Congo: EU and UN mission impossible?

Posted in Africa | 08-Jan-06 | Author: Bernd D. Weber

MONUC - 17000 soldiers need support to protect the elections June 18.
MONUC - 17000 soldiers need support to protect the elections June 18.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a difficult country. Since the independence in 1960 it has suffered from civil war, belligerent neighboring countries in the search to exploit the natural resources of Congo and a variety of different militia, mostly dispersed in the eastern part of the territory.

UN-mission MONUC, established in 1999 was not able to bring peace into the insurgent eastern Congo and to disarm the militia. To control at least the most affected zones of the country some more than 170.000 UN “blue helmets” would be needed, a mission assessed as impossible to be initiated by either UN or the “African Union” (AU).

MONUC, while being accused to be involved in raping and sexual affairs with the starving and maltreated population in the East, showed incapable to solve the problem to bring peace into the country. The AU had after being initiated on July 10, 2002 to replace the former more or less inefficient “Organization of African Union” (OAU) started with the aim, to solve African problems by Africans only. This pretentious aim failed completely as samples like the conflict in the Sudanese provinces Darfur prove.

Having passed a long way to reach peace at least with some of the militia, implementing a new constitution and a government including the main belligerent parties, Congolese president Joseph Kabila on March 10, 2006 announced presidential and parliamentary election for June 18, 2006. UN General Secretary Annan had asked the European Union (EU) on December 27, 2005 to support these by sending a mission of about 1.500 men mainly into the Congolese capital Kinshasa. EU agreed upon the request and named her High Commissioner for the Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, to prepare the mission. But preparations started without any clear political and strategic concept.

EU members were not too eager to follow this inquiry and to nominate troops. Germany strictly asked for an UN mandate, an invitation from Congolese President Kabila, which has been delivered in the meantime, and a restriction in duration of maximal four months. France and Germany finally decided on March 14, 2006 to lead this mission. While Germany assured to take over full command through the Headquarters of his “Einsatzführungskommando” (Armed Forces Operational Command) in Potsdam close to Berlin, France would operate the “Forward Headquarter” in Kinshasa. Both countries agreed upon supporting the mission with 500 soldiers each. Further European countries agreeing to send soldiers are Spain, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Poland and Portugal. Observers criticize the minimum of military forces involved, to be not sufficient for assuring even the elections within the capital.

This mission, even being restricted to the area of Kinshasa, must come to a successful end, thus supporting Congo to reach more peace in the country and make it a region of less conflicts destroying it, preventing a further and this time “second African World war”, finally stopping exploitation by foreign countries and neutralizing the militias by integrating all of them into a democratic ruled new Congo. The following article shows the background of this troubled country.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: A difficult conflict region

Bernd D. Weber: "The Congo conflict seems to be difficult to bring to an end."
Bernd D. Weber: "The Congo conflict seems to be difficult to bring to an end."

For decades now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), formerly known as Zaire, has shown as a highly sophisticated conflict area. Since its sovereignty in 1960 the country did not find peace and stability. Foreign countries intervened often enough pursuing their own interests.

The Eastern Congo is the mostly affected part of a conflict area which includes the Eastern Congolese district of Ituri in the Northeastern province Orientale, the Eastern provinces North and South Kivu, the Southeastern province Katanga as well as the adjacent countries Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. Without being an ethnic entity the colonization had divided this region to serve its own business and thus created an ethnic feeling which started to manifest since the independence of the different countries. Since the beginning of the 19. century the overpopulated Burundi and Rwanda looked at the Eastern Congolese region, while Rwanda’s Tutsi furthermore supported the Banyamulenge people in Eastern Congolese provinces Kivu as being ethnic Tutsi. These played an important role in the ongoing history.

Here is the background, starting with the country and the people, then giving a short review of the history, followed by a tour d’horizon of the different phases of internal conflicts, including the role of the United Nations (UN), being involved with their mission MONUC and finally giving a lookout on possibilities to solve the problem.

