United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last week, and the publicity, coupled with a $1 billion aid package from the World Bank, inadvertently spotlighted President Joseph Kabila’s image as an ineffective manager of the affairs of his impoverished nation. Kabila and his Parliament have not provided constructive leadership when one considers that the United Nations’ Human Development Index ranks the DRC at the bottom of 187 countries. These are stunning statistics, since the DRC owns half of the world’s cobalt, 30 percent of all diamonds, and 70 percent of the planet’s coltan, which is the driving component in mobile phones. Gold, copper, oil and other strategic minerals fill the DRC treasure chest, which has been plundered by a system of defacto international piracy. The UN website and Forbes estimate DRC’s worth in minerals alone to be $24 trillion.
Looking deeper down the rabbit hole of foreign aid, it is obvious the touted $1 billion is chicken feed since the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUSCO) is costing global taxpayers close to $1.5 billion a year.
On a positive note, Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed that the international community stands with the DRC in the struggle for peace in the ravaged eastern provinces that have not experienced stability since the Rwandan genocide of 1994. In an historic visit to the provincial capital of Goma, Ban Ki-moon urged the Congo president “to give appropriate instruction to the FARDC army to strictly abide by the international humanitarian law and protect the lives of civilian population,” as they engage the M23 rebel political movement’s army.
Why the veiled admonition to the Congo army (FARDC)?
Atrocities by U.S. Trained Congo Troops
A report, issued two weeks ago by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office, says members of the Congolese 391st Commando Battalion, which was trained by U.S. special forces troops assigned to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), and other Democratic Republic of Congo troops, participated in a range of atrocities, including the mass rape of women and young girls in eastern Congo.
The abuses by the soldiers were committed “in a systematic manner and with extreme violence,” according to the report. At least 102 women and 33 girls, reportedly as young as six, were victims of rape or other acts of sexual violence perpetrated by government soldiers, the report stated. The soldiers also were responsible for the arbitrary execution of at least two people and the widespread looting of villages, it said.
The international press wrongly assigned blame for the atrocities on the M23 rebels, and has not retracted their errors, further obfuscating the reality of life on the ground in eastern DRC.
It is fair to say that the UN has failed miserably to achieve its mandate in DRC, and the greeting Ban Ki-moon received in Goma at a hospital for victims of sexual violence tells the tale. The BBC reports, “Ban Ki-Moon visited a hospital for the victims of sexual violence. He was greeted with chants that mixed anger with anguish. He held a press conference, and then he was off.”
Any reasonable person would have to agree that an additional $1 billion would not fix this breakdown of civil society.
The full transcript of Ban Ki-Moon’s remarks says all the right things about diagnosing the afflictions of lack of security and human rights abuses, but offers the wrong prescription — more aid and more troops made of a new intervention brigade due next month. In March the Security Council authorized the creation of the brigade of three infantry battalions, one artillery, and one special force and reconnaissance company to be headquartered in Goma under the direct command of the new MONUSCO force commander, Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz of Brazil.
Even more troubling, considering the current scandal involving AFRICOM trained troops, is Ban Ki-moon’s appointment of dos Santos Cruz, who served as Force Commander of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) from January 2007 to April 2009.
Under his watch, 100 of 950 Sri Lankan peacekeepers were sent packing, accused of sexual abuse with underage girls. In an interview with the Asian Tribune in November 2007, the former MINUSTAH commander avoided commenting on the sex and prostitution scandal, yet heaped praise upon the “dedication” of the Sri Lankan contingent.
Recent investigations conducted by Dr. Victoria Fontan, head of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University for Peace in Costa Rica, accuse MONUSCO troops of committing “violent and abusive acts against Congolese girls, and doing so with complete impunity.”
Will dos Santos Cruz make a difference, considering the failures of troop discipline and morality in Haiti?
Ban Ki-moon stopped short of lauding the 3,000 troops of the intervention brigade, terming it “not a substitute for the security forces of the DRC.” Security experts are cautious as to the effectiveness of such a small contingent in a vast country with no cohesive army. The current DRC government depends for its very survival on the existing 20,000 UN troops, and it is difficult to imagine that an additional 3,000 troops, unfamiliar with the terrain and climate, will make any difference at all.
Nosoviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, South Africa’s minister of defense, whose troops will comprise the bulk of the new intervention brigade, suggested that the troops would function as “baby sitters” for the Congolese army.
What Congo needs is another kind of help; a serious government with a disciplined army that defends and unites its entire people before seeking outside help. Congo needs to look inward and listen to the yearnings of its own people.
Consider events in DRC that never made the media spotlight last week.
Events that Never Made the News
Three Tutsi students from the Banyamulenge tribe were walking in Bukavu when youths from other tribes threw stones at them, accusing them of being accompliceswith the M23 rebel movement. Hostilities escalated, and 41 students were injured, some critically. Two churches were ransacked and then burned down. This incident reflects ethnic divisions that no one wants to address.
Members of the Banyamulenge community, who have largely avoided the M23 movement, could reconsider their positions in an increasingly hostile environment with nonexistent government protection. Congolese extremists, those who believe that Tutsis should be expelled from Congo, are growing. The M23 is the tip of an iceberg in Congo’s kaleidoscope of armed groups. Conservative estimates put the number at over 30 organized armed groups, excluding small community militias.
Hostilities between the Congolese army and the M23 resumed in Mutaho, 10 km from Goma. Three days of fighting culminated in 4 civilian deaths and many wounded as shells hit the suburbs of Goma during heavy fighting between the two forces. Both parties have claimed the other attacked first and reports of military causalities have so far been contested.
Attacks by other rebel groups on civilians are reported in Mpeti, and the final death toll of clashes between the FARDC and Mai-Mai in Beni were confirmed at 40. Congolese troops are reported to have dislodged newly formed FDDH rebels and Nyatura militia from the Mbuyi and Kashanje hills. Meanwhile, Ugandan ADF-NALU fighters have been causing displacement through their activities in Beni, and fears of potential clashes between the FARDC and the FDLR in Masisi territory are reported. In Province Orientale the Congolese army is accused of human rights abuses along Lake Albert.
Radio Okapi reports that Congolese Military Naval Forces were responsible for more than eight cases of murder by gunfire, two rapes, and forced marriages, several cases of extortion and arbitrary arrests from 2010 to 2013 in Mahagi.
Civil Society has identified these violations of human rights in a report released Thursday, May 16 in the area. These abuses are along Lake Albert in chiefdoms and Mokambo Wagongo Territory Mahagi (Eastern Province). The coordinator of the new Civil Society Mahagi Samy Jakwong’a requested replacement of the military by the Naval Police for the tranquility of the local population.
The new intervention of 3,000 troops won’t succeed where the existing 20,000 MONUSCO troops have failed. Intervention brigades, peacekeepers, or symbolic infusions of $1 billion in foreign aid won’t cure Congo. A decent government capable of valuing and reconciling its people will cure it. All efforts should be geared towards setting up a decentralized government and a disciplined army.
Co-author Obadias Ndaba, originally from Congo, is a regular commentator on African affairs.