Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Who is to blame for the disaster in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

Who is to blame for the disaster in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? There is plenty of blame to go around including not only the actors on the scene but the international community that does nothing. Humanitarian rhetoric flows from the international community but effective intervention does not. In the meantime, death and destruction spreads. Erin A. Weir of Refugees International has these observations:
Violence re-erupted in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the evening of October 26th and the redisplacement of tens, and then hundreds of thousands of people began.

By Wednesday, October 29th, the untrained, unpaid, uncontrolled Congolese military had abandoned their post and were actively terrorizing the population in Goma and throughout the province.

By the end of the week the world had caught on to the disaster. Foreign ministers and senior diplomats flooded into Goma, and with them the international press corps. The hand wringing and finger pointing had begun in earnest.

And who was to blame? Laurent Nkunda and his rebel forces were certainly first in line, as well as their backers in Rwanda, and the weak and ineffectual Congolese army. Most worrying though was the failure of the UN forces themselves. Why had “the world’s largest peacekeeping force” failed to protect the people of Congo?

The answer, now three weeks into this crisis, should be abundantly clear to anyone paying attention. For all the expressions of concern and support, for all the press conferences from the “front lines” of the DR Congo, the member states represented on the UN Security Council have persisted in doing absolutely nothing.

Long before the violence reignited, the UN Mission in the DR Congo (known by the acronym MONUC) had been requesting additional troops and other resources in order to carry out the many complex responsibilities that the Security Council has placed on their shoulders. With the high-profile of this most recent crisis, and the very public attention that it has received from the highest echelons of power, one might be led to believe that this time the politicians in Washington, London and Paris, might actually come through with the material and – more importantly – the political support that MONUC needs to get the job done.

Unfortunately, true to form, the most powerful members of the Security Council seem content to just be seen to be paying attention, and are not at all bothered by the total lack of any concrete action. Of course, the crisis is not entirely off their radar. The Council has, after all, penciled in a slot to discuss these matters… on November 26th, mind you, a full month after the crisis began. They very well may authorize reinforcements on that date, but it will take four to five months to get these forces on the ground. This, it seems, it what they meant when, in an October 29th statement, the Council promised to “study expeditiously” the matter of additional resources.

The trouble is that having failed to reinforce MONUC before the crisis ignited, the simple addition of troops after the fact is not going to cut it. MONUC forces need reinforcement, but they also need some time to regroup, and the hundreds of thousands of displaced and terrorized people in North Kivu need to see an ounce of stability so that they can begin to rebuild the lives that have been ripped to pieces in the last three weeks. UN deployments, however effective, take time, and time is not a luxury that the world can afford in North Kivu.

Angola, the Congo’s southern neighbor, has offered to enter the breach and fight alongside Congolese forces as they have done in the past. But this risks even more involvement of other regional actors like Rwanda, which is less inclined to fight on the side of the Congolese government. As bad as the situation continues to be in North Kivu, the prospect of a fully fledged regional war is far worse still.

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