December 16, 2009

Flipping the Congo Script

Now that the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) is winding down its joint operation with the Congo army, the UN can finally begin determining whether to conduct a true counterinsurgency campaign.

Alan Doss, head of the UN peacekeeping mission, told the UN Security Council that the operation known as Kimia II has “largely” achieved its goals. Rebel control of population centers and mines in the region has been weakened, allowing Congolese and UN troops to enter a new phase of operations.

While Kimia II, a joint Congo-Rwandan-UN mission, launched an all-out offensive on the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the primary Rwandan Hutu militia in the east Congo, UN and Congo forces are now directed to “concentrate on holding ground recovered.”

Protecting the civilian population has become “the core” of these operations. Wonderful.

Just one problem - the UN is being held partially responsible for high civilian casualties and rebel reprisals that have made population protection the overriding priority. Last month a leaked UN report, written by UN-mandated experts, determined, "Military operations have not succeeded in neutralizing the FDLR and have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis."

Whispers began as soon as the DRC and Rwanda launched their offensive in January, having come to the conclusion that the FDLR threatens both countries. At the time the BBC's Thomas Fessy at the time reported from the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, that, "diplomatic and UN sources fear a humanitarian disaster because of a lack of military planning and consultation with the international community."

Prophecy from a British reporter, or common sense? And if the latter, what was the UN thinking? Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions, said Kimia II has been “‘absolutely catastrophic” for civilians.

“There has been insufficient planning for civilian protection, and civilians have been raped to death and massacred in revenge attacks by the rebels. Shockingly, civilians have also been gang-raped and hacked or shot to death by the Congolese army - the very force that is supposed to protect them.”

The announced end of Kimia II followed a Dec. 14 report by New York-based Human Rights Watch that Kimia II has resulted in 1,400 civilian deaths since it began in January, including 732 by Congolese and Rwandan troops fighting the rebel. UN officials have denied that the report influenced their decision.

But even Doss admitted “very serious human-rights consequences” resulted from Kimia II and that human-rights violations continue on a “wide scale.” Sexual violence “continues unchecked,” leading one to question how "largely" the operation goal was actually achieved.

Is it eliminate rebels or to bring long-term stability to the Congo and Rwanda? Alston warned of a, “contradiction of basic UN principles for UN peacekeepers to cooperate with a mission led by individuals who stand accused of war crimes and grave human- rights abuses.”

Mr. Doss said the first half of next year will be spent reconfiguring the 21,000 MONUC while a draft resolution to extend the mission is formulated for the Security Council. They should put the entire mission on the operating table.

For starters, conflict in the DRC and Rwanda won’t be solved by a military solution; this truth should be admitted to upfront and guide all future operations. Military power has its purposes, but only within a holistic strategy that centers on resource distribution. At the heart of this conflict, beyond ethnic strife, is minerals, and it’s not just rebels grabbing metals.

The DRC and Rwanda are both thought to be deep in the illicit metal trade, making their attempt to secure the region about dollars than more people. Long-lasting security will only come when this dilemma is reversed. The main effort of MONUC, in conjunction with the DRC and Rwanda, should focus on equitable distribution of land and resources, and improvement of national regulations.

Both governments priorities should be the enhancement of transparency over minerals, as well as recycling the profits into local production zones. What comes out of the ground should be processed by the state, sold on the international market, and funneled back into the local population to support economic and social projects.

Doing so would actually increase profits for the governments, who would benefit from increased regulation, foreign investment, and theoretically weaken the insurgency.

Military power has a better chance of achieving its security and political goals through this strategy. Holding territory will be easier with government funds legitimately flowing to them. Incorporating demobilized rebel groups into the Congo army will be easier if their local regions are visibly improving. Their leaders may still crave power, but eliminating targets is the easy part.

Last month at America’s urging, German federal police arrested Ignace Murwanashyaka, the 46-year-old chairman of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda militia, and his 48-year-old deputy, Straton Musoni, in Karlsruhe. DRC Gen. Paul Rwarwakabije, the former military chief of the FDLR who deserted several years ago and now works for the Rwandan government, said Murwanashyaka's arrest would significantly weaken the group.

"He was the head of the movement,” he said. “This is an organization that has had its head cut off. Its brain has been taken away.”

The problem is, FDLR rebels are still fighting and aren’t likely to give up just because the head was cut off. They could grow a new head, or fight without one. The FDLR might not be as effective, but its only accomplishment is general mayhem and it can continue that for a long time after it’s “dead.”

Rebel leaders must be killed, captured, or turned, like General Rwarwakabije, but the fundamental goal of MONUC should be to empower equitable distribution of resources. Easier said than done, but if MONUC doesn’t reorganize its mission, stability will remain elusive until the final day.

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