In Africa, foreign military interventions are in the spotlight for failing to end conflicts at the continent’s hotspots. Both internal and external political interests are contributing factors.
Military interventions under the United Nations banner are deployed to deal with armed conflicts on the continent. However, despite having superior weapons compared to armed groups scattered across Africa, these UN missions have failed and continue to fail dismally on their mandates.
In countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan, Mali and the Central African Republic, peacekeepers find themselves having to deal with different political and cultural situations they often don’t understand. There are also vested interests that often work against the UN mandate.
For example, in 1999, when the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) was founded, it was tasked with neutralizing armed groups, reducing the threat posed to state authority, and civilian security space for stabilization activities.
But to date, South and North Kivu regions remain lawless with dozens of marauding militias who continue to kill, rape young women and girls, maim, and terrorize innocent civilians.
“MONUSCO has been a slow learner, and it has taken the UN quite a long time to work out how to do peacekeeping in Congo,” Phil Clark from SOAS University of London told DW.
“It has struggled to maintain cordial relations with the government in Kinshasa and instead cautiously aligned itself with the Congolese army, even when the army has been committing atrocities against the civilians,” he said.
Such relations between the peacekeepers and the Congolese government have created bad blood amongst the local populations who don’t see MONUSCO as a neutral actor in a somewhat volatile situation.
In April, hundreds of young people, for several days, protested in the towns of Beni and Goma, demanding the departure of MONUSCO for its failure to stop the bloodshed in the region.
“Peacekeeping missions in Africa face new challenges every day that they didn’t anticipate,” said Henrik Maihack, who heads the Africa department at the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. “And because of the political will of the contributing country – it may be difficult for them to engage armed groups directly.”
Peacekeeping – a necessary evil?
Clark, who has researched the DRC for the last twenty years, says there’s a general perception in eastern Congo that it is better to have MONUSCO there even though it hasn’t done so much because of fear of what could happen if they were to leave.
“MONUSCO may have been able to minimize some of the violence against everyday civilians but has been slow to react when there have been massacres and attacks to particular communities like the Banyamulenge [a name that describes a Tutsi community in the southern part of Kivu].” DW