On the offensive – the UN forces’ new mandate in DRC

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This is the first of a two part series in which Pod Academy’s Paul Brister looks at the fundamentally new approach the UN appears to be taking to the crisis in the Kivu provinces in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In it he speaks to Dr Phil Clark, Reader in Comparative and International Politics, with reference to Africa, from The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), to consider the causes behind the conflict; why the UN is changing tack and deploying an aggressive intervention Brigade; and what this brigade’s chances of success are.

But first Paul explains the context….

The paradoxically named Congo Free State was famously the setting for Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness. The country has changed its name four times since then, but the title of Conrad’s novella seems as apt a description of the DRC today as it was then.

Sat astride the equator and covered in jungle, the country receives high rainfalls – and has the highest frequency of thunderstorms in the world. Beset on all sides by countries that have themselves been ravaged by conflict – including Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and South Sudan – armed rebel groups have repeatedly strayed across its porous borders, spilling conflict into the DRC and igniting war there.

Following the Rwandan genocide in 1994 – which was perpetrated by the Hutu Interahamwe and republican guard – the Hutu regime in Rwanda was overthrown by the Tutsi rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Around two million Hutu refugees fled into neighbouring countries, including Zaire, as the DRC was then known. These refugees included many Hutu troops and militia members who had participated in the genocide, and who promptly proceeded to militarise refugee camps, which they used as bases to make incursions into Rwanda to bring down the new RPF-dominated government.

This led to the First Congo War. By 1996, the RPF’s patience had run out. Allied with Uganda, Rwanda launched an invasion of Zaire in support of their favoured proxy force, the AFDL [Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo] led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila. The border refugee camps were rapidly flushed out and the fleeing Hutu militants pursued westwards. The regime of longstanding dictator Mobutu Sese Seko crumbled and Kinshasa was taken. In May 1997 Kabila pronounced himself president of the retitled Democratic Republic of Congo.

Before long however, fearing that they were planning a coup, Kabila turned on his erstwhile military backers, ordering all foreign forces out of the country and forming an alliance with the very Hutu rebels he had previously fought. Withdrawing to the East, Rwanda and Uganda each established a new rebel group – [the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD) and the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC)]. The following year these two rebel groups and their backers attacked the DRC army igniting the Second Congo War.

The ensuing conflict sucked in a further six African nations and as many as twenty non-state armed groups were involved, leading some to describe it as the African World War. Over five million people were killed, mostly from preventable diseases, and there was widespread use of rape and torture.

By the time the war had officially ended in 2003, the country was on its knees. Despite its huge wealth in untapped mineral resources – which at some estimates are in excess of US$24 trillion – the DRC has the second lowest nominal GDP per capita in the world. The DRC also takes joint last place with Niger on the Human Development Index scale, scoring just 0.304. Measured in terms of life expectancy, literacy, education, standards of living, and quality of life, the lot of the Congolese is the most miserable in the world.

So in this most troubled region, the DRC stands out among its peers as the most troubled. And in this shattered country, the provinces of North and South Kivu in the far east of the country stand out as the most woebegone. Even nature seems to conspire against the afflicted inhabitants of the region. Lake Kivu spews poisonous gas, and the resulting “mazuku” – Swahili for “evil wind” – periodically kills children. The volcanoes of the Virunga mountain range that loom ominously over Goma, the DRC’s third city and the area’s largest, erupt with regularity. In a particularly bad case in 2002, lava flowed through the city killing 45, destroying 40% of the town and leaving 140,000 homeless.

And conflict has rumbled on in the rugged bush-covered lava fields of Kivu. The problems remain familiar: an armed conflict between the DRC’s military (FARDC) and the latest primary manifestation of the Hutu rebel movement, the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda); and support from Congo’s pesky neighbours of other rebel groups they sought to use as proxies to both combat those dissident factions which they see as threatening to themselves, and to control the profitable mineral ores in the area. Backed by Rwanda to tackle the Hutu FDLR, the Tutsi rebel group CNDP (Congress for the Defence of the People) waged a particularly insidious rebellion against government authority.