Country and people

The Presidential Republic is the third greatest African country, comprises 2.345.410 km² (905.718,14 mil²) with a population of 58,3 Mio. (2004) and is composed of about 250 ethnic groups; ca. 80 % belong to Bantu groups, 15 % to Sudanese groups, 5 % are Nilots, Pygmy and Hamits. The official language is French, the total of other used languages reaches the astonishing figure of 400, four of them are main ones; 26 % male and 48 % female are analphabetic. The country is surrounded by eight neighbouring states: Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia and Angola.

The country is rich on natural resources, like diamonds, gold, copper, coltan – a need for electronic industry – and cobalt. Neighboring countries, with Rwanda in the first row, and up to 125 regional and foreign enterprises showed great interest in exploiting and finally continued their business till today.

Historical review

In the course of the African colonization Bismarck, chancellor of the German Empire, initialized the Berlin conference leading to the Congo Act dated February 26, 1885, which prescribed the status of the Free State Congo, including the frontiers, and confirmed the region as the privacy of the Belgian King Leopold II. Forced by the parliament the king lost his privilege and the country got the status of a colony which was renamed on November 15, 1908 in Belgian Congo. Although a paternalistic Colonialism arose, Belgian did not meet at all the necessities of the native cultural traditions and beliefs in this vast Congolese region. Having started without any democratic institutions the Belgian administration found itself confronted with ethnic rivalries within the native population when introducing some reforms after World War II. After a series of riots and unrest, Belgians announced on January 27, 1960 the end of their presence and granted Congo its independence on June 30, 1960.

Conflict phases 1960 - 1997

Left without skilled bureaucracy in the renamed DR Congo regional leaders had more power than the central government. Katanga, richest province of the country, seceded on July 11, 1960. With a military coup Colonel Joseph Désiré Mobutu took over the power on September 14, 1960; in 1961 he returned power to a civil government. The coup made UN to send 20.000 peacekeepers to restore order and to protect Europeans in 1961; they left the country on June 30, 1964. In Eastern Congo later dictator Mobutu used the Banyamulenge, ethnic Tutsi as to be found in Rwanda and Burundi, to suppress secessionist uprising. Later he deprived them from the given citizenship and they changed from friend to foe. After years of unrest and rebellion Mobutu, now General and Commander-in-Chief of the national army, took over control of the country on November 24, 1965 and declared himself as president for five years. This ended the First Republic.

The Second Republic (1965-1997) started with the establishment of a one-party system, the “Mouvement Populaire de la Révolution” (MPR) and Mobutu Sese Seko as head of state. Occasional elections saw him as the only candidate. He restored a relative stability, but cared much for his cult of personality while joined by an increasing corruption, repression and severe violations of human rights. In 1971 he gave the country the name “Republic of Zaire” and by 1984 he had transferred about 4 billion USD to Swiss banks. When Katanga secessionists 1977 invaded from Angola into Shaba province Mobutu suppressed the rebellion. In 1978 he suppressed a second invasion successfully. On April 24, 1990 he announced the creation of a multiparty democratic system.

As a Cold War ally of the United States Mobutu lost his status of preference with the fall of the Soviet Union end of 1991. Several uprisings and occasional coup d’état were put down by military intervention. Unrests and foreign pressure forced Mobutu to start reforms in the 1990th and with the end of the one-party policy about 200 political parties were founded. With the aim to secure his own political power he initiated ethnic conflicts to confuse the new political parties and to irritate their process of democratisation but could not stop the erosion of his dictatorship.

Africa - a tragic comeback to the world stage.
Africa - a tragic comeback to the world stage.
Rebel groups gathered in the Eastern part of the country and after the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 he could not prevent the flight of hundred thousands out of about 3 million of Hutu refugees, soldiers and militias into that part of the country. More refugees arrived from neighbouring Burundi. Between these you could see the Interahamwe militia, being Hutus who were severely involved in the Rwandan genocide. They abused the refugee camps as recruiting centers and logistic bases. This Hutu militia “Forces Démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda” (FDLR) later organized itself with its major part as the “Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo” (FARDC). At the same time Mobutu tried, supported by the Interahamwe, to drive the Banyamulenge out of the country. They lost all civil rights and their nationality. But Mobutu failed because the Tutsi dominated Rwandan forces invaded Eastern Congo in support for the Banyamulenge in November 1996, when Mobutus government began to escalate its massacres.

