The episodic and organised killing of peacekeepers by rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the recent past must revitalise growing demands for reforms to the United Nations’ operations in this conflict-torn country. In less than 12 months, a significant number of African peacekeepers have paid the greatest sacrifice in regrettable circumstances as spates of violence continue to rear their ugly head.
Tanzania alone has lost 18 peacekeepers – 16 killed by members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a rebel group blamed for a series of attacks in the DRC where violence against civilians has reportedly become the order of the day. And on November 16, a Tanzanian peacekeeper from the UN Mission in Central African Republic (CAR) was also killed while protecting civilians seeking refuge in a camp.
Having suffered such a huge loss in such a short space of time, and as a key member of the UN peacekeeping mission in the troubled neighbouring country, it is understandable that Tanzania is making a passionate appeal for changes to the DR Congo strategy. Developments on the ground have increasingly exposed those whose duty is to protect civilians.
But that’s beside the point. Security experts agree that peacekeeping missions are now harder to achieve than before. The DR C case is not an exception.
This is why, for the sake of the mission’s effectiveness, Tanzania’s plea needs attention -- not curiosity.
Surely, the unprecedented scope of the December 2017 attack, in which 15 members of the Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF) died in an ambush, revealed serious weaknesses and limitations in the UN operation in the DR Congo. This has got to be urgently addressed in a manner that makes peacekeeping more responsive to the needs of the moment.
Failure to change tact as demanded by countries like Tanzania will, among other setbacks, further expose peacekeepers, prolong suffering, dishearten member nations that have made huge sacrifices to help, and ultimately undermine faith in the otherwise noble operations.
Some of the basic questions that have been posed in the recent past are: Who will protect the peacekeepers in the increasingly volatile DR Congo? Are the brave men in blue helmets well-equipped?
In addition, there are queries surrounding intelligence – are peacekeepers getting the right intelligence? Are they getting the right information in time? How effective is coordination on the ground? Are the current communication channels working?
Not only that. Apparently, of particular concern to Tanzania (arguably one of the countries that have suffered the biggest human loss in the past 12 months) is the fact that the civilian protection mandate in the DR Congo lacks the means to effectively execute its mission.
Members of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DR Congo are governed by Chapter 6, which does not allow to them use ‘extra force’ – meaning they are mostly ill-equipped militarily, and this on the pretext that they are not in combat.
A week or so ago, Defence minister Hussein Mwinyi reiterated Tanzania’s concern over the deteriorating situation in the DRC, and suggested the possible application of Chapter 7 – which allows peacekeepers to use force to protect civilians, and also ensures that they are equipped well enough to fend off attacks by rebels.
One will be forgiven for insinuating that the entire premise of the current set-up does not reflect the seriousness of the situation on the ground – the situation of which is more likely than not to worsen ahead of the December 23 general election in the DRC.
Early last month, Leila Zerrougui, head of the UN stabilising mission to the DR Congo, also raised the red flag when she admitted that the UN peacekeeping in DR Congo is increasingly finding it difficult to achieve the desired result.
The long and short of it is that in the absence of a new strategy, peace will elude the DR Congo.
Daniel Muhau is Foreign Desk and OP-EDs Editor with The Citizen