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DRCongo: Peacekeepers or a costly ‘bunch of tourists’

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DRCongo: Peacekeepers or a costly ‘bunch of tourists’

Congo is a classic example of UN failure from the 1960s to the present, wrote a Uganda expert recently. And he was right! The second-largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world, and the most expensive, sent to DRCongo, has failed to stop the rebel wars in the country, prompting Uganda’s President Museveni to describe the UN peacekepers as “a bunch of tourists”. Richard Mgamba filed this special report.

Dressed in dusty black T-shirt and skirt, Victorine, a mother of four children aged between 2 and 10 years old, leans back against the fence of Sotraki Stadium, an internal displaced camp on the outskirts of the besieged city of Goma in eastern DRCongo. She ponders how she can raise her children, after her husband was killed during four days of fierce clashes between the Congolese national army and M23 rebels that took place in May this year.

Victorine is among 5,000 women who are currently sheltering at the camp, while millions of civilians have been forced to flee their homes right under the nose of one of the world’s most expensive and high-maintenance United Nations peacekeeping forces. This has been stationed in eastern Congo for a while now, to help cease the war in eastern DRCongo, achieving little success if any.

In the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, nearly 1.5 million Rwandans fled across the border and settled in eastern Congo. The majority of refugees were civilians, but Hutu militiamen said to be responsible for the Rwandan genocide also fled to DRCongo, fearing reprisals from the Tutsi-dominated Rwanda Patriotic Front, which is now in power in Rwanda.

Documented events that followed, led to what was dubbed in the global media as  “Africa’s World War”, involving no less than eight African countries, which went on for five years, claiming no less than 5 million lives over the period.

In 1999, alarmed by the escalating situation and blood-letting, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1279, establishing a peacekeeping mission for the Congo – the United Nations Organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, popularly known by its French acronym, MONUC.
With the failure of the UN force during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, in which it is estimated 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, were killed, forever fresh in the memory, the 15 members of the Security Council adopted Resolution 1279 principally to help rescue eastern DRCongo from becoming yet another human abattoir. And indeed one of Resolution 1279’s principal mandates is the protection of civilians. However, since its adoption, Resolution 1279 has been amended five times in a bid to strengthen it further as the violence and fighting have escalated in the region. For instance in 2000, the Security Council expanded the mission’s mandate by adopting Resolution 1291, which tasked peacekeepers with overseeing the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement of 1999 (which was between the DRCongo and five regional States, Angola, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe, all of which had come into the fray in what would be termed Africa’s First World War).

In 2004, the UN again expanded the mission’s mandate by including Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which enabled the peacekeeping force to use force if it was in the interest of protecting civilians.

But yet again, in May 2010, Resolution 1925 marked a new phase for the mission, with a change of name to the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO). In 2011, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1991, which called on all armed groups to cease all forms of violence and the violation of human rights. As if this wasn’t enough, in June 2012, the Security Council renewed MONUSCO’s mandate by adopting Resolution 2053, which emphasised security reform, consolidation of state authority and the eradication of violence in the eastern provinces.

Following the September 2012 International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), in which the African Union and the UN decided to immediately establish a 3,000-strong neutral international force in an effort to bring stability to the region, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2098 in March this year, authorising an Intervention Brigade and extending the mission’s mandate until 31 March 2014.

Quite a mouthful of resolutions.
But, in tracing the UN peacekeeping force in Eastern Congo for the past 13 years, this writer has came across a very contradicting and sad reality. While the UN and its proponents may sing about the mission’s stories of success, the ordinary Congolese people sing from a different hymn sheet. Widespread consensus in the region, as well as internationally, is that the UN mission is a huge failure in DRCongo. Some even draw parallels with what happened in Rwanda during the genocide while the UN looked on helplessly.

Between 1999 and 2012, while the UN peacekeeping force has been fully deployed, an estimated 5.4 million people have died from war and its offshoots. According to a study conducted by The American Journal of Public Health, about 415,000 women were raped yearly, meaning an average of 48 women were raped every hour during this period.

In the same period, rebel factions have continued to re-group and re-emerge, the latest being the M23. The emergence of the M23 has further escalated the humanitarian situation, more so after they captured the city of Goma in November 2012, when with only 8,000 troops, they defeated a 20,000-strong force of the Congolese national army, which was backed by UN forces.

Alarmed by the failure of the peacekeeping mission, particularly after Goma fell, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda was prompted to describe the UN peacekeeper forces “a bunch of tourists”.

Yet, MONUSCO costs $1.4bn a year to stay in the DRCongo – which means that for the past 12 years, its budget has swallowed a whopping $16.8 billion.

During my stay in Goma in December last year, a few days after the withdrawal of the M23 rebels, it was devastating to see the extent to which the once picturesque city of  Goma had been destroyed. Its infrastructure and homes lay in total ruin. Many people have been killed here and thousands more raped, maimed and left homeless. The capture of this provincial capital of one million people forced more than 140,000 to flee their homes, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). This is on top of those already forced to leave their homes by previous rounds of fighting in the region.

