Having brokered a ceasefire in late January between warring parties in eastern DR Congo, the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, known by its acronym, MONUC, now risks becoming overstretched, according to the Secretary-General’s latest report [pdf]. The danger stems from two interrelated developments:
First, having achieved the success of a peace deal, MONUC is responsible to help implement it. In this case, that requires pursuing three objectives: monitoring the ceasefire; supporting the process of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR); and securing the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). This latter task is particularly daunting, as more displaced persons are crowded into Congo’s eastern provinces than anywhere else in the country.
Second, to achieve these goals, MONUC has needed to relocate significant numbers of its personnel eastward. While this is an understandable and laudable move — particularly because of the persistent insecurity in IDP camps — it runs the risk of pulling much-needed peacekeepers from other volatile areas, which, as Ban notes in his report, “might jeopardize important progress towards peace and stability elsewhere in the country.”It is perhaps the lot of UN peacekeeping that, as soon as one fire seems close to being put out, another ignites, and the UN, in Kofi Annan’s memorable formulation, then needs to go around begging for the parts to build the firetruck. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, just as the need to consolidate peace in eastern Congo looms large on MONUC’s agenda, the western part of the country has experienced a disturbing uptick in violence.
As I’ve previously articulated, a peacekeeping mission’s success, in one sense, can be measured by its readiness to minimize its presence and eventually depart. Sometimes, though, en route to drawdowns, a mission must beef up its presence in the short-term. That appears to be what is happening in DR Congo, where Ban, in the report that preceded this one, had laid out benchmarks for a process of eventual withdrawal. Here, however, he has determined that “the Mission’s current force levels…do not reflect the critical role MONUC is expected to play” in securing peace in the east, while still maintaining stability in the rest of this enormous country.
Yes, MONUC is currently (at least until UNAMID fully deploys in Darfur) the largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation in the UN’s history. But a rapid drawdown in the interests of financial expediency flies in the face of facts on the ground in Congo and would deeply unsettle the only thinly etched lines of peace that are developing in the country. For such a resource-rich behemoth in central Africa, whose post-independence history has been racked by over four decades of war, corruption, and disease, the prospect of a sustainable peace is in all respects worth the investment of continuing to support MONUC.