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“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 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 | A failing UN and the prospects of world citizenship by Antonio Donini

The UN in its current form does not serve the citizens it promises to protect. Is it time for a UN 2.0 that puts citizens at the centre? This article explains why the current international system is becoming irrelevant. A world citizenship approach must urgently be explored. This blog is based on a presentation delivered at the International Humanitarian Studies Association Conference held in August 2018 at the ISS.

When the founding fathers—and the single founding mother—were assembling the building blocks of the United Nations in the waning months of WWII, they were spurred by narrative of ‘never again’. Jettisoning the lofty Wilsonian ideals of the League of Nations, they expressed their notions of peace and security through a mix of functionalist ideas (strongly influenced by David Mitrany) and the victors’ can-do capitalist spirit—a sort of Fordism applied to international relations: the right mix of money and technical expertise would set the scene for peace and development ‘in larger freedom.’ The notion that collective action problems (i.e. politics) could be solved or at least defused by depoliticising them through technique is one of the great contributions of the UN to international cooperation. This approach worked more (decolonisation) or less (superpower crossed vetoes) for some 50 years. Then something broke.

Despite the heart-warming rhetoric of ‘we the peoples’, the unit of measure in the international system was definitely the state. Sovereignty was worshipped in the UN. It became the Temple of States. But while states were busy honouring and polishing the Temple’s tabernacle, the world had moved on. The post-WWII order built on sovereignty, triumphant capitalism and superpower rivalry collapsed with the Wall, but the institutions established to ‘manage’ this order hardly noticed. It became progressively clear that the ‘system’ was constitutionally unfit to deal with transnationality and that ‘sovereign’ states were unable to rein in unregulated transnational capitalism and globalisation, not to mention radicalised non-geographical armed groups and movements, the havoc they and the GWOT wreaked, population flows (forced and voluntary), and climate change. Trump and the demise of multilateralism are but an epiphenomenon in the collapse of the so-called rule-based world order.

What did the UN ever do for us?

A system of global order based on the idealised notion of sovereign states, and their power configurations as they stood 70 years ago, are poorly equipped to deal with collective action problems that are transnational at their core. Moreover, citizens have no say whatsoever in how these institutions are run and for whose benefit. All attempts to reform the UN have failed. Yet it rambles on with its tiny brain and huge dyslexic body to which additional appendages are added as soon as a ‘new’ problem hits the headlines. Conventional wisdom has it that only a WWIII might provide enough motivation and vision to equip the UN for the future. Let’s not go there. Instead, let’s think outside the box.

If UN reform is pointless, then DRUNSA is the answer: Don’t Reform the UN, Start Again.[i] Build something in parallel; if it works, it will move centre stage. There is a research agenda here on how to make transnational citizen participation the cornerstone of any institutional reform.

The argument goes like this: the Temple of States was not conceived as a tool to deal with transnationality. It sacralises sovereignty and demonises the individual with or without citizenship. Yet in transnational times, states are unable to cope with crises, and citizens have no say on the consequences of transnational forces that affect them directly. Citizenship, for now, is inherently linked to the nation-state. But if the nation-state is no longer able to respond to citizens’ needs and is downright hostile to those seeking refuge or lack citizenship, perhaps the time has come to redefine citizenship by de-linking it from territory.

For now, this is little more than a pipe dream. But shouldn’t the question of the participation of human beings on matters that affect them directly be put on the agenda? And if this agenda cannot be handled by the UN because it goes against the grain of the outdated power dynamics of a sclerotic organisation, shouldn’t citizens and civil society start thinking of a UN 2.0—or better still a UCO (United Citizens Organisation)? This UCO would be based on the principle that “as a citizen of the world, I should have a say on anything that affects me”. In an extreme example, “if democracy is supposed to give voters some control over their own conditions … should a US election not involve most people on earth?” [ii] This is actually not such a revolutionary idea. It has been around for a while.[iii]

The point here is that mainstream international institutions are increasingly less relevant to the nature and scale of the conflicts and crises of the early 21st century. The toll on civilians caught up or trying to flee vicious wars is particularly high. Armed conflict itself is changing and so is its cortège of humanitarian consequences. We are in a pre-Solferino moment where the old laws no longer work and new ones adapted to the current dispensation have yet to emerge.