In March 2009, however, a deal was reached between the DRC and Rwanda, which allowed Rwandan troops to pursue Hutu rebels inside the DRC. The CNDP signed a peace treaty with the government in which it committed to a political process and the integration of its soldiers into the national army, in exchange for the release of its prisoners. Yet three years later the peace broke down, and the CNDP’s leader, Bosco Ntaganda, led a mutiny and formed a new rebel group which he named the March 23 Movement (M23) in reference to the peace agreement he claimed the Congolese government had reneged on. The group has since wrought chaos in the region, raping, torturing, kidnapping children to be formed into child soldiers, torture, and forcing over half a million people to flee their homes.

MONUC (Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies en République démocratique du Congo), the United Nation’s second military endeavour in DRC, began in 1999 as a small observer mission. Since that time the UN operation has morphed into the world’s largest peacekeeping mission, counting as many as 20,000 in its ranks. The size of the mission, known since 2010 as MONUSCO (Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en RD Congo), has not however been matched by efficacy. Rebel groups have perpetrated atrocities before the eyes of the inert UN troops with apparent impunity. In November 2012, M23 steamed into Goma, seizing the North Kivu provincial capital without having to loose a single round, right under the impotent gaze of the MONUSCO troops present – before withdrawing to the surrounding countryside.

This final outrage made a laughing stock of the UN peacekeeping forces and finally seemed to galvanise the UN. On 28 March 2013 the Security Council unanimously voted to pass Resolution 2098. This created a new mandate for the stabilisation force in the DRC (MONUSCO), which included an “Intervention Brigade” tasked with carrying out “targeted offensive operations…in a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner…with the responsibility of neutralising armed groups“. Comprising “three infantry battalions, one artillery and one Special force and Reconnaissance company” this Intervention Brigade is composed of 3,069 troops from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi.

Although a number of rebel groups are mentioned in the resolution, M23 – presently the most serious rebel threat – is the clear focus. The M23 rebels dismissed out of hand a 1 August deadline for them to disarm issued by the Intervention Brigade. It remains to be seen whether the new UN force will stand by as ineffective as before, or whether it will confront this menace. Whatever happens next, the stakes are high and the implications will be profound. The fate of millions of Africans is in the balance.

Paul started by asking Phillip Clark to outline why the action the UN is taking now is so novel. [Note: this interview was conducted in August 2013, there have been developments since that date and these will be included in the next podcast in the series].

Philip Clark: What the UN’s doing in eastern Congo at the moment is a Brave New World in terms of international peacekeeping. Up until this point, UN peacekeeping missions have tended to focus simply on protecting civilians. But what’s unusual about this new Intervention Brigade in eastern Congo is that for the first time ever it has a mandate to actually tackle rebel groups directly. Even if the protection of civilians isn’t a concern, this new mandate allows the Brigade to actually use force in order to try and eradicate certain rebel groups from the conflict in eastern Congo. So this is something that UN peacekeeping missions have never done before, and I guess it remains to be seen whether this sets a precedent for UN peacekeeping missions from here on in.

Paul Brister: Why have the 17,000 or so UN peacekeepers of MONUSCO, the world’s largest peacekeeping force, hitherto been so ineffective and apparently uncommitted to protecting civilians?

P.C.: I think there are various reasons why MONUSCO and its predecessor organisation, MONUC, have been largely ineffective in carrying out their peacekeeping mandate. On the one hand, I think there has been a great deal of confusion about their mandate. A key component of that mandate has been for MONUSCO to support the Congolese government, both in military and political terms. And the difficulty in that regard is that the Congolese government, of course, is one of the key perpetrators in this conflict. So in having to back the Congolese state, the UN peacekeeping mission has in essence supported one of the main actors at the heart of this conflict. So I think there’s been some problem in relation to MONUSCO’s mandate.

Secondly, I think we have to recognise that this is an extremely difficult part of Africa in which to conduct any peacekeeping operations. Eastern Congo is extremely volatile in terms of the conflict. It’s extraordinarily difficult in terms of the terrain – there’s an enormous amount of thick forest, jungle. [It is] densely populated and [has] ethnically mixed communities. And the peacekeeping mission historically in Congo has not been very well equipped, I don’t think, to deal with this kind of territory. And many of the members of the peacekeeping mission haven’t been particularly well trained to deal with this very difficult terrain.

