The UN is considering reducing the number of peacekeeping troops (MONUSCO) in the DR Congo at a time when the nation is engulfed in crisis. The opposition is calling for 'ghost town' protests amid political uncertainty.
Congolese President Joseph Kabila has not yet confirmed or denied whether he will run for a third term. There is also uncertainty over whether the elections which are scheduled for December will actually talk place. The main opposition alliance Rassemblement has called for people to stay home on Monday so as to put pressure on Kabila to implement a power-sharing deal.
On Monday, two staff members of a UN commission were found dead. They were part of a team which was investigating human rights violations in the volatile Kasai province. The Congolese government has said it will open an investigation into the deaths of the two experts and the UN has strongly condemned the murders. It is still unclear who is behind the killings. "I think what's more significant is that this highlights that we are currently in a situation of escalating violence in eastern Congo," Phil Clark, a political scientist at SOAS, University of London, told DW.
Government forces and rebels have clashed for months. According to the United Nations, more than 400 people have been killed. The UN is aware of at least ten mass graves in the region. Around 200,000 inhabitants are on the run.
For a long time, the Kasai region was considered relatively peaceful. But there have been violent outbreaks everywhere in the country. "The situation is drastic, President Kabila is making no effort to send his army to the crisis-ridden regions to protect the people, but instead to stir the conflict," said Gesine Ames from the Ecumenical Network of Central Africa.
"The increasing trend of military-political alliances of groups that want to push for political change by force is also worrying," Ames told DW.
According to Clark, the crisis is directly connected to whether President Kabila will try to run for a third term and whether he will stick to his promise of holding the presidential elections at the end of this year. "The longer there is uncertainty on these issues, the more there will be instability in the east," Clark said.
Church abandons peace talks
The political crisis has also escalated in the capital, Kinshasa. There were riots on Tuesday after negotiations between the government and the opposition broke down. The Catholic Church has been mediating to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the country. But it recently gave up. The Archbishop of Kinshasa, Marcel Utembi, blamed a lack of sincere political will and inaptitude on the part of some politicians.
"Normally, pressure from Congolese religious groups is quite strong and has an impact," Natalie Ansorg, an associate at the GIGA Institute of African Affairs in Hamburg, told DW. "But at the moment, the situation is hopeless," Ansorg said.
On Friday, the UN Security Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution to extend the mandate of its MONUSCO peacekeeping mission. MONUSCO is the UN's biggest mission and has a 22,400 strong-staff including 17,000 blue helmets as well as over 1,350 police.
The mission is also the UN's costliest with a budget of $1.2 billion (1.1 billion euros). Niki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN criticized the UN for "partnering with a corrupt government in Congo." She has called for a large cut in MONUSCO's budget. Haley said the peacekeeping mission in DRC can be reduced tremendously.
MONUSCO's tainted mission
DRC expert Phil Clark said MONUSCO's overall record in terms of protecting civilians was poor. "The UN has consistently failed to protect them from the Congolese armed forces and other armed rebel groups," Clark said.
Clark said, while it was an important moment for the peacekeeping mission's mandate to be renewed, there is also a need to have a serious conversation about how to make it an effective peacekeeping mission "so that it can ultimately live up to its mandate of protecting Congolese civilians."
The relationship between MONUSCO and the Congolese government has always fluctuated. Whereas in the past the relationship was somewhat close, at the moment, the peacekeeping mission has become increasingly vocal about atrocities committed by Kabila's government.