The humanitarian internationale suffers from similar ills as the state-based international “system”. Its very makeup is consubstantial with the state system as it is based on the triad of western donors, UN agencies, and prevalently western NGOs (in ethos if not in terms of nationality). It may have reached its structural limits. Humanitarian principles have stood the test of time but it is unlikely that they will survive the current wave of transnational crises and conflicts.

 A good place to start DRUNSA is by bringing the citizen into the decision making around humanitarian action. Rhetoric around participation and accountability to affected communities abounds, but the stubborn reality is that the humanitarian enterprise is anything but accountable or participatory. It continues to be an establishment—some say a club—in which the rules have been set, so to speak, by absentee feudal landlords who have no clue about how the land is tilled.

To sum up, it is dubious that nation states can have durable success in combating transnational forces (of capital, finance, ethno-religious millenarism and the like). These movements are better countered transnationally through an UCO or coalitions of civil society groups or similar citizen-driven initiatives.

United Against Inhumanity: citizens at the centre

And this brings us to United Against Inhumanity (UAI), an emerging global movement of citizens and civil society who are outraged by the inability and unwillingness of the formal international system to address the causes and consequences of armed conflict. One of the goals of UAI is to work with citizen and civil society organisations and to put the citizen at the centre of efforts to combat the inhumanity of warfare and the abomination of measures that deny those in need of refuge the right to seek asylum. It aims to increase the political and reputational damage to perpetrators and to support civil society mobilisation actions on the inhumanity of war and the erosion of asylum.

[i] Kudos to Martin Barber for having coined the acronym and set up the DRUNSA organisation of which as far as I know he and I were the only two members.
[iii] R.Dasgupta, “The demise of the nation state”, The Guardian, 5 April 2018.

hqdefaultAbout the author: 

Antonio Donini is a humanitarian researcher and one of the initiators of the emerging United Against InHumanity movement. This blog is based on a presentation he gave at the 2018 IHSA Conference. He can be reached at: antonio.donini@tufts.edu.

SDG 12: a long way off from changing how we produce and consume by Des Gasper, Amod Shah and Sunil Tankha

The SDGs are a striking set of goals that potentially could facilitate major changes across the world. SDG 12—to ‘ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns’ (SCPs)—is fundamental and exceptionally broad. But both political and technical factors have contributed to a watered-down set of SDG 12 targets and indicators. These need to be revisited, deepened and added to in national and local level plans for the goal to live up to much of its promise.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015, have many notable features. They apply for all countries. They link economic, social and environmental dimensions of development, moving beyond the Millennium Development Goals’ narrower focus on poverty, education and health. And not least, they include an exceptionally broad Goal 12: to ‘Ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns’ (SCP). How did this goal arise and what might it mean in practice? We have been looking at this as one part of a research project on the SDGs, coordinated from the New School University in New York and the University of Oslo.

To understand how the stand-alone SDG 12 and its targets emerged, we studied the 2013-14 discussions in the intergovernmental Open Working Group (OWG) on SDGs established by the UN General Assembly. The OWG proposals for SDG 12 were adopted in an unchanged form after further negotiations in the General Assembly in 2015. We explored, too, the subsequent work of the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators in 2015-16. We conclude that both political and technical factors have contributed to a watered-down set of SCP targets and indicators, which need to be revisited, deepened and added to.

SDG-12-Ensure-sustainable-consumption-and-productionA stand-alone goal on SCP…

The successful push for a stand-alone goal on SCP represents a partial success for developing countries in trying to ensure application in the SDGs of the Rio principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR).[1] Richer countries implicitly bear primary responsibility for a SCP goal since they have, and have long had, the greatest environmental impacts per person.

The OWG discussions show that while wealthier countries argued for shared responsibility and for SCP to be only a cross-cutting theme across all SDGs, many developing countries emphasised CBDR and the duty and necessity for richer countries to act first and do more, and hence pressed for a stand-alone SCP goal. They argued, too, that any universal goal on SCP should not compromise their priorities of poverty eradication and socio-economic progress.