So I think really that the difficulties that MONUSCO and its predecessor organisation have faced come back to this confused mandate and just the inherent difficulties of trying to bring peace to this very very volatile part of central Africa.

P.B.: There have been instances haven’t there when the peacekeeping forces have just stood by and watched atrocities being perpetrated by rebels. Is it to some degree a case of countries being happy to get paid for contributing soldiers to peacekeeping forces without having the will to put them in harm’s way?

P.C.: Yes, I think serious questions have to be asked about the willingness of MONUSCO, and formerly MONUC, to get involved in the difficult work of bringing peace in this region. I think we undoubtedly have seen instances where peacekeepers have stood by and watched as civilians have been killed in front of them, and stood by and watched as rebels have taken over large towns. So I think there are important questions about the willingness of the peacekeeping mission really to get stuck in and to do the difficult work.

And I think too it’s also a political question for the governments that have sent these soldiers to eastern Congo: whether they were willing to give them the kind of backing they needed and to encourage them to do the difficult work of peacekeeping to the degree that would be necessary to actually protect civilians.

I think one of the other problems we’ve seen in the last ten years or so is that UN peacekeepers have also become a part of the conflict. They’ve also become part of the problem to a large extent. We’ve seen entire battalions of peacekeepers sent home because they were getting involved in things like prostitution rackets, they were involved in the smuggling of minerals, and this has really undermined not just the effectiveness of the peacekeeping force, but also any sense of legitimacy that they might have amongst the local population. So this really has been a bedevilled peacekeeping operation really since day one.

P.B.: We’re talking about an enormous country here. Covering nearly two and a half million [2,345,408] square kilometres (905,567 sq mi), the DRC is larger than the combined areas of Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, and Norway. The distance between the capital Kinshasa in the west and Goma, DRC’s third city on the Eastern border, is over 1500km, which becomes 2700km when travelling by road. When the representatives of the state – the soldiers of the Congolese national army – do come calling, they often cause no small amount of havoc themselves. Small wonder the people of Kivu, where Swahili is mainly spoken, feel little affiliation with the mainly Lingala speaking Kinois.

In such a large country with dilapidated infrastructure, can the writ of the central government be expected to run this far? Is it not the case that the country, framed by unnatural borders that are a colonial legacy, is simply too large to be governable?

P.C.: This is one of the key challenges that the UN peacekeeping mission has. Historically the UN has always understood conflict on a state-based approach. They’ve always understood conflict as essentially some form of threat to a cohesive state. And the UN has often interpreted its role in the aftermath of conflict as one of reinstating governance, protecting the state, and bolstering the capacity of that state to deliver for its citizens into the future.

The problem in a case like Congo is that the state has historically always been weak. We can go back to the pre-colonial era, the colonial period, the period of independence under Mobuto, and of course the last twenty years: and Congo has always suffered from very weak governance. It has always suffered from the fundamental absence of a state. So the challenge right at the outset for any peacekeeping mission is: what do you do when the state is so weak? When a key aspect of your mandate is supporting and bolstering the state, what do you do when there are these deep weaknesses, not just in recent history but in the long term? And I’m not sure that the UN has ever really got its head round what to do in a case like this where the state has so many fundamental structural weaknesses.

The other element that I don’t think the UN peacekeeping force has ever fully grappled with is what do you do when essentially there is no peace to keep? What do you do in situations where the conflict is ongoing, when violence is ensuing, and you are a peacekeeping mission with a mandate to protect civilians? How do you adapt to a situation when the violence is flowing all around you? And the UN in Congo has displayed a fundamental incapacity to deal with this new type of violence – this situation of ongoing conflict – which in many ways is different from what many UN peacekeeping missions have had to grapple with in the past.

P.B. Is partition of the country into more manageable chunks a feasible possibility?

