Tag Archives conflict

“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.

 

 

IHSA Conference 2018 | The instrumentalisation of disasters by David Keen

IHSA Conference 2018 | The instrumentalisation of disasters by David Keen

Today, not just disaster but the functions—and instrumentalisation—of disaster have been brought right ...

(How) should scholars say what humanitarians can’t? by Roanne van Voorst and Isabelle Desportes

In January this year, a long day of interviewing aid workers involved in the Myanmar Rohingya crisis revealed that these aid workers often refrain from talking about the human rights violations in Myanmar. Out of fear to be forced to cease operations or to get fired, they keep silent and carry on. This raises the question: should the scholars engaging with them speak up in their stead? This blog provides a reflection of whether and how scholars can get involved in the entanglements of humanitarianism and conflict. It also provides insights into the ethical and practical reasons why both aid workers and scholars sometimes hesitate to become more engaged.


The time we were doing fieldwork relating to the governance and the accountability of aid in Myanmar coincided with a massive exodus of the Rohingya Muslim minority fleeing persecution and the destruction of their homes in the northwestern Rakhine province. Yet, as we asked broader questions relating to the accountability of aid, the stories of humanitarian aid workers resounded with us. Stories of frustration and powerlessness, as they felt barriers were posed to their work not only by authorities, but also by their own organisations. As scholars, we felt determined that we wanted to ‘do something’. But along with this urge to act came insecurities and concerns.

Providing aid in restrictive settings

Local and international relief agencies that work in restrictive conflict settings are doing something that is intrinsically difficult. Often perceived as a threat by authorities involved in violence, agencies need to make sure they remain tolerated and even supported by these same authorities in order to operate effectively and deliver aid to those in need. In practice in Myanmar, aid agencies are stuck in the middle of two discourses: that of the United Nations that from afar qualifies the military offensive in Rakhine as a « textbook example of ethnic cleansing », and that of Myanmar authorities, who claim they were fighting Rohingya militias only and deny targeting civilians.

Faced with the overwhelming need for support to continue operating in the field, most humanitarian agencies refrain from being overtly critical of human rights violations and prefer to assert their position as impartial and neutral aid providers. Only very few are allowed by the government to work in Rakhine, and those who may, generally keep silent about what they observe. No wonder: when in 2014 Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said that it was deeply concerned about the tens of thousands of people it was treating, the government forced it to cease operations in Myanmar. In order to avoid that for their own organisations, most aid agencies active on the ground thus strictly do and say what they’ve agreed to in (obligated) memoranda of understanding with the government—even if that does not match needs on the ground.

The personal dilemmas of humanitarians

These strategic decisions, however understandable, can have major consequences for the people whom agencies come to assist, but also have psychological implications for relief workers. Many suffer from what Hugo Slim has termed ‘bystander anxiety’. And this was also evident during our interviews: many of those we talked to in Yangon felt anxious and frustrated by the violence they observed in the field and the self-censorship they observed within their own organisations.

One field officer of a large international organisation felt that his agency was « sacrifying its principles and moral authority » in exchange for Rakhine field access and status, which was not even alleviating suffering on the ground because the government forbade actual activities. After he anonymously spoke to journalists, the whole team received a serious warning never to speak to the press again. He lamented the complete lack of internal discussions on these dilemmas, even as many of the staff, including Rohingya, « begged the organisation to speak out ».

We heard many similar stories from humanitarians working for INGOs or the UN. They could not openly discuss, let alone act upon, what they observed in the field. Particularly in meetings attended by the government, they knew « not to be critical ».

Here is where the scholars could come in, but often don’t do so.

Four broad arguments can motivate scholars to engage in the humanitarianism-conflict debate. First, as independent researchers in the field, scholars have more freedom to speak up. Second, many will argue that ‘speaking the truth’ is a scholarly duty. Third, scholars’ voice might carry differently than that of human rights organisations or journalists, as scholars are supposed to adhere to rigorous scientific and ethical standards that grant their research some credibility. Last, academics increasingly vary their channels to seek ‘societal impact’. Newspaper articles, debate evenings, social media and blogs such as this one can help convey to a wider audience what would otherwise remain obscured.

But this freedom comes with responsibilities. Scholars, somewhat like humanitarians, tread a fine line between engaging in effective action and making their own work—or worse, that of relief agencies or local research partners—harder or even impossible to carry out. Discussions about the role of researchers are by no means new. Take the discussions on scholar activism and action research (combing research and social change work), or the divide in the field of anthropology, amongst others, between those who believe they should retain distance in the field and those who support local activism or other types of involvement.

Ethics aren’t the only reason scholars often don’t speak up. Many of the issues that came up during our Myanmar discussions were practical, concerning safety, future access to visas and research permits, academic integrity, and access to non-academic channels, both in terms of networks and skills. Myanmar is a complex setting to work in, not only for humanitarians. Scholars and journalists also face difficulties in accessing the field, while some have been deported or arrested.

Moreover, the ‘hard evidence’ was thin. There would not be enough informants allowing for the rigorous cross-validation of statements. Interviews could not always be recorded and informants insisted that they, their agency and the locality where they operated should remain confidential to avoid raising colleagues’ or authorities’ suspicions. Were these stories even convincing enough for people who hadn’t been here, let alone fulfilling academic standards? Wouldn’t journalists after all be a better fit to relay them?

The answers might differ for each scholar, for each person. We share them to stir up a conversation and to share our doubts with researchers and (inter)national practitioners alike. Even with intentions to change local realities for the better, it’s not easy to take the leap from scholar to messenger. Yet, who else would fulfil that role?

This blog is a first attempt to support humanitarians who can’t speak up.


chantal-ariens-portret-high-res.jpgAbout the authors:

Roanne van Voorst is a postdoctoral researcher involved in the research projectisa”When disaster meets conflict. Disaster response of humanitarian aid and local state and non-state institutions in different conflict scenarios” at the ISS.

Isabelle Desportes is a PhD candidate working on the governance of disaster response, in particular the interplay between humanitarian and local actors.