Adieu, MONUC?

There are two birthdays coming up that should be of interest. There is, of course, the 50th anniversary of Congolese independence coming up in June 2010. General Denis Kalume, the former interior minister, and the renowned Congolese historian Isidore Ndaywel have been nominated to lead the committee organizing the festivities. We can expect this to be an opportunity for money to be embezzled (hundreds of thousands of dollars allegedly went missing from the organization of the independence day celebrations in Goma this year), but also for Kabila to try to whip up national pride before the local elections (2010) and national elections (2011).

A different birthday altogether is approaching in November. MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission, is turning ten. On this occasion, the head of MONUC Alan Doss has declared himself “satisfied of the results” that the mission has accomplished. He was at a briefing of the UN Security Council last week, where he asked for continued support and highlighted MONUC’s main tasks: the protection of civilians and the support of the Congolese army. More and more, however, it appears that these two tasks stand in contradiction with each other, as the same army MONUC is supporting is guilty of widespread abuse.

Others, however, have been less sanguine about MONUC’s prospects. In the past weeks, there was some discussion in diplomatic circles in Kinshasa about MONUC’s approaching departure. Kabila might take advantage of the independence celebrations to thanks MONUC for its good work and ask them to go home. He does not want the UN to interfere in the holding of the coming elections, a UN staff member told me. Already, the Congolese government has allegedly told donors that they want them to fund the local elections but not the national ones.

So will MONUC leave? Probably not. Since then, MONUC officials have approached the presidency to ask him whether he was serious about this, and Kabila said that he wasn’t, at least not for now. Indeed, the consequences of a MONUC withdrawal would not be auspicious, whatever you may think about their current performance. Their presence on the ground has allowed UN human rights and child protection to bring to light thousands of abuses – even if little action is usually taken against the perpetrators, the information is vital. Despite MONUC’s feeble involvement in the planning and execution of Kimia II operations, they have been effective in the past in shoring up the Congolese army against insurgencies – in Ituri in 2005 and in Goma in 2006.

The donors should, however, use the mandate renewal (coming up in the next weeks) as an opportunity to reflect on how to best use their leverage for the long term stability of the country and the protection of its citizens. This past week there was a meeting of the donor Contact Group in Washington, DC, presided by the new US Special Envoy Howard Wolpe. While I have not yet been able to get a read out on what was decided, it is clear that, with Wolpe’s arrival, there is a new dynamism in the donor community.

I hope it is used well. In particular, I have argued here before, we need to figure out how to better leverage aid money towards concrete policy changes. This has failed in the past, from my superficial interpretation, because the bulk of the money given to the Congo is from the IFIs – the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the IMF – who are very reluctant to attach any political conditionalities to their funding. Keep your inflation low, stay fiscally responsible and improve your financial checks and balances – that is what they mostly care about. To my knowledge, none of the IFIs have ever explicitly imposed political conditionalities on their funding. This despite the many worthwhile initiatives that require political reform in order to be successful: Security sector reform, justice sector reform, decentralization, transparency in the extractive industries, to name but a few.

The funds that donors might be more willing to leverage get no traction in Kinshasa: this is aid money going to health, education and infrastructure. The Congolese government does not care much about these funds – they can’t use them for their own political ends. They do care about the $600 million they got from the IMF, ADB and the European Union this year to offset the financial crisis.

MONUC can be useful in the Congo. But their role has to change. Their troops cannot prevent abuses if they are not more intrusively deployed with the Congolese army – they need to be involved in operational planning and on the front lines during the operations. Only then will they be able to document and stop the may rapes and pillaging that occurs. The same sort of intrusiveness goes for the creation of a new Congolese security force and the establishment of a monitoring mechanism for minerals in the Kivus. Yes, this would mean that the Congolese government would have to compromise some of its sovereignty. But you could argue that they don’t have much of it as it us, with a large part of the Kivus under rebel control, over half of its customs revenues embezzled and most of its economy in the informal sector.

Also, who’s sovereignty are we talking about – that of the Congolese government or of the Congolese people? I would imagine that many Congolese would quite like a good army and accountable government. (For a more extreme recommendation of trusteeship, see this article by Stephen Ellis in Foreign Affairs.) Otherwise we are just shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.