Using the uncontrolled situation and militarily mainly supported by the Banyamulenge as well as by Rwanda and Uganda Congolese Laurent-Désiré Kabila started a rebellion against Mobutu’s dictatorship in September 1996. Leading the rebels, united in the “Alliance des Forces Démocratique pour la Libération du Congo” (AFDL/ Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo) and for a long time underestimated, he achieved to overcome his regime on May 16, 1997. Mobutu resigned and exiled, while Kabila declared himself president on May 29, 1997.

The years after Mobutu

The Third Republic, now renamed in Democratic Republic of the Congo (cit. Congo), saw up to now the clan Kabila reigning the country without stabilizing it at all as Rwanda and Uganda did not want so. Both countries supported several rebel uprisings and in August 1998 Kabila broke the relations to them. This marked the beginning of the next Congo war, named as well as the “African World War”. Supported militarily by Angola, Namibia, Sudan, Chad and Zimbabwe while assuring them the access for raw materiel he was able to react against the troops of Rwanda and Uganda, both backing on the militia and rebels in Eastern Congo and pursuing their own political and, what is more, their economic interests in the region. Thus a coup d’état against Kabila failed with the military intervention of Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe. On July 10, 1999 Kabila reached after peace talks in Zambian capital Lusaka an armistice agreement with the rebels, which in the meantime had been broken several times with fighting’s and massacres in Eastern Congo.

Meanwhile the country had been divided into several regions with different parties to execute power. The Eastern part was completely controlled by Rwanda, Burundi showed his interests south of it and Uganda cared about the north-eastern region. This area got another international reputation through the outbreak of the additional conflict in the Ituri district in June 1999 between two ethnics: Lendu and Hema, both with a population of about half a million. Massacres killed up to 8.000 persons and about 100.000 people fled from home. Aid organisations tried in vain to mediate, a genocide threatened to come up. Uganda, supporting the Hema and delivering arms, tried to end the conflict but raids and massacres of both sides continued.

Parallel to the Hema-Lendu dispute started another outbreak of hostilities in November 1999 between Congolese army units and the different militias. The UN Security Council (UNSC) after having sent about 90 observers already in September 1999, decided with resolution 1279 dated November 30, 1999 to initiate the mission MONUC (UNO Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo). With resolution 1291 dated February 24, 2000 UNSC decided to send an observer group consisting of 5.500 persons out of the 20.000 as recommended by UN Secretary General Annan, to survey the armistice and to divide the country for this purpose into six sectors. On April 14, 2000 a new armistice could be arranged.

But quarrelling about the exploitation of Congolese resources in the area of Kisangani let fighting’s between Rwandan and Ugandan forces start again in May and June 2000. UN intervened and UNSC demanded with resolution 1304 dated June 16, 2000 the immediate and complete withdrawal of all foreign troops engaged in the civil war. The conflict parties with the exception of Uganda assured to withdraw their troops from the Congolese territory. Only by decision of the International Court of Justice in Den Haag (ICJ) dated August 3, 2000 Uganda started to withdraw its troops as well. Kabila, to see UN units only in conjunction with the withdrawal of all Rwandan and Ugandan troops out of his country, finally agreed with the presence of the UN mission on August 24, 2000. Nevertheless he refused to cooperate with former president of Botswana, Masire, who was invited by UN to help with installing democratic institutions in Congo.

In September 2000 war broke out again between the Congolese army supported by troops from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe against the rebel groups “Rassemblement du Congo Démocratique” (RCD) and their dependencies RCD-Goma, RCD-ML and the “Mouvement de Libération du Congo” (MLC) supported by troops of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. MLC and Ugandan units started an operation in the Northwest and marched in direction of the Congolese capital Kinshasa, while the RCD and Rwandan units operated in the South-eastern region and reached the second largest city Lubumbashi close to the Zambian border. Thus this war party controlled more than half of the Congolese territory.

