The UN Stabilisation Mission in Congo — Monusco — found itself the centre of attention and recipient of virulent attacks at the extraordinary Summit of the Heads of State from the Great Lakes Region convening for the fifth time in Kampala on November 24. over the security situation in Eastern DR Congo.
The 19,000-strong, $1.5 billion a year mission, the largest and best funded of its kind the UN has anywhere in the world, has, in the 12 years it has operated in DRC enjoyed mixed fortunes.
Ironically, this mirrors the performance of the UN, going as far back as 1960 when it first engaged with the crisis in Congo.
Mandated primarily to deal with negative forces threatening the stability of both DR Congo and its neighbours, and to protect civilians against them, Monusco failed the first task of plunging into the jungles where these elements have established bases.
But it was the fact that it stood by and let M23 rebels take Goma without so much as a fight on November 20, that has raised the alarm over its ineptness, and revived debate on whether it should continue to operate in DRC at all.
President Kabila has asked Monusco once to consider withdrawing. Etienne Tshisekedi, his main opposition opponent, has accused it thwarting Congolese self-determination.
At the closed meeting at the lakeside Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort attended by Presidents Joseph Kabila, Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki, Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, none was more miffed about Monusco’s behaviour in Goma than President Kikwete.
Sources who were at the meeting told The EastAfrican that President Kikwete was particularly furious when he was told that Monusco soldiers did nothing but wave on the rebels as they strolled into DRC’s key commercial city to the east.
“He spoke for nearly 20 minutes, gave the history of various UN interventions in the region and what their outcomes have been,” one source told The EastAfrican.
“According to him, we wouldn’t be dealing with the current conflict if the UN had done what it elected itself to do in the Congo: Correctly diagnose the problem and commit seriously to resolving it,” our source added.
Tanzania is one of the 49 countries that have contributed military personnel to Monusco.
South Africa, another troop-contributing country, expressed displeasure about the mission’s limited mandate, which put its soldiers in a vulnerable position because Chapter 6, under which Monusco operates only allows self-defence combat.
South Africa reportedly threatened to withdraw from Monusco if the mandate wasn’t revised to Chapter 7, which allows for offensive attacks.
But a representative of the UN expressed concern that a number of countries might pull out their soldiers if the UN upgrades the mandate, for fear of losing them.