For the people of Goma, who have witnessed wars for the past 19 years, the invasion by the M23 was a sad reminder that a better tomorrow was still a pipedream, despite the fact that the streets of Goma are still manned by well-equipped and armed UN soldiers in armoured vehicles.

“We have known no peace since 1994 when the rebellion against the Mobutu regime started,” laments James Mukakizima, a 54-year-old and a father of five, adding:  “We thought the UN peacekeepers would bring us some safety, but since they have been here, bombs and bullets have continued raining down on us. Things are just getting worse every year. We are scared and always feel we will not survive this war.”

The M23, also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army, is based in eastern Congo, mainly operating in the province of North Kivu. It was formed on 4 April 2012 when nearly 800 soldiers, a majority of them former members of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), mutinied against the Congolese government, citing poor conditions in the army and the government’s unwillingness to implement a 23 March 2009 peace deal.

General Bosco Ntaganda, also known as “The Terminator”, was accused by the government of Kinshasa of leading the group, though it later emerged that the real leader was General Sultan Emanuel Makenga.

According to eyewitnesses, when the Congolese national army was defeated by the M23 rebels, their revenge was to attack innocent civilians from the minority Tutsi background. This is because most of the rebels who form the M23 are Tutsi and as the Congolese soldiers withdrew from the frontline after being overpowered by the rebels, some targeted those they considered M23 sympathisers, especially women, most of whom were brutally raped. The rape of  women in this area is increasingly the worst weapon of war.

The UN’s cable obtained during our investigation, filed in New York on 27 November, after the M23 rebels captured Goma, reveals how the Congolese army soldiers mounted a counterattack, which  although it failed, left a harrowing trail of mass rape of women and plunder as they retreated to the town of Minova.

In one instance, the cable says, 70 women were raped in one day in Minova alone. Esther, 34, was among the victims and she joins five million women who have been raped in Congo by either government or rebel forces during the past 12 years.

The cost of this military adventure
According to the UN budget, copies of which were obtained during our investigation, there are 23,407 UN personnel deployed in the eastern Congo, of which 18,884 are soldiers, military observers and police, and 3,941 are support staff.

Together, these men and women cost the UN an estimated $1,370 billion annually.

As stated earlier, since its inception, the peace-keeping mission in Congo has cost the UN about $16.8 billion, and of that, 60% goes into salaries, and the rest is spent on food, medical supplies, logistics and transport, communication and other supplies such as air transport, according to the documents in our possession.

The documents also reveal that in the financial year 2010-2011, on average, senior UN personnel received $58,486, which is 254 times more than the per capita income of ordinary Congolese. The average take-home pay for ordinary workers in DRCongo is around $230, according to a 2012 report by the International Monetary Fund.

As the Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, once put it: “You have a UN peacekeeping mission in Congo spending $1.5bn every year for the past 12 years. Nobody ever asks: what do we get out of this?

He added: “From the best arithmetic, I would say: why don’t you give half of this to the Congolese to build schools, to build roads, to give them water and pay these soldiers who rape people every day? I would even pay them not to rape.”

It is no secret that the DRCongo is a very rich country, with an estimated $24 trillion worth of untapped deposits of raw minerals, including the world’s largest reserves of cobalt and significant quantities of diamonds, gold and copper. In fact, measured by its strength in natural resources, DRCongo is the richest country in Africa.

The $24 trillion is more than the GDP of the entire European Union, which in 2012 was $16.66 trillion, yet DRCongo, in reality, is one of the poorest countries in the world, by bank balance, physical infrastructure and public services. Many people decry how extreme poverty is pitted against extreme natural wealth in this country.

What the UN of dollars could do
When you look at how much has been spent by the international community in financing what Museveni describes as “a bunch of tourists”, and the return on investments which the Congolese have received during the 4,392 days of peacekeeping, the annual $16.8 billion budget would have been better spent if invested in the Congolese people.

Joseph Rwagatare, a Kigali-based commentator, points out: “No amount of money, no number of troops, however well-supplied with sophisticated weapons, including drones, will fix the security and political problems in DRCongo …the country is a classic example of UN failure from the 1960s to the present.”

To put things into perspective, the money spent bankrolling the second most expensive peace mission in the world, could quite easily construct 6,250 classrooms every month, meaning there would be 75,000 classrooms every year, enough to accommodate 3.75 million students.

Within three years, there would be 11.25 million students in modern schools (both secondary and primary) at the cost of the $4 billion which was spent on UN peacekeeping missions during the first three years between 2001-2003, as analysed by the East African Standard newspaper. As a further example, a health centre can be built for just $1m and the DRCongo would have 1,500 modern health centres within a year at a fraction of the cost currently spent on MONUSCO salaries. A 3,750km tarmac road, at the cost of $400,000 per km, could easily be constructed. In just six years, the total tarmac road network in the Congo could be doubled to 7,500km.

But above all, peace, which MONUSCO is mandated to restore, remains seriously elusive in eastern DRCongo.

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