P.C.: I don’t think that is a feasible approach, and it would certainly be resisted by the vast majority of the Congolese population. This is a proposal that you often hear from European or American academics and commentators who believe that some form of Balkanisation of eastern Congo might be the way forward: that if only we could bring some degree of territorial integrity and carve central Africa up into smaller states, then it might be possible to bring peace and stability. My sense is that that approach is really fanciful. And what we need to be focusing much more is how to strengthen the state of Congo, and how to strengthen political institutions within that state. I think that’s where our energies really need to be focussed at the moment, rather than these discussions of maybe carving the country up into more manageable chunks.

P.B.: A report issued by the UN Security Council accuses both Rwanda and Uganda of backing M23. To what extent are DRC’s eastern neighbours to blame for the conflict in the Kivu provinces?

I think that whenever we talk about conflict in eastern Congo we have to recognise the complexity of the situation. And there’s been a danger in much of the literature of trying to focus on single causes of the conflict. But of course this is a conflict that has many causes. I think one important cause is the role of regional actors. And we do need to recognise that – that much of the violence that we see in eastern Congo today does stem from the very dangerous meddling of Congo’s neighbours, including Uganda and Rwanda, but historically also including countries like Burundi, Zimbabwe and other states that have had key interests in resources and political power in eastern Congo.

So there is a very important regional dimension here. But the regional dimension is only one element of this conflict and I think we have to realise that many other factors that play in this. Violence in eastern Congo also stems from land disputes. It also stems from clashes between different ethnic groups. It also stems from large-scale migration of various populations from other parts of central Africa into eastern Congo. So these other factors play a very important role. Regionalism and the impact of Congo’s neighbours undoubtedly is one factor here, but it really is only one part of a much bigger picture.

P.B. Rwanda is against precisely because the M23 is effectively a corps of the Rwandan army, isn’t it?

Certainly Rwanda has major concerns about this new UN Intervention Brigade. And yes, partly it’s because Rwanda has backed the M23 rebels at various stages over the last 12-18 months. My sense is that Rwanda’s role with M23 is perhaps more murky than some commentators have suggested, but undoubtedly Rwanda does have interests that are wrapped up in the M23 rebellion. So Rwanda partly opposes this new Brigade because of the interests that it has in backing M23.

But also there are longer historical concerns that Rwanda has. And these concerns go back to Rwanda genocide of 1994 in which the UN failed completely to protect the civilian population. And as is very well know the UN essentially stood by and watched as innocent Rwandan civilians were hacked to death in their hundreds of thousands. So deep within the Rwandan government and within the Rwandan population is a fundamental mistrust of the UN as a political and military entity. Deep within the Rwandan psyche is a fundamental scepticism about the ability of the international community to intervene during ongoing conflict and to be effective in any shape or form. There’s a sense that the international community only gets involved when its own malicious interests are at play, and that international actors tend to be very ham-fisted when it comes to dealing with African conflicts. So Rwanda also has this long history of mistrust and scepticism toward the UN that informs much of Rwanda’s attitude towards the Intervention Brigade at the moment.

P.B.: There are many who argue that: “yes, going after these rebels is great, but the international community needs to focus to a much greater extent on the global trade in conflict minerals that have long fanned the flames of conflicts in places such as those in the DRC.” Here, both rebels and government soldiers are guilty of hijacking and profiting from the trade in mineral ores – many of which are used by the electronics industry, such as coltan, cassiterite, tungsten and gold.  Is it not the case that some parties to the conflict in this area – rebel groups certainly, but also government troops and, it has been suggested, neighbouring countries – have no interest in peace because they would cease to profit from the illicit trade in these minerals?

P.C.: I think the UN has  focused a great deal on the mineral trade in eastern Congo, and much to its detriment in the long run. I think the UN, and much of the international community, prefers to find simple answers to conflicts like the one we’re seeing in Congo, and they prefer to find single causes for violence. And natural resources and minerals have been top of the agenda when the international community has looked for those single causes. And there’s a huge amount of interest and momentum in the US in particular behind the question of stopping the illegal mineral trade in eastern Congo, and we’ve of course seen important pieces of legislation like the Dodd Franc Act passed in the US to try and deal with this issue.