As a result the peace treaty dated July 10, 1999 had failed, the mediation process of the UN stayed without success and according to an UN report the exploitation of the Congolese resources by the foreign nations continued, while in the meantime both war parties had built up their armaments arsenal. US secretary of state Albright called the conflict “Africas first world war”. Meanwhile MLC leader Jean-Pierre Bemba and RCD-ML leader Ernest Wamba dia Wamba unified both groups to the “Front pour la Libération du Congo” (FLC) on January 16, 2001.

On January 17, 2001 Kabila was killed by one of his body guards and his son Joseph Kabila took over the presidency on January 26, 2001. He tried to stabilize the country, forced the peace process, inviting the rebel groups to talks, and gave MONUC the allowance to be stationed along the frontline to the rebels. After another conference in Lusaka on February 15, 2001 all war parties agreed to withdraw their troops, an armistice followed in April 2001, which was broken far too often.

On April 29, 2002 the internal Congolese dialogue showed as failed. But Kabila managed finally to sign a peace treaty with Rwanda on July 30, 2002 and one with Uganda on September 6, 2002 with the result that all foreign troops left the country. The still unpeaceful rebel organisations RCD-Goma and MLC could be convinced to sign a limited peace treaty on December 17, 2002 and a final peace treaty on April 4, 2003 together with a draft constitution and on June 30, 2003 Kabila arranged their integration into the new constituted transitional government.

The ethnic conflict: Hema versus Lendu

Kinshasa - the hub of conflicts.
Kinshasa - the hub of conflicts.
Meanwhile in the district of Ituri the old ethnic conflict between Hema and Lendu broke out again in April 2003, escalating to massacres in May. While this time Rwanda supported the Hema, Uganda armed the Lendu. These two ethnics lived in mutual trouble since the Belgian colonisation and since Congo’s independence. Martial violence had already marked the years 1972 and 1985, later in 1996, 1999, 2001 and 2002. Main point of the dispute was the right of the soil that was turned over from the agrarian Lendu to the cattle breeder Hema. As soon as the threat of a genocide arose the UNSC decided with resolution 1484 dated May 30, 2003 to send off a European Union (EU) mission under French command and with German participation. For a short period the “Operation Artémis” could restore peace and end the massacres.

On September 1, 2003 MONUC took over command from EU, but even reinforced up to 10,800 by the UNSC resolution dated July 28, 2003 and with an expanded mandate the blue helmets could not bring peace to the North-East and East of Congo. Massacres broke out again. At least a partial disarmament of Hema and Lendu militia showed successful and some leaders of the Hema militia “Union des Patriotes Congolais” were caught. But still the once begun massacres continued and both, Hema and Lendu, attacked blue helmets on several occasions in September and October 2003.

Further conflicts and crises

Since May 26, 2004 rival army units were fighting one another and MONUC intervened but withdrew on June 2./3., 2004 out of the city of Bukavu, leaving the town back to the warlord’s militia looting and raping. Between these, as UN later reported on July 22, 2004, were found fighters of the FARDC who had not been integrated into the Congolese Army, but were armed by Rwanda. The Congolese government was sending about 10.000 soldiers into the region and they found themselves engaged in combat. Several ten thousand persons fled over the border into Rwanda to escape from massacre and “ethnic sobering”. MONUC tried at least to secure the refugee camps but did not engage in any combat and was heavily criticised for it’s withdrawing. Demonstrations against the UN arose requiring the withdrawal of all blue helmets. Finally Congolese Army units brought Bukavu under control again on June 9, 2004.

Since January 2004 Mai-Mai militia and scattered Hutu rebels were looting and executing terror acts in the districts of Uvira and Wikale in the south-eastern part of Congo terrorizing the population. From April 2004 onward Rwandan army units were operating again on Congolese soil, as being reported by UN on April 24, 2004. UN reported as well about 1.4 million refugees in the provinces North and South Kivu and Maniema, one forth of these even not reachable for international aid organizations. About 50.000 people lost their life through combat or terror actions.

