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Prolonged peacekeeping: challenges preventing a MONUSCO withdrawal from the DRC

Image credit: United Nations Photo (Flickr: Creative Commons)

The United Nations has been present in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for more than 50 years. The Second Congo War, which prompted the UN’s current peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO), is long over. But MONUSCO persists and several challenges remain before an environment conducive to UN withdrawal can be established.

The first challenge is to establish functional democratic governance. A presidential election originally scheduled for November 2016 has been repeatedly delayed by the government, purportedly due to logistical issues, despite President Kabila’s final term constitutionally ending in December 2016. There have also been reports of increasing restrictions on opposition political activities.

For Kabila to be seen as a legitimate leader, he needs to demonstrate commitment to democracy by conducting free and fair elections. Additionally, human rights must be upheld, including the cessation of electoral violence and opposition suppression. In this context, three vital elements of good governance are social inclusion, accountability and transparency. Inclusive policies must consider all factors that influence participation in the political process. In the DRC’s case, ethnicity is particularly relevant as rebel recruitment has historically occurred along ethnic lines, resulting in catastrophic social divisions in the Kivus throughout the 1990s.

The second challenge is to develop functional state institutions that are staffed with appropriately qualified personnel. The government has failed to provide sufficient resources to the police and security forces across the country. This has led to several large-scale jailbreaks this year, as well as an increase in rebel violence as community ‘Mai-Mai’ militias seek to fill the security void. Either this situation has been carefully orchestrated by Kabila’s inner circle to justify election delays, or it has occurred due to resource mismanagement.

In any case, the operationalisation of functional state institutions in conflict affected areas requires rapid prioritisation to rebuild trust between communities and authorities. Such security sector reform is needed to prevent a leadership and security vacuum, and is therefore a prerequisite to MONUSCO withdrawal.

The third challenge is to reduce violence against civilians to a level that is manageable for local security and justice institutions. The DRC government has failed to take responsibility for the protection of its own citizens and it has not been held accountable.

To ensure accountability, this situation requires increased capacity within the judicial system. According to the UN Joint Human Rights Office, however, Congolese police and armed forces were reportedly responsible for the majority of human rights violations in the DRC in 2016. These statistics illustrate the entrenched culture of violence within the security sector and failure of government forces to satisfy their protection of civilians (POC) responsibilities.

With violence perpetrated by militias and rebel groups, as well as local and international forces, the DRC’s security sector remains dysfunctional. Moreover, sexual and gender-based violence has continued to grow in the eastern regions, with an estimated 39.7% of women experiencing sexual violence during their lifetime. Widespread POC failures have increased the population’s distrust of government authorities. Similarly, local and international observers have questioned MONUSCO’s ability to fulfill its Responsibility to Protect (R2P) mandate.

These perceived shortcomings have led to widespread criticism that MONUSCO is implementing an approach that’s non-specific to the DRC’s priorities. For example, Said Djinnit, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes, has a mandate to focus on women’s empowerment and regional economic integration, which are vital elements of state-building. But economic integration is limited by poor governance, while gender equality is hindered by a culture of violence against civilians.

If MONUSCO is to reach a successful conclusion, the Special Envoy’s mandate could be reconsidered and expanded to include issues that currently preclude his directive, such as civilian safety, functional state institutions and democratic governance. The UN mission cannot conclude until human rights are upheld, physical security is achieved, institutional corruption is prosecuted and the government adheres to the constitution. By explicitly focusing on improving physical safety and state governance, the Special Envoy has the potential to contribute to the foundations of state-building which will enable a viable strategy for MONUSCO withdrawal.

Remy Tanner is the International Security Fellow at Young Australians in International Affairs.

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