The eventual adoption of a stand-alone goal also reflects developing countries’ strong concerns about their ability to access green technologies. Many countries, not least India, were adamant on strengthening the visibility of rich countries’ responsibility to share technologies needed to produce energy and goods cleanly, and to counteract the bias in market-centered innovation whereby intellectual property rights help to motivate innovators but also limit diffusion, especially to poorer countries. The inclusion of targets on scientific and technological support to developing countries in SDG 12 (and on technology transfer in SDG 17) serve to heighten public attention to this issue, even though they are not directly actionable since they depend on the cooperation of patent-holding private corporations.

but with often vague and diluted contents…

The positions in the OWG discussions reflected deeper disagreements about the nature of SCP and the paths to reach it, including the ethical and production choices to be made and the distribution of costs and benefits of these efforts. The negotiations on targets brought considerable dilution of ambition; nearly all ‘targets’ are really sub-goals rather than specific targets and have often remained vague. They are universal in nature but practically all references calling on developed countries to ‘take the lead’ were removed. Removal, too, of almost all percentage references means that countries are not committing to specific quantified improvements. So progress will depend on the interest and priorities within individual countries.

Further, developing a set of strong and relevant indicators to measure and stimulate progress on SDG 12 will at best be a long process. The weakness as yet of many of the globally formulated indicators reflects the problems of operationalising what are sometimes vague and novel targets, and the limited political interest in a primarily technical exercise in which specialised UN Agencies and National Statistical Offices (NSOs) predominate. Moreover, the process of deciding upon the current indicators was highly compressed in time. In several areas, for example regarding corporate reporting, the indicators are mere publication counts.

While many targets under SDG 12 do not yet have very satisfactory indicators, enunciation of the targets may spur further work. Both the indicator specification and target monitoring need ongoing improvement, including at national level, where there will sometimes be scope for augmenting the targets too. Unfortunately, NSOs and other responsible parties typically do not yet have a clear and resourced mandate to collect the data required, let alone improve it. How far will national governments invest in the monitoring framework?

…and centred on technological innovation rather than consumption restraint…  

SDG 12 is not only extremely broad but, whereas most other SDGs have been achieved to more or less satisfactory extents in at least some countries, sustainable consumption and production (SCP) have not yet been realised anywhere.[2] So what is required is here perhaps even more open to debate. SDG 12 itself tacitly focuses on improving production and consumption, not reducing these processes. They can supposedly continue to grow indefinitely, as long as they become ‘smart’. Many researchers have argued, since the 1960s, that sustainability requires a fundamental rethink of not only production and distribution processes—to reduce waste, absorb by-products, and so on—but also of the culture of ever-growing consumption and the underlying systems of societal organisation and motivation, including by building an orientation towards consuming less while ‘living more’ and more equitably. The SDG 12 targets say little on such issues, apart from promoting ‘awareness for sustainable development’ (Target 12.8) through attention in formal schooling. Fundamental reorientation of consumer societies was a theme in many fora that fed into the SDG negotiations, but not into the outcomes.

SDG 12 continues, instead, the interpretation of SCP which emerged from ‘green business’ circles in the 1980s and 1990s (now sometimes called ‘eco-modernism’): that technical innovation will supposedly dramatically reduce ‘material footprints’ and allow production and consumption to grow endlessly. This perspective long ago became prominent also in UNEP, the coordinating agency for SDG 12 discussions, and in the Marrakech Process that followed up on SCP after the 2002 Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development. No major new pro-business lobbying or interventions in 2012-15 were needed for this perspective to dominate the formulation of SDG 12. The approach emphasises voluntary, informed consumption and production decisions, rather than regulation. It rests on hopes that existing and soon-to-be-developed technologies can obviate the need for restraint and politically difficult discussions.

…yet offering a space for increased attention and future mobilisation ?

At present SDG 12 does not adequately reflect transformative conceptualisations of SCP. The targets appear often diluted and vague, and the indicators further narrow the scope and ambition. There is little attention to moderating consumption. SDG 12 does, though, provide major spaces for attention to SCP from relevant agencies and publics, worldwide, while underlining to some extent the CBDR principle. In an optimistic scenario the goal and targets would induce domestic mobilisation and country-specific reform, that would lead to augmentation of targets, innovation in indicators for both monitoring and demanding action, and broader innovations in thinking-and-doing for real sustainability.

[1] The CBDR principle was adopted at the 1992 Rio ‘Earth Summit’, the UN Conference on Environment and Development.

[2] See e.g. V. Mignaqui, 2014, Sustainable Development as a Goal, International J. of Social Quality 4(1): 57-77.

Picture credit: John Henderson

Desmond Gasper_UN-2014-resized2About the authors:

Des Gasper
is Professor at ISS in Human Development and Public Policy.amod-photo


Amod Shah is a PhD candidate at the ISS, focusing on land acquisition-related conflict in India.039a9083bea074c4ac8332632eda82df
Sunil Tankha is Assistant Professor of States, Societies and World Development at the ISS.