The UN peacekeeping force (MONUSCO) has for the first time actively intervened in eastern Congo. It’s a significant step in the right direction, but peace can’t be achieved by force only, says Andrea Schmidt.
Clashes between the Congolese army and rebel groups in eastern Congo are nothing new. A population traumatized by years of war in the Kivu provinces demanded the intervention of the UN troops.
So far, MONUSCO is the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world with about 19,000 peacekeepers.
But too often they stood by and watched as rebels and the Congolese army (FARDC) committed atrocities against the civilian population.
In March, 2013, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2098. It paved the way for an intervention brigade with a robust mandate. The new UN intervention force, consisting of 3,000 troops from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi, has to prove that it can actually protect the population against the militias.
The brigade also needs to prevent rebel attacks, disarm the rebels, and at last bring stability to the region.
This is a difficult mission. Apart from the mainly Tutsi-dominated M23 rebel movement, there is also the Hutu militia known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the Congolese rebel group known as Mai Mai and other militias operating in eastern Congo.
At the same time the UN needs to improve the humanitarian situation as quickly as possible. In recent months, tens of thousands of Congolese residents have fled their villages and now live in camps under appalling conditions. Others are believed to be hiding in forests in fear of rebel attacks.
MONUSCO faces another challenge. Congo's corrupt military which the UN has to work with has been accused of rampant sexual abuses and plundering. It remains to be seen whether the incompetent government of President Joseph Kabila will take the necessary steps to reform the security sector particularly the army. Perhaps Kabila is secretly hoping that the UN intervention force will solve these problems for him.
The situation in the crisis-ridden country is very complex.
The rebels want control of the mineral rich regions so that they can profit from the lucrative business of raw materials such as coltan. The metal ore is in high demand worldwide for the production of mobile phones, laptops and other electronic devices.
There are also regional interests. The United Nations and human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch have repeatedly accused neighboring Rwanda and Uganda of supporting M23 rebels. Both countries deny these allegations. But the fact is that the Rwandan government considers the FDLR in the border region to be a constant threat. The FDLR consists largely of the Hutu Interahamwe militia responsible for the Rwandan genocide in 1994. After the genocide most of them fled to eastern Congo.
It will not be an easy task for the German diplomat Martin Kobler to bring peace and stability in the volatile eastern region. He took command of the UN peacekeepin force in August. The deployment of the newly established UN-African intervention force to neutralize and disarm the rebel groups is not enough. But it is a significant step on the road to peace in eastern Congo.
The suffering of the civilian population, lawlessness and impunity must end.
President Kabila has so far pursued negotiations with the rebels half-heartedly. There needs to be increased pressure on Kabila and his corrupt government as well as on neighboring countries. There needs to be an earnest search for sustainable political solutions for the long-term stability of eastern Congo. This requires all parties, including government, rebels, and civilians plus all the neighboring countries, to gather around the negotiating table.
Human rights violations must be investigated and those found guilty punished. The United Nations finally has the opportunity to usher in a new era of peace and security for the predominantly young population in eastern Congo.
Andrea Schmidt is the head of DW's Kiswahili service