The Failure of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the DRC

The story of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) entails a complex, wide-ranging discourse that requires one to approach the subject with subtlety. The mainstream approach which characterise the country’s history as being about the ‘ingrained political culture’ of corruption amongst the Congolese elite does not give the full picture.   

That approach is certainly not helpful when one wants to understand what has been happening in the Congo in the past ten years. Two civil wars caused the death of about 5 million people. Although the second Congo War officially ended in 2003, peace remains elusive in that country.

What exactly is happening in the DRC? What is the solution? In her book, “The trouble with the Congo: Local violence and the failure of International Peacebuilding”, Severine Autesserre grapples with these questions. Autessere evaluates the efforts of the ‘international peacebuilding culture’ to bring about lasting peace in the DRC. Autesserre’s argument is that the international peacebuilding efforts, including the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world, failed to build sustainable peace in the DRC. 

She points out that the international failure to build lasting peace in the DRC is not unique. Autesserre argues that research shows that significant third-party involvement is critical for peace implementation to be successful in a militarised conflict. However, “as in the Congo case, 70% of peace processes benefiting from significant international mediation still fail to build a durable peace” (Autesserre 2010).  Autesserre is of the view that the reason that these peacebuilding processes fail is partly due to the fact that international mediators tend to downplay or ignore what she terms ‘local agendas’. “Local agendas—at the level of the individual, the family, the clan, the municipality, the community, the district, or the ethnic group—at least partly drive the continuation of violence during peace agreement implementation” (Autesserre 2010). 

Hence, after the DRC civil war officially ended in 2003, local agendas continued to fuel the “insurgencies” that destabilised the Kivu provinces, writes Autesserre.  In North Kivu, the Mai Mai militia—in cahoots with Congolese President Joseph Kabila, as well Rwandan Hutu militias, fought against Congolese soldiers of Rwandan descent “to consolidate their claims over land, natural resources, and provincial and subprovincial positions of authority” (Autesserre 2010). On the other hand, the Congolese of Rwandan descent refused any kind of settlement because they feared that they might lose the local economic and political power they had acquired during the previous wars. 

“These conflicts fuelled violence against Kinyarwanda-speaking minority of the Kivus and sustained the presence of Rwandan Hutu rebels in Congolese territory, both of which remained the primary obstacles to national and regional reconciliation from 2003 onwards. As became evident with the 2008 upsurge in violence, these grassroots issues also had the potential to reignite the national and regional wars” (Autesserre 2010). 

Autesserre adds that “top-down causes” also contributed to the violence after the civil war officially ended. She points out that Congolese and foreign politicians manipulated local leaders and militias to enrich themselves and to rally support for their causes. It is for these reasons that Autesserre argues that in addition to dealing with the top-down causes of the violence in the DRC, bottom-up conflict-resolution processes ought to have been implemented as well. 

Autesserre’s analysis is clear and relevant, but lacks breadth. She explores mainly what she calls peacebuilding culture, without subjecting organisations like the UN to an institutional analysis. An institutional analysis explains reality via roles and dynamics of underlying institutions. 

Hence, the starting point of an institutional analysis would be to state the obvious, and that is: the UN can only “play a positive role if the great powers let it play a positive role” (Chomsky 2003). According to Chomsky (2003), the United States (US) is the UN’s biggest debtor. Thus, the UN relies on the US for paying its bills. Naturally, parts of the UN that the US does not like, “we practically put them out” (Chomsky 2003). 

It is from this standpoint that we can begin to understand why the UN failed to prevent the mass killings in Rwanda, for example. The UN could not stop the atrocities in Rwanda partly because the US lobbied for the withdrawal of UN forces from Rwanda as the killings got underway in April 1994 (Herman & Peterson, 2010). The reason the US lobbied for withdrawal of UN forces from Rwanda is because it sought regime change in that country, and the US did not want UN troops to stand in the way of its trusted ally—Paul Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), according to Herman and Peterson (2010).   

It is this kind of support that paved the way for Kagame and his ally, Yoweri Museveni, “the two staunchest US clients in the region—to periodically invade and occupy the DRC…and beyond without opposition from the ‘international community’” (Hermann & Peterson 2010). It should be pointed out that the US has actively supported these invasions of the DRC, “even more heavily than it supported the RPF’s drive to take Kigali”. And, as it has been documented by many human rights organisations, these invasions of the DRC have led to the killings of many thousands of Hutu refugees in a series of mass slaughters…and also provided cover for a greater series of Kagame-Museveni assaults on the Congo that have destabilised life in this large country…”   

It is my contention that it is these underlying institutional dynamics that contribute the most to international failure to build lasting peace in places such as the DRC. And, to echo Autesserre (2010), “understanding the reasons for these failures is more than an academic exercise. 


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