As peace returns to the Congo, the UN leaves

What’s wrong with the title of this blog?

The head of UN peacekeeping Alain Le Roy announced two days ago after meeting with President Kabila that they would begin drawing down the UN peacekeeping mission MONUC. He was pretty guarded in what he said, suggesting that they would withdraw peacekeepers from Katanga and Kasai in several months and that a UN team is currently in the Congo, tasked with drafting recommendations about a drawdown.

However, the ebullient Minister of Information Lambert Mende spilled the beans later: UN troops will leave everywhere but the Kivus and Ituri by the end of 2010 and leave the country altogether in 2011. When asked by reporters whether MONUC will play a role in the upcoming elections, Mende said that MONUC might help with local elections but that the Congolese would carry out their own presidential elections in 2011. It is hard to imagine how this is possible, given the enormous logistical support MONUC provided for the last elections. But it is clear that the Congolese don’t want outside interference this time, which could also mean they don’t want the heavy foreign and domestic monitoring presence there was in 2006.

We had been expecting this, but it is nonetheless big news. None of this has anything to do with an improved security situation, obviously. While the CNDP have officially been integrated into the national army and the FDLR perhaps (a strong conditional, as we don’t know how many new recruits have come in) reduced to 70% of their former size, the situation in the East is still volatile. As long as there are political and economic elites in the Kivus (and Kigali) that think they need to maintain armed groups to protect their interests, and as long as the Congolese government does not implement meaningful security sector and customs reform, there will be rebel groups in the region. A drawdown itself is not a bad idea – MONUC has been politically marginalized and has proven unable to protect civilians in the East – but it should be replaced with a deeper engagement in strengthening Congolese institutions, especially the security sector. This is what has happened in most other post-conflict (pardon the expression) situations in Liberia, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan (to greater and lesser extent). In the Congo, however, nothing similar has emerged. We are still training one battalion here, another there. Piecemeal reform.

Another problem with MONUC drawdown is the loss of the civilian presence. MONUC currently has 3,600 civilians (1,000 ex-pats and 2,600 locals) working in human rights, child protection, civil affairs and administration (I imagine about 20-40% of that is substantive sections, the rest administration). They provide invaluable information on developments throughout the country and form an important oversight of the still shaky peace process in the Kivus. As much as we might criticize MONUC, they provide escorts to humanitarian convoys, they inspect prisons, patrol volatile areas, give logistics to journalists and foreign delegations, conduct military operations with the Congolese army, have an excellent radio station, mediate between warring parties, follow local and national politics and (not least) inject several hundred million dollars into the local economy each year.