Not until May 17, 2004 the Congolese government could appoint the governors of the provinces as laid down in the peace treaty. All former rebel groups - RCD, MLC, RCD-ML and RCD-N – were included in the distribution and covered seats in the northern and eastern Congolese provinces. This act was the first prerequisite to expand governmental control over the country and with the appointment of the new governors it will be their essential duty to accurately prepare the elections in 2006. Still the domestic political situation remained fragile, i.e. underlined with two coup d’état which occurred on March 28 and June 10, 2004, but could be suppressed within hours.

A serious crisis broke out when Congolese Tutsi, Banyamulenge, were killed in the Burundian city of Gatumba on August 13./14., 2004. These had fled the country in direction Burundi to escape from combat and another massacre in June 2004. This situation upset the Rwandan and Burundi government and shocked the region. Both countries closed their borders, Rwanda threatened with another military invasion of Eastern Congo. The relations between Congo and Rwanda got disturbed and a new war menaced to break out. International pressure and demarches of the United States and Great Britain end of August 2004 could prevent a war and avoided as well a breakdown of the ongoing Congolese peace process.

Nevertheless the quarrelling all-party government in Kinshasa showed as too weak to expand its control over the crisis provinces of North and South Kivu, where regular army and rebelling units as well as various militias were still involved in combat with one another. The “International Crisis Group” warned of increased ethnic tensions in the region, which arose when Banyamulenge tried to return from Gatumba into Eastern Congo on September 27, 2004. Bloody demonstrations made them, secured by UN-forces, return to Burundi.

Although Kabila and Rwandan president Kagame agreed by end of August 2004 upon demilitarising their respective militia in their controlled areas and decided on September 22, 2004 to commonly survey the border, the mutual tension could not be deescalated. Rwanda insulted Congo for supporting the FARDC and both for continuing the genocide against the Banyamulenge. Several times Kagame menaced Congo with another military invasion, last in April 2005. Kabila for his part accused Rwanda of having sent troops into Eastern Congo again supporting mutinying Congolese army soldiers.

The State weakness still allows rebel groups in the East to continue committing massacres, fight each other and attack the local population. Although Hutu rebel group “Forces Démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda” (FDLR) gave up fighting against government troops on March 31, 2005 and even condemned their involvement in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, cruel massacres continued on July 12, 2005 and on October 11, 2005.

Engagement of UN-mission MONUC

Several times the UNSC expressed concern about Rwandan troops invading Eastern Congo, last on May 14, 2004. The illegal exploitation of Congolese resources by neighbouring countries was criticised and demanded to be ended on November 19, 2003, a monitoring group was initiated on June 2, 2000; UNSC enlarged the mission with resolution 1457 dated January 24, 2003 and demanded the end of foreign exploitation again on November 19, 2003, namely by Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. These three countries had been cited already in an UN report dated April 16, 2001.

The UNSC decided on October 1, 2004 to reinforce it’s mission MONUC and enlarged at the same time the mandate, now giving their blue helmets the right to intervene with military means and to fight. In March 2005 MONUC started operations against the militias, while demanding at the same time with an ultimatum their voluntary disarmament till April 1, 2005. In February 2005 MONUC increased the pressure on the all-party government in Kinshasa to persecute war criminals and warlords, especially those living in Kinshasa unmolested. On April 18, 2005 UNSC enlarged the weapon embargo, which since July 2003 was restricted to Eastern Congo only, over the whole country. MONUC was tasked to intensively control the sky traffic. Amnesty international declared on July 5, 2005, however, that furthermore weapons had been delivered to Congolese militia and noted that firms from South Africa, Great Britain, the USA and Eastern European countries had been involved. Rwanda and Uganda were accused to sell weapons in response for receiving gold.

Childsoldiers - the ugly face of the "Third world war" in Africa.
Childsoldiers - the ugly face of the "Third world war" in Africa.
On the other hand the UN reported on June 24, 2005, that about 15.000 militia out of the around 20.000 in the province Ituri had handed over their weapons to UN personnel. Furthermore the refugee camps got smaller while more and more persons dared to leave it to go back to their homes.

