Why have large-scale international efforts to end the violence in the DRC failed again and again?
Negotiations between the M23 rebels and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continue to move at a painfully slow pace. Attempts to end one of the region's worst conflicts in recent years appear to be faltering somewhat in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, with M23 being accused of heaping "capricious extra demands" on Joseph Kabila's government. Similarly, little progress was made at the recent African Union summit in Ethiopia, with UN General-Secretary Ban Ki-moon's proposed peace pact being rejected by certain key countries .
International efforts to end the violence have failed repeatedly for reasons that range from a misdiagnosis of the conflict’s roots to the inability to come up with a suitable exit strategy. The failures of peacekeeping in the Great Lakes region ultimately seem to stem from an incongruity between short- and long-term goals. Nearly 16 years into a state of almost continual conflict, the DRC’s 1.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) are evidence that the root causes of the violence are yet to be addressed – it is crucial these are accounted for before any further peacekeeping operations are launched.
From MONUC to MONUSCO
The purpose of peace operations is typically to enforce a ceasefire or peace agreement; yet when a ceasefire was first called in the DRC, it took two years for the UN Security Council (UNSC) to act. Before Resolution 1291 was passed in 2000, UN presence in the DRC was regulated by Resolution 1258 (1999), and consisted of military observers reporting on factions’ compliance with peace accords. The UNSC then established the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) which was based on the 1999 Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement.
Contingents from South Africa, Uruguay, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia were dispatched to implement MONUC’s mandate of safeguarding UN installations and equipment, ensuring the secure and free movement of personnel, and protecting civilians from the imminent threat of physical violence. An independent process of disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation, reintegration and resettlement (DDRRR) was later created to facilitate these operations in the highly volatile Ituri district, and the North and South Kivu provinces.
The French-led Operation Artemis entered the fray in 2003, and successfully completed its stabilisation mission in three weeks. It then passed responsibility for regional security back to MONUC, but ongoing violence prompted the UN to request additional international assistance. With this call, India announced its involvement – as did Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Morocco – bringing the number of Blue Helmet peacekeepers present to an unprecedented 10,415. This figure was increased to 16,000 in 2005 for supervision of the 2006 elections. Though more troops were sent afterwards to manage the deteriorating humanitarian situation, the UN did not prolong MONUC’s initial mandate, scheduled to end in 2008.
Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, in 2010 the UNSC adopted Resolution 1925 to establish the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Its mandate includes: the completion of ongoing military operations in North and South Kivu as well as the Orientale province; improving government capacity to protect the population; and the consolidation of state authority throughout the territory. Despite delays in their execution, and logistical and tactical roadblocks, the MONUC/MONUSCO missions were an unprecedented display of the UN’s potential capabilities. Why, then, is the large-scale peacekeeping mission considered such a failure?
Causes of peacekeeping failure in the Congolese conflict
The complex operation to contain the Congolese conflict is one of the largest and most expensive in the UN’s history. Since 1999, the UN peacekeeping effort in the DRC has cost approximately $8.7 billion, and by 2011 the total number of UN troops exceeded 20,000. More than thirty nations have contributed military and police personnel. A mission of this size and scope has inevitably met with difficulties: holdups in funding contributions; delays between the UNSC’s authorisation to deploy personnel and their actual deployment; and worse, lack of a common language and training methods.
Unity of command and execution is often difficult to achieve in UN operations given the diversity of contributing states. In the DRC missions, tensions and clashes have had damaging effects, and operations have been undermined by countries withdrawing support. Furthermore, the effectiveness of strategies has been hampered by political divisions over the principles of peace operations. The resulting difficulty of adequately conceiving peacekeeping and peacebuilding frameworks led to the failure to properly demobilise some militias and integrate them into the national army as part of the political transition. This set the stage for further armed confrontations after the conflict had officially been declared to be over.
Perhaps MONUC/MONUSCO's greatest shortcoming, according to Richard Gowan, has been the “mismatch between available peacekeeping forces and their operating environments”; more specifically, the international community’s inability to see beyond national causes of the conflict. In her analysis of the DRC crisis, scholar and DRC conflict specialist Severine Autesserre describes the dichotomy of perception – reality versus the peacebuilders’ understanding of violence, peace, and international intervention – which pits intervention at the local level against involvement at the ethnic/national level. This is, she argues, “an understanding that makes local conflict resolution appear to be an inappropriate and illegitimate action” in their existing peacebuilding strategy. Local agendas and social antagonisms include inter-village tensions over land, competition for power within communities, and possibly post-genocide Rwandan migration in the mid-1990s.
Neither the UN staff involved in peacekeeping nor the UNSC attempted to design a strategy addressing local causes of the conflict, either during the war or after ceasefires. Adopting a rather short-sighted outlook, they instead focused all peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts on national and regional division, with their role at the local level practically non-existent.
The failure to keep the peace in the DRC, continues Autesserre, can be explained further by the erroneous “labelling of the Congo as a post-conflict situation”, and the “conceptualisation of international intervention as exclusively concerned with the national and international realms”. Misunderstanding the DRC as a stabilised post-conflict environment led to equally mistaken conclusions regarding adequate strategies for intervention.
