“Whose responsibility is it anyway”? Questioning the role of UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO in stabilizing the eastern DRC by Delphin Ntanyoma

In the highly volatile eastern DRC, where over the past decades violent conflict and political instability have claimed the lives of thousands of civilians, UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO has intervened to help security services including the national army and the police regain control of the region. After twenty years of intervention, MONUSCO is blamed for what should be the DRC government’s responsibility—the failure to de-escalate the situation and find long-term solutions that will bring peace. What role can and should it play in eastern DRC, then? As Delphin Ntanyoma explains, the power and responsibility to enact real and long-lasting change lies with the DRC government.


Thousands of civilians have been killed in Beni[1] in the eastern DRC since 2014, when a jihadist-oriented group known as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) first occupied the region. Recent statistics indicate that between early November 2019 and mid-February 2020, approximately 350 civilians have been brutally killed in Beni by ADF militants[2]. Countless attacks have been carried out by ADF in different villages, where local populations have been slaughtered with guns and machetes. Since 2014, military operations have been executed in an attempt to halt these attacks, but it is not known when the situation will stabilise.

Despite ‘assurances’ from the Congolese government, the national army and UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO, doubts remain about how the ongoing tragedy created by the ADF will be addressed. A few weeks ago, local populations across DRC and in Beni in particular demonstrated against the killing of civilians, desperately marching across cities with the hope that their plea to end the ongoing conflict and violence against civilians would be heard. More specifically, demonstrators protested against MONUSCO’s inability to protect civilians, as Chapter VII of the UN Charter compels it to do. Whilst avoiding pointing a finger directly at the national army, demonstrators have largely blamed MONUSCO for its failure to protect civilians.

Amid these tensions, the UN Under-Secretary General for Peace Operations Jean Pierre Lacroix visited the DRC between 30 November and 2 December last year to assess the situation. During his visit to Beni, Goma and Kinshasa to show support for the UN peacekeeping mission and discuss the situation with officials, Lacroix claimed that demonstrations against MONUSCO were likely manipulated and funded from ‘somewhere’[3]. This statement is hardly verifiable, but an independent observer would unlikely rule out this possibility due to ongoing debates on the UN’s role in creating stability in eastern DRC; some Congolese political figures have openly called for the UN to end its peacekeeping mission or to provide a plan for its gradual withdrawal.

The question thus arises from this debate: why is MONUSCO in a ‘hot seat’ for something that is essentially the responsibility of the state? Why is MONUSCO being held responsible by Congolese civilians for the killings taking place in Beni instead of the army and police, who are particularly responsible for preventing this? Therefore, the essentiality of MONUSCO’s presence in the region should be better examined: is the UN peacekeeping mission technically constrained in executing its mandate to protect civilians, or are there other reasons for its perceived inaction? And at what point will the mission be considered successful and finally withdraw from the DRC?

Besides some challenges related to its internal functioning (heavy bureaucracies, unlikely familiar with complexities and diversities of local contexts, culturally limited for some military forces, missions operating in the mostly inaccessible eastern Congo), MONUSCO has been only slightly involved during the preparation of military operations in Beni. Hence, its success seems to be challenged by institutions such as the security sector that are unwilling to tackle structural challenges. Meanwhile, MONUSCO is obliged to work with them while having limited power to influence their decisions.

In Beni, for instance, MONUSCO has expressed concerns over the national army launching unilateral military operations without sufficiently engaging the UN peacekeeping. The reasons for the army’s decision to operate unilaterally remain unclear. Under the name of sovereignty or the national army’s unwillingness to co-operate, military operations against ADF were carried out with limited support of the UN peacekeeping mission. Hence, these military operations were largely ineffective due to lacking strong coordination among main stakeholders. Moreover, grounded reports indicate that some military commanders have directly or remotely been supporting local armed groups and foreign militias[4]. In addition, one of the main sources of misery in Congo is the level of embezzlement and corruption within the public arena (including the army and police), which in turn affects the delivery of public services and goods. Consequently, state’s authority is largely absent in remote regions of the eastern Congo, creating a security vacuum exploited by armed groups to perpetuate violence.

These are some of the challenges linked to the extended conflict that MONUSCO cannot address. These and other internal and external challenges facing MONUSCO call for the redefinition of its mandate in relation to local contexts. Failing to do so, it may spend another decade trying, but failing to contribute to long-lasting peace and a corresponding shift of attention toward the development in the region.


[1] From Ituri to Maniema via North-Kivu and South-Kivu provinces, extreme violence has re-emerged. Although similar contexts characterize Djugu (Ituri), Masisi-Rutshuru (North-Kivu), Minembwe-Itombwe (South-Kivu) and Kabambale (Maniema), the blog post takes Beni’s tragedy as an illustration.

[2] See for instance one of the Radio Télévision Belge Francophone : https://www.rtbf.be/info/monde/detail_rdc-huit-morts-et-plusieurs-disparu-apres-un-nouveau-massacre-a-beni?id=10427684

[3] For details on Jean Pierre Lacroix’s declarations, see: https://monusco.unmissions.org/en/jean-pierre-lacroix-everyone-should-learn-lessons-what-has-happened; and Kivu Security Tracker: https://blog.kivusecurity.org/fr/. Jean-Pierre Lacroix points a finger to those undermining MONUSCO efforts to support local population.