But still there is no peace in the country. On October 11, 2005 MONUC reported another massacre in Eastern Congo executed by Hutu rebels of the FDLR. Just one week ago an ultimatum signed by Kabila had run out demanding all militia to leave the country. On October 30, 2005 the UNSC prolonged the mandate of MONUC for another year till September 2006. The resolution increased the number of blue helmets by 300 more soldiers to be brought into action in the province Katanga, while UN General Secretary Annan had asked for an augmentation of 2.580 men and wished to hold elections in June 2006 latest. He was advised by UNSC to start a personnel reduction by July 2006, thus just having past the elections. This summer saw 16.078 soldiers and 324 policemen out of the totally authorised 17.175 in the country, thus leaving the mission as the greatest peacekeeping mission at all.

As members of MONUC were accused to be involved in raping for food the UNSC asked the contributing states to take adequate measures in training and education of their portion in MONUC to prevent further incidents. Nigeria reacted and withdrew 120 policemen in September 2005.

Latest measures of the Congolese government

The all-party government, still in internal dissents, managed at least on November 12, 2004 to pass important laws on the coming up elections, the status of the army, the nationalities and the amnesty of war criminals, thus preventing the failure of the peace process. The army law regulates the integration of the rebel militia FARDC into the regular army; the nationality law gives all ethnic groups which had lived in the country since 1960 the right of the Congolese nationality and their right to vote. With this measure the political elite tried to calm the virulent ethnic conflicts in the country and to end the continuing massacres. The draft of the new Constitution was accepted on May 13. 2005. On June 20, 2005 the inscription of the voters had begun and the postponed national elections were planned for March 2006. In a referendum more than 84 % of the population agreed in December 2005 on the new Constitution, closely orientated with the French Presidential system. In the meantime UN on December 27, 2005 asked the European Union for a mission to assist the now in June 18, 2006 planned parliamentary and presidential elections, starting in April 2006 and being finished in July 2006. Here again France and Germany will be involved.

Meanwhile there still die as much as 1.000 people per day from continuing violation, disease or malnutrition, while corruption and mismanagement within the transitional government threaten stability. UNHCR reported more than 500.000 dispersed people and about 460.000 refugees in neighbouring countries. On September 12, 2005 UN began to repatriate refugees from Tanzania.

Conclusions and recommendations

1. The Congo conflict seems to be difficult to bring to an end. First of all is will be necessary that all foreign countries with own interests in the area renounce to intervene in that name and withdraw from all national interests, which are laying in the economic exploitation of the natural resources of the country.

2. Furthermore it is of vital importance that the Congolese government mitigates the ethnic conflicts of the various ethnic people and bring them to an end, like the never ending violence combined with mutual massacres between Hema and Lendu in Ituti, reintegrates the Banyamulenge restoring their natural and personal rights, and bans the Hutu militia in Eastern Congo as a virulent militant party in Eastern Congo. Again the refugee problem of this region has to be solved, backing on UN’s UNHCR and the agreement of the countries concerned, thus preventing Hutu to recall on further recruitment in these camps.

3. The president is again invited to integrate the former rebel groups RCD and MLC into his governmental institutions thus to prevent them from going back to rebellion. All belligerent groups have to give up power and assets for the national interest, no longer maintaining parallel command structures in the local administration, the intelligence service and the Congolese Army. Disarmament of all militia and rebel groups is of vital importance.

4. The international society is called up to support all positive strengthening for peace and stability with adequate development aid as well as with administrative and technical support. The international community is asked to maintain pressure on a widespread spectrum thus pushing security reforms, improving the transitional justice sector and assuring good governance as prerequisites for the elections in 2006. Furthermore the exorbitant corruption has to be brought to an end, political opponents released and whatever repression by governmental institutions and official persons eliminated. The UN should continuously monitor the progressive development as well as the process of democratisation and continue their peace missions in delicate regions.

5. Last but not least remains the question on how to treat the violence of human rights committed by all involved militant parties: Rebel groups, Congolese Army, foreign troops, and even UN blue helmets, being accused for rape. Some observer think about a tribunal like that for Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia. The UN did not yet decide on this and, off course, it should be based upon this level only to find an adequate solution.