Is electoral democracy a panacea?
The other major factor to consider when assessing conflict management efforts in the region is the heavy emphasis on elections, rather than local conflict resolution, as a suitable first stage in state- and peace-building. Indeed, most UN operations are mandated to protect or sustain post-conflict electoral processes; however, as indicated in the Centre on International Cooperation’s (CIC) analysis of the 2000 Brahimi Report (Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations), the political processes initiated in the DRC mostly failed. So how can and how should international actors attempt to transform war-torn states into stable democracies?
The debate on the inappropriateness of Western electoral processes in non-Western societies has gained momentum in recent years, particularly in light of the failure to establish liberal democracies in several African countries lacking strong political institutions. Chesterman and Paris argue that peacekeepers should rise to the challenge of building market democracies, but remain sceptical of the methods being used to achieve this ambitious goal. The ‘forced liberalisation strategy’ inherent to peacebuilding is often a short-term measure seeking to create durable institutions in a limited timeframe.
Peacebuilding organisations often place all their hopes for stability on the electoral process, after which citizens and political leaders are left to their own devices. Yet elections tend to increase instability in fragmented societies and do not solve social antagonisms. In fact, Benjamin Miller points out that in the absence of viable political frameworks, they can perversely lead to “the disintegration of the regional states [and] the intensification of ethnic and regional conflicts”.
The difficulties of implementing peacebuilding measures stem largely from the peacemakers’ failure to grasp fully the situation. An operation worth billions of dollars should do more than merely assess the causes of its own failure. MONUSCO is in dire need of a new operational framework for the intricate process of peacebuilding.
Toward a unified, non-regional peacekeeping force
Peacekeeping missions have traditionally had a diverse makeup, with costs and contributions in personnel divided between as many states as are willing to participate. The logistical and organisational problems arising as a result have been outlined above, and a leaner, less diversified force could perhaps accomplish in less time and with less effort what the current MONUSCO has taken years to achieve.
On the other hand, the involvement of regional organisations such as the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) do not necessarily bring greater stability to the region. Lacking resources, experience, training, and impartiality (because of shared ethnic groups), these organisations – perhaps unlike their Western counterparts – do not yet have the capabilities necessary to engage in long-term, independent peacekeeping. The absence of common values among member states, a reluctance amongst SADC states to surrender a measure of sovereignty, and the overall weakness of many of the member states are some of the fundamental problems.
Added to this is the fact that the rebels and militias are not the only parties guilty of misconduct. For example, corrupt officials in Kinshasa siphon off funds allocated to the military, leaving soldiers without pay. The consequence, Autesserre writes, “Was that the soldiers' commanders, who did not have the resources to remunerate their troops adequately or provide them with basic supplies, encouraged them to make a living from the local population”. The rural population cannot always tell the difference between militias and Blue Helmet peacekeepers from their uniforms alone. In such an environment, peacekeeping soldiers of African descent dispatched to high-risk areas are often mistrusted and feared by the locals. This lack of trust in the armed forces, combined with the absence of law enforcement, undermine the very purposes of peacekeeping and peacebuilding. The DRC is a special case to which African Union, SADC and ECOWAS troops may no longer be the best suited.
How to establish a suitable transitional authority
The need for the demilitarisation of all factions involved in the Congolese conflict has not been emphasised enough. By failing to implement demobilisation immediately after the peace agreement between President Joseph Kabila’s presidential guard and forces loyal to Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, peacekeepers failed to force the belligerent parties into a political dialogue. Demilitarisation is inextricably linked to stability, and should precede a long transitional period during which the state is rebuilt and strengthened. Democratic reforms should not be implemented at once, and peacebuilders ought to remain in the country to oversee incremental reforms. This phase may end in elections only once a durable peace has been established and effective institutions fostering good governance have been created.
The recurrence of armed confrontation in the DRC despite a throng of peace accords has prompted scholars to reassess the Transitional Government in place from 2003 to 2006. The international community has also not paid enough attention to the devastating effects of prioritising a shallow version of electoral democracy over helping build the foundations of a more stable and democratic society.
This combined with the failure of powerful states to provide the resources they have pledged as well as the discrepancies between the funding programme and political strategies, has created a tense environment. The transitional government was undone by a high level of distrust among its members, exacerbated by the slow pace of the transition and the personal ambitions of many individuals. What is needed is a longer transitional period that excludes local leaders in its first phase (during which these leaders would be ‘trained’ to understand democratic mechanisms).
Have peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations in the DRC failed on all accounts? If one considers the scale of the international community’s response to what is one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history, the answer can only be ‘no’. However, if civilian casualties and emigration are criteria by which to measure peacekeeping, then the UN – and the international community in general – still lacks the appropriate organisational structures to succeed.
Though these concerns were addressed in the Brahimi Report, adjustments proposed have yet to be implemented. The report’s findings suggest that the UNSC and other key players should initiate reforms with a view to coordinate policies, field operations, and resources. Those efforts ought to be prioritised by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.