But again, I would put the issue of natural resources in the same category as focusing simply on rebel groups, or simply focusing on the meddling of Congo’ neighbours in the eastern part of the country. These are factors in the violence. There’s no question about that – that they play a very important role in fermenting violence. But they’re not the only cause. They’re not the only issue. And I think the problem in the last few years has been that natural resources have been focused on so heavily that again it’s distracted us from other important issues – other important triggers of violence, like land, like ethnicity, like political marginalisation, like incorporating minority groups into Congolese politics and other issues like that, that perhaps don’t grab the international headlines in the way that the natural resources question have, but that are absolutely essential to long-term peace and stability. So I do think that we need to start to recognise that conflict has many causes and we have to think about dealing systematically with that full range of issues.

P.B.: Why has the UN decided to switch to offensive operations now? And what makes this situation here so unique that the UN has decided to act in this way for the first time?

P.C.: I think from the UN’s point of view there’s a sense of desperation. There’s a sense that for more than ten years, MONUC and then MONUSCO have operated under this protect civilian mandate and they’ve failed miserably in that regard. In the last 18 months we’ve seen an escalation in the violence in eastern Congo, and the UN, to a large extent, has panicked – has had to revisit its former ways of doing things, and has decided that that old mandate is unlikely to work in the face of this new escalation.

And so there’s been a huge amount of squabbling and a huge amount of new thinking to try and conjure up a way to actually deliver peace in this part of eastern Congo. And that’s what I think has led to this new Intervention Brigade. It’s a sense of desperation, it’s a sense of uncertainty, and a recognition that UN peacekeeping operations in this part of Congo have failed to date, and so in many ways I think this new Intervention Brigade is a roll of the dice. It’s the UN saying, what we’ve done in the past hasn’t worked, we’re not entirely sure what’s going to work, but let’s try this new Brigade with a bolstered mandate to see if that can change the situation on the ground.

P.B. There have been complaints from the South African side that the force is underfunded and overstretched. With the current infrastructure, can the Intervention Brigade meet the huge logistical challenges to fulfil its military goals?

It remains to be seen whether this new Intervention Brigade will be more effective than the UN peacekeeping force has been to date. It’s very difficult to tell at the moment whether in fact this new force is going to have the training, the knowledge and the logistics to be able to carry off this even more complicated mandate than what the peacekeeping missions had previously.

In terms of the South African Brigade specifically, there is a huge amount of scepticism in Congo, especially amongst local communities, about the extent to which South Africa will become involved in this conflict. There have been South African battalions inside the UN peacekeeping force really since day one of its operations, and those South African units have often been highly inept, and have often been some of the most criminal and the most corrupt of the peacekeeping brigades operating in Congo. So seeing the South Africans come back is not enormously welcome among many Congolese people at the moment.

The other thing that’s very well known in eastern Congo is that the South African military is in many ways coming to Congo with its tail between its legs, having failed terribly in a recent military incursion in Central African Republic, where South Africa intervened to try and support the government of the CAR. The rebels in CAR routed the South African battalions almost overnight. South African had to leave in a very despondent state. And many of those same troops who were involved in CAR have now been subsumed into the South African ranks that are involved eastern Congo. So there’s a sense that they might be damaged goods. And again, this only fuels a high degree of distrust that many Congolese have when they look at South Africa getting very involved in their conflict once again.

 

P.B.: Well these South Africa forces, still reeling, as you say, from losing 13 men in the Central African Republic in March, are said to feel slighted that they were not given command of the Intervention Brigade, which is headed by a Tanzanian general. The three contributing armies will have to rapidly learn to act in concert, sharing unfamiliar tactics and equipment. Do you think that this intervention force is going to be cohesive enough and determined enough to prevail?

P.C.: Again it remains to be seen whether the Intervention Brigade is more cohesive and effective than the previous UN peacekeeping missions have been. One of the big problems that MONUSCO has faced, has been effective coordination between different brigades and different battalions who all come from different countries, who have different ways of operating, who have different command structures.

And this isn’t just the case in eastern Congo, this is a problem for UN peacekeeping missions all over the world. How do you take these ramshackle forces from many different countries – not always the best trained forces and often not the best equipped forces – and build some sort of cohesive fighting mission out of these bits and pieces. These concerns are still relevant in the context of this new intervention force – exactly the same cobbling together approach has been taken.

