MONUSCO: A Backgrounder

Sneha Bhura is Research Intern at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.
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  • June 22, 2012

    The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, better known by its French acronym MONUSCO, is the biggest and the most expensive UN peacekeeping mission in the world today. Stationed in the highly volatile Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Central Africa, the Mission’s ineffectiveness was once again revealed in the face of a recent uprising of a few hundred soldiers from the Congolese national army, Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC). Interestingly, the UN Security Council resolution 1925, which authorised MONUSCO, is set to expire on June 30 this year. For all practical purposes, the Security Council will renew its mandate for the next 12 months. However, despite a humungous infusion of military-logistical support and the realization of several innovative operati0nal improvements over the last few years, MONUSCO has achieved little in terms of fulfilling its primary mandate of protecting civilians in the DRC. It is therefore time for MONUSCO to dramatically re-orient its strategy in order to salvage its rapidly deteriorating credibility in the DRC.

    The UN Peacekeeping mission in the DRC came into existence in 1999 and was christened as Mission del'Organisation des Nations Unies en République Démocratique du Congo (MONUC), following the signing of the Lusaka ceasefire agreements. The mission was re-named MONUSCO by the Security Council when it adopted resolution 1925 in July 2010. “Protection of civilians" has remained the Mission’s highest priority to this day. The mission is presently directed to focus on stabilization and peace consolidation initiatives, which reflect the sheer complexity of activities and the impossibility of achieving the benchmarks. The activities are designed as per five budget components, namely:

    • Security and the protection of civilians
    • Stabilization of conflict-affected areas
    • Support for justice, security and human rights
    • Democratic institutions and the consolidation of peace
    • Mission support

    As on May 31, 2012, the strength of MONUSCO totalled 19,171 uniformed
    personnel. Its cost in the last one year alone was approximately $1.5 billion, and during this period it also suffered more than 43 reported fatalities.1

    The UN peacekeeping mission has led to a considerable reduction in the presence of foreign rebel troops from neighbouring countries although sporadic uprisings have become unavoidable. The inaugural national elections of 2006 held under the supervision of the UN peacekeeping troops also led to the establishment of a legitimate central government and an active opposition.2 By 2011, some 112,383 Congolese ex-combatants had been disarmed and demobilized. Further, close to 24,617 foreign combatants and dependents have been repatriated between 2002 and July 2011. By August 2011, 221,456 Congolese refugees have returned to their communities in the DRC. Also, 42,092 children have been reportedly released from armed groups up till June 2011. Large tracts of land have been demined with UN peacekeeper’s assistance.3

    However, armed groups continue to operate in spite of extensive joint operations by MONUSCO and the FARDC. They have continued to thrive because of the inability of the FARDC to deal with the guerrilla tactics they employ as well as because of their remarkable resilience in terms of regrouping and forging new alliances. Further, the integration of ex-combatants into the FARDC has created various problems of command and control. The Congolese armed forces are also highly reluctant to allow the prosecution of senior officers accused of human rights violations, thus exacerbating the credibility of the DRC army as well as of the peacekeeping mission. An additional reason for the continued thriving of the various armed groups is the gradual shrinkage of logistical support, especially military transport helicopters, from UN member countries to the peacekeeping mission. Helicopters are particularly important because they make the treacherous jungles of the DRC more easily accessible.4

    These shortcomings on the military and peacekeeping front are complemented by worrying developments in the political sphere. A recent UN report released in early March 2012 condemned the November 2011 presidential and legislative elections as having been conducted under serious human rights violations which included killings, disappearances and arbitrary detentions apart from ballot-box stuffing.5 A general assessment of the UN-backed reforms in the DRC will only reveal a smokescreen of democracy in a world dominated by corruption, bewildering patronage networks and competitive authoritarianism.6

    In order to address the crisis, it is important for the DRC to possess the required structures and capacities that will enable genuine democratic contestation to take place, paving the way for leaders who are truly bent on lifting the country from the morass of a protracted conflict. However, the UN peacekeeping forces appear ill-equipped to do that. It is therefore imprudent to have any unreal expectations from the mission. The UN peacekeeping forces are constrained by a dearth of political will on the part of member states to take decisive steps to facilitate an end to the crisis as well as by the absence of a genuine partnership between the UN and the Congolese government. The problems for the UN peacekeeping forces is further exacerbated by the growing negative perceptions among civilians, who have started to view the peacekeepers as being party to the illegal resource exploitation of the country in collusion with the militias.7

    Notwithstanding these negative perceptions, an abrupt and complete withdrawal of UN forces on the ground is ill-advised. Instead, the Security Council has to keep laying down more “clear and achievable mandates with resources to match”8 in order to strengthen the DRC’s law enforcement agencies and inculcate a culture of judicial impartiality. Further, the operational effectiveness of the peacekeeping mission should currently be prioritized to look into Disarmament, Demobilization and Re-integration of combatants from rebel groups, Mine action, Security Sector Reforms (SSR), apart from protection of civilians from Human Rights violations.

    It is time to re-think the peacekeeping strategy in eastern DRC and introduce a more precise and limited mode of engagement for the peacekeeping troops by re-setting benchmarks based on an objective re-evaluation of the current situation and what constitutes a priority. In setting these benchmarks, there is need to incorporate the recommendations of the troop-contributing countries at a much greater level than presently exists. The P5 nations have to transcend their limited national interests to ensure the successful completion of MONUSCO.

    • 1. Official website of Monusco; ; accessed on June 21, 2012
    • 2. Dizolele, Mvembo Phezo; “ The Mirage of Democracy in the DRC”; Journal of Democracy 21(2010); pp. 143-157
    • 3. “Programme evaluation of performance and achievement of results: United Nations peacekeeping activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo”; Report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services; General Assembly sixty-sixth session, United Nations, March 12, 2012
    • 4. Ibid.
    • 5. Ibid
    • 6. Matti, Stephanie A; “The Democratic Republic of the Congo? Corruption, Patronage and Competitive Authoritarianism in the DRC; Africa Today 56 (2010), pp. 46-61
    • 7. Simon Tinsdall; “Life in Congo: 'Many people have been killed. No one is ever punished'”; The Guardian; March 16, 2012
    • 8. “Capstone Doctrine: United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Principles and Guidelines”; UN DPKO; January 18, 2008; accessed on May 12, 2012