoned. Instead, its mandate should be extended and the operation given additional funds to help end the conflict.
Shockingly, the government has frequently told a different story about the scale of the problems that the country is facing. They have repeatedly claimed that the UN response is disproportionate and that their own statistics disprove the argument of a humanitarian disaster. This denial has escalated so far that the government boycotted an international conference established to provide aid for the country in 2018. Worse still, security forces tasked with the responsibility of stabilising the country are accused of persistent human rights violations. According to Amnesty International, DRC security forces regularly murder and kidnap people in the North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri regions of the DRC. Those who commit extrajudicial killings often receive disproportionately lenient punishments. This has helped to entrench systematic violence within the nation and acts to explain why conflict is persistent. As a result, the government has been a considerable hindrance to stability within the country.
Considering this dire situation, it is difficult to imagine that peace is possible. The issue is compounded by the fact that the manpower of the UN peacekeeping mission to the DRC will be decreased in the immediate future. This downsizing is not the consequence of a reduction in conflict but instead the result of a lack of funding. The United States is considerably reducing its financial contribution to peacekeeping efforts, thus stretching the available funding for peacekeeping operations and forcing the UN to reconsider its entire mission in the country. Alongside the budgetary pressures, President Felix Tshisekedi has also urged the UN mission to prepare a withdrawal plan. The government of the DRC has long had a tense relationship with the peacekeeping force and has repeatedly pressed the UN force to prepare to leave the country. A considerable withdrawal of UN forces is thus likely within the near future.
Fundamentally, UN withdrawal would be a mistake. The peacekeeping force has helped to ensure that aid reaches those who require it and contributes to policing in many unstable regions. Peacekeeping forces have also engaged in offensive operations against a number of armed groups. Even though it has failed to prevent violence in certain areas (such as Ituri), the failures can be attributed to a lack of resources. Whilst 12,000 military personnel may seem considerable, the DRC is roughly two thirds the size of the whole of Western Europe and the UN mission has struggled to ensure peace in such a large area. Considering the poor track record of the government and security forces of the DRC, it is vital that a peacekeeping force remains and helps to manage the humanitarian crisis. With over 4.5 million people still displaced inside the Congo, international help is needed now more than ever. Ultimately, the UN peacekeeping force must remain if there is to be any hope of peace for the DRC.
Image - Flickr (United Nations Photo)