In the case of South Africa, we’re talking about forces that have had this recent military experience, albeit a failed military experience in CAR. But it the case of the Malawian and the Tanzanian forces, the other two countries that make up the Intervention Brigade, we’re talking about forces that have no recent experience of serious armed combat. And so I think there are big questions – legitimate questions – about the effectiveness of the Malawian and the Tanzanian forces in particular, in trying to conduct these very difficult operations in this very difficult terrain, as I said before, in eastern Congo. So there’s a question about cohesion, but there’s also just a discrete question about the capacity and the readiness of the Malawian and the Tanzanian forces in particular.

P.B.: The M23 is a relatively capable and disciplined force numbering some 2000 soldiers. Is the Intervention Brigade large enough to tackle it?

P.C.: I think there’s some uncertainty at the moment about actually how big M23 is. We see very mixed reports about the size of the rebel group. But I think that we can safely say that it’s a large rebel group. It’s still reasonably cohesive, it’s extremely well trained and it’s well disciplined as we’ve seen over the last 18 months. So M23 is going to pose some significant military challenges to the new intervention force, there’s absolutely no question about that.

I think, perhaps more important than the size of M23 relative to the new Intervention Brigade, is the fact that M23 is simply more familiar with the terrain. We’re talking about a rebel group whose leaders are extremely experienced in fighting in the jungle and forest of eastern Congo, who have their own local networks at the community level, who’ve been able to display a high degree of military effectiveness over the last year ore 18 months. And of course we’re talking about M23 leaders who, in most cases, have been members of previous rebel groups in eastern Congo, and so they know this part of the world extremely well.

[This is] in stark contrast to the South Africans, the Tanzanians and the Malawians who make up this new brigade and almost all of whom have no previous experience of operating in this part of the world, and who are now suddenly being parachuted in to try and do this very difficult job. So M23 has an inherent advantage in this fight right from the outset. I think the UN’s hope is that the Intervention Brigade will be so well resourced in terms of boots on the ground, access to helicopters and other forms of military materiel, that they well be able to overwhelm the rebels. But the rebels certainly will believe that their knowledge of the terrain gives them a huge advantage right at the outset.

P.B. There’s a whole plethora of armed groups lurking in the Kivu region. Will the Brigade be able to engage several groups at the same time?

 

This is another key question for the Intervention Brigade. According to its mandate, it’s supposed to target a wide range of rebel movements. The M23 is the group that has received the most publicity in the last 18 months. But of course we have other major rebel groups operating in this part of the Congo, including the FDLR, which is a Hutu dominated rebel group that has caused enormous damage to the local population for the last ten years – and undoubtedly it’s responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Intervention Brigade has said that they will be targeting mainly M23 and the FDLR. But I think that it remains to be seen.

My sense is that the Brigade will target M23 first and foremost. I think they see the M23 rebels as the main target. And perhaps if they can do the job against M23 they might then consider opening up the military front in order to target other groups. So the Brigade is going to have to be very selective, in terms of what it can and can’t do, but if it is too selective it will leave itself open to the accusation of politicisation.

P.B. Given that the three countries contributing troops to the force are all African, would it not be better if the mission was run by the African Union (AU), along the lines for instance of the AU mission in Somalia, AMISOM?

P.C.: Before the UN Intervention Brigade was formulated, there was a proposal from the UN to the African Union to make this an AU force. But the AU itself rejected this idea and said that it could not countenance being in charge of the operations. And I think that that was a wise move because I think even the AU recognises that it doesn’t have a strong track record of effective peacekeeping missions on the ground. That if we look at places like Burundi, Somalia and Darfur at the moment, we see all of the problems associated with the AU’s approaches to peacekeeping, which in many ways are as fraught as the UN as the UN’s approaches.

The AU also struggles with building coherent multinational forces, putting them on the ground in volatile conflict zones and expecting them to do an effective job. The AU has even bigger logistical and financial constraints than the UN does, and that was the thing that the AU was also particularly worried about when there was a suggestion that it should get involved in eastern Congo. It simply said: “we’re not ready for this and we’re not equipped to do this.”

