UN Intervention Brigade – End Game in the Congo?

UN Intervention Brigade - End Game in the Congo?
UN forces in Congo has proven themselves useless

AFRICANGLOBE – To the outsider at least, the immediate problem with the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)–a perennial vortex of instability, massive human rights violations and wars both petty and large–is that it defies comprehension.

The armed militia factions, opportunistic and often wholly predatory, are many. There are at least 10 such groups in the eastern part of the country alone, which for several years now has been the epicenter of the bloodshed and chaos.

The recent approval by the UN Security Council of two extraordinary measures to deal with the situation in that country–the use of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to provide reconnaissance of militia activity, and the deployment of an intervention brigade to take offensive measures against the militia groups–is being hailed by most observers as a potential turning point in the country’s recent unhappy history.

Though the UN has been careful to present the measures as purely temporary and confined to the DRC, they do indeed constitute a turning point in UN peace missions. Their success–if they do succeed–will undoubtedly lead to their being hailed as “best practice,” and radically change the trajectory of the Congo.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the measures as a “comprehensive approach aimed at addressing the root causes of instability in the eastern DRC and the Great Lakes region.” But optimism has necessarily to be tempered, analysts believe.

The 24 February 2013 “Framework for Peace, Security and Cooperation for the DRC and the Region,” which provides the basis for the intervention brigade, does indeed offer a comprehensive approach to the problem. The framework, which the African Union assisted to put together, was signed in Ethiopia by leaders from the DRC, Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, in the presence of Ban, who acted as one of the guarantors. The framework speaks of the suffering in the country engendered by “recurring cycles of conflict and persistent violence by armed groups, both Congolese and foreign.”

The current path, the framework says, is untenable. It sets out an agenda for the consolidation of state authority and the prevention of outside support to armed groups. It also contains a pledge by the DRC to respect “the legitimate concerns and interests” of neighbouring countries, an implicit reference to Rwanda’s long-held security concerns about the operation of anti-government Hutu militants based in eastern Congo.

Mr. Ban raised the issue of the intervention brigade in the Security Council shortly after his return from Ethiopia last March. He told Security Council members that the envisaged brigade would operate under the command of the UN mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, and would cost $140 million (in addition to the $1.4 billion it costs MONUSCO to maintain 19,815 troops annually). On 27 December, Mr. Ban also wrote to the Security Council requesting approval for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, by MONUSCO for “advanced information collation, analysis and dissemination to enhance situational awareness and to permit timely decision-making.”

Last January, the Security Council approved the request to use UAVs in the Congo “without prejudice to the ongoing consideration by relevant United Nations bodies of legal, financial and technical implications of the use of unmanned aerial systems.”

The trigger for these measures was the brutal occupation of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in eastern DRC, by the M23 in November of last year. The event was a serious setback to both the Congolese and the UN.

Two days after the fall of Goma, the government suspended its commander of ground forces, Gen. Gabriel Amisi Kumba, who had been accused several times of atrocities by human rights groups–in addition to being accused by the UN Panel of Experts a few months before of selling weapons and ammunitions to illegal armed groups.

The occupation of Goma underlined two perennial problems: the weakness of the DRC to exist as a nation and the readiness of armed rebel groups to exploit this weakness.

The intervention brigade was approved by UN resolution 2098 of 18 March, which states that the intervention brigade will be a rapid reaction force that will conduct “targeted offensive operations” against rebel groups in the country.

The brigade, consisting of 3,069 troops, is led by a Tanzanian general, and is organised into three infantry battalions, one artillery unit, one Special Forces unit and a reconnaissance company. Crack troops from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi have already been contributed to it, and its mission is to “prevent the expansion of all armed groups, neutralize these groups, and disarm them.”

The UN appears determined to emphasize the “exceptional basis” for approving the intervention brigade, averring in the resolution that it is not creating “a precedent or any prejudice to the agreed principles of peacekeeping.” The resolution also calls for a “clear exit strategy” for the brigade.

As if on cue, a day after the resolution was adopted, M23’s founder, Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, surrendered in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, and was handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The M23 had suffered a violent split at the end of February, leading to serious fighting between the main faction, led by Sultani Makenga, and a smaller faction led by Ntaganda. The M23 had announced a unilateral ceasefire on 7 January, but few took this seriously given the group’s opportunistic character and its lack of a unified front.

Will the drones and the intervention brigade change the chaotic, bloodstained trajectory of the Congo? Its forces, from countries with uneven capacities, will have to choose their targets very carefully to be effective, some observers advise. But a potential target–M23–has already asserted itself.

In April, the M23 wrote an open letter describing Tanzania’s decision to participate in the intervention brigade as a “dangerous adventure.” The letter, signed by Bertrand Bisimwa, the political leader of M23, called on Tanzania to pull out of the brigade. Bisimwa wrote a similar letter to South Africa, which is contributing over 1,000 well-equipped troops to the intervention brigade. Both South Africa and Tanzania dismissed the threats. Tanzanian foreign minister Bernard Membe told his country’s parliament, in response to M23, that “we are not going to Congo as lords of war, we are going there as advocates of peace to help our neighbours.”

Part Two