[4] Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (2019) “Assessing the Effectiveness of the United Nations Mission in the DRC – MONUSCO” https://www.ssrc.org/publications/view/assessing-the-effectiveness-of-the-united-nations-mission-in-the-drc-monusco/


About the author:

Delphin

Delphin Ntanyoma is a PhD candidate at the ISS. His research falls within Conflict Economics and is part of the Economics of Development & Emerging Markets (EDEM) Program. With a background of Economics and Masters’ of Art in Economics of Development from ISS, the researcher runs an online blog that shares personal views on socio-economic and political landscape of the Democratic Republic of Congo but also that of the African Great Lakes Region. The Eastern Congo Tribune Blog can be found on the following link: www.easterncongotribune.com.

 


Image Credit: MONUSCO Photos on Flickr.

 

 

The credibility problem of United Nations official statistics on Internally Displaced Persons by Gloria Nguya and Dirk-Jan Koch

Our research, notably Gloria Nguya’s PhD research, which she recently defended at the ISS, focused on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in urban settings in eastern DRC, particularly Bukavu and Goma. Bukavu and Goma are provincial capitals of the Kivus with about 25 years of instability. According to the latest United Nations figures there are exactly 25.619 IDPs in Bukavu[1]. These very precise figures have surprised us, because when we started our field research we noted that there was a large confusion about who should be counted as an IDP. During our research we found people who considered themselves IDPs, even though they were just regular migrants according to official definitions. Others who thought they weren’t IDPs were actually IDPs according to these official definitions. In this blog we single out one key crucial question to which there are so many contradicting responses: ‘When is somebody no longer an IDP?’.


During the field research, we encountered confusions on when somebody is no longer an IDP. Whereas some actors, such as local NGOs, argued that somebody couldn’t be labelled an IDP anymore if he or she could rent a house, others argued that one remains an IDP as long as one has specific unmet needs related to their displacement. Partly because of this problem of identifying IDPs in urban areas, we noticed that virtually all international organizations stopped targeting IDPs in their urban programming altogether. They would focus only on general vulnerability criteria, such as a housing situation. They omitted specific IDP needs related to their displacement status, such as trauma, access to documents or to remedy. This is worrying, as the plight of IDPs is an important element used by agencies to attract attention and funding.

Overall, the main inconsistency relates to methodologies: whereas in reality there are substantial differences in when an IDP is counted as such by humanitarian actors in the field (especially in urban areas), the UN data gloss over these differences. To arrive at the number of 25.619 IDPs the UN only included people that were displaced in 2016, 2017 and 2018. So, if you are a displaced person from 2015 or before, you are no longer counted in the statistics. This is too bad for you; however, the interesting thing is that as such this cut-off point goes against the definition that the UN itself supports. The Guiding Principles on internal displacement do not mention anything about a duration, quite to the contrary: an IDP remains an IDP as long as no durable solution has been achieved (global report on internal displacement 2019, p. 68). Well, for the IDPs in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) these principles do not appear to hold: IDPs prior to 2016 in the DRC fall hence between stools.

We do not argue that the numbers provided by the UN are too high, or too low: we also do not know. In our research we noticed that to determine if somebody is an IDP according to the UN definition one needs to engage in conversations with the potential IDP in terms of the origin of the move, their needs or issues. The methodology that the UN has used, notably asking key informants, such as neighborhood leaders, instead of potential IDPs themselves, isn’t accurate enough according to us.

Luckily there is an interesting initiative from the United Nations Statistical Commission. They have launched an Expert Group on Refugee and IDP statistics in 2016, who finished their first report. Their sobering finding is that, while agreement on the IDP definition exists, ‘less agreement exists on when an IDP should stop being counted as displaced. Most states do not follow the definition and framework […] variations in state practice are widespread, making international comparability difficult.’ In 2020 they should have finished their guidelines (amongst other on how to measure ‘durable solutions’) and have started capacity building to roll them out (IMDC, 2019, p.56).  So, there is a hope that better IDP statistics will become available in the future if the United Nations and their backers follow through on their intentions.

To conclude, we feel that instead of creating some kind of fake sense of certainty, the United Nations may better admit that they only have rough guesses on the number of IDPs. We argue this because the confusion about IDP numbers does not only affect programming, but it also affects the relationship between the host government and the humanitarian actors, which has repercussions on the sustainability of humanitarian efforts on the ground. The DRC government even boycotted the DRC pledging conference in 2018 because the numbers weren’t correct, ‘the high numbers of displaced people are frightening investors, and the country is much more dependent on investment for development than development aid’ said the DR Congo’s Minister of Communications. By being more transparent about the challenges of IDP statistics, the UN has a clear argument about why more investments are needed in creating better displacement monitoring guidelines and mechanisms. Until these are in place, it is only better to have a moratorium on coming up with specific IDP numbers.


[1] https://displacement.iom.int/node/3911, p.2


About the authors:

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Gloria Nguya has just completed her PhD in livelihoods strategies of Internally Displaced Persons in Urban Eastern DRC at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

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Dirk-Jan Koch is professor by special appointment for International Trade and Development Cooperation at the Radboud Univeristy in Nijmegen and Chief Science Officer at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.