But also I think the AU was right in saying that there were political pitfalls in generating an intervention force of this kind. What the AU was also worried about, quite rightly, was that this Intervention Brigade would be another way to suck in a range of other countries in the region into this conflict. And the AU rang alarm bells at the start and said, “isn’t this going to make this in essence a continental war once again?” So I think it was right not to go down the line of expecting the AU to do this job, but also perhaps what’s been lost in this conversation were the AU’s own concerns about the ramifications of this kind of new armed approach in eastern Congo.

P.B.: You say that, but at the same time the African Union has long sought to shed its image of impotence in dealing with the continent’s conflicts and it’s apparent reliance upon the UN and certain Western powers to come to the rescue.

 

The AU Peace and Security Architecture envisages a regional Standby Force with some 30,000 troops, ready to mobilise at short notice to intercede in instances of conflict in the continent. However, the deadline for this African Standby Force, which was originally supposed to be operational in 2008, has been pushed back three times – presumably in no small part because of the financial and logistical restraints you mentioned – and we recently learnt that of the five African regions, only two will have their own standby brigades by 2015.

 

As you mentioned it would be imprudent to invite troops from states that have previously been parties to the conflict in DRC. The two regions that are supposedly on schedule to meet the 2015 deadline for having their own Standby Brigades ready are East Africa and West Africa. There would obviously be legitimate concerns over using the East African Standby Force, because its 10 contributing members include DRC’s eastern neighbours Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi who are far from disinterested in the conflict in Kivu.

 

Assuming it is ready in time, do you think that in the future a West African Standby Force could assume some of the peacekeeping functions of MONUSCO?

P.C.: This is one of the very important issues that is on the African agenda at the moment – whether regional forces could play a role in trying to bring peace and stability. If we’ve seen in the last 20 years that both the UN and the African Union aren’t very effective at this, is there a third option? Is there a third way? And that’s why many African states are looking at these regional peace and security functions as possible ways of dealing as possible ways of dealing with conflict in the future. I think there’s still some reluctance among many African governments to go down this line, because what we’ve seen is that regional formations often end up repeating the same problems that we’ve seen with the UN and the AU. Which is that they still suffer from logistical and financial constraints, that they also suffer from the problems of building cohesive forces, and that regional governments themselves are also trying to better understand the causes of conflict. So its not as though they’re ten steps ahead of the UN and the AU in this regard. In fact, they’re asking themselves the same questions and struggling with many of the same problems. So I’m not sure there’s a guaranteed answer in going down a regional line, but it’s definitely something African governments are thinking about at the moment because they’re so fed up of failed attempts to deliver peace through the auspices of the UN or the AU.

P.B.: Do you think that the Africans will ever have the capacity to deal completely on their own with their own conflicts? And if so when is this likely to be?

P.C.: I think what’s impressive in central Africa, the part of Africa that I know best and where I do most of my research, what’s impressive is that there is a dedication on the part of many local populations to try and find answers to these conflicts, to try and find remedies or find ways to build more cohesive communities. Because I think what’s coming out of conflict affected communities – in countries like Rwanda, Uganda, Congo – is a recognition that conflict is complex and a recognition that resolving conflict often involves actors at the community level building cohesion and achieving reconciliation. That there’s been so much international focus on resolving conflict at the international or the national level that the community level has often been neglected. And I think what’s important to recognise is that that’s where many conflicts are being generated. And it’s also where many African communities are trying to find solutions at the moment. And that often happens under the radar, because it’s often quiet, it’s often subtle work that local communities themselves are doing. But I think there’s a lesson there for international actors, which is: local communities get it. Because they’ve lived through violence, they often have a deeper understanding of why violence happened. And so maybe what international actors need to do at the outset is spend more time talking to those local communities, understanding their experiences. Because it would inform international thinking about how violence happens and then it would help inform international thinking about what remedies might be require. So there’s actually a lot of wisdom, and there’s actually a lot of effective policy making that happens at the community level that we often don’t hear about enough and would be educative for us all.

P.B.: Phil Clark, thank you very much.

P.C. You’re welcome, thank you.

Music: Lokon Andre & Les Volc

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