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'UN unable to solve the crisis in DRC'

Eunice Wanjiru
June 21, 2017

The UN accused Kabila's government of backing a militia that is killing innocent people in the troubled Kasai region. DR Congo expert Phil Clark of SOAS says the UN has limited leverage to change things on the ground.

Kongo Kinshasa Unruhen wegen Präsident Kabila
Image: Reuters/R. Carrubba

President Joseph Kabila's government is increasingly coming under pressure. Its long time ally Angola has withdrawn military trainers amid accusations by the UN that Congo is backing a militia which is responsible for killing civilians. 

DW: Could you shed some light on this UN accusation is there any truth in this?

Phil Clark: The UN is accusing the Congolese government of a cover up. It is in effect saying that there is a chance that it is the Congolese army that killed the two UN investigators a couple of months ago. The government has always claimed that it was the local militias that murdered the investigators, but there are many suspicions among the international community that it might be Kabila's government that was responsible for this.

The UN has been waiting for the Congolese government to conduct a thorough investigation into the murder of the two investigators but that investigation has so far not happened. The UN wanted to put its own investigators back into the field to find out what happened but the Congolese government is blocking the UN at every turn.

Phil Clark The School of Oriental and African Studies
Phil Clark is an expert on the great lakes regionImage: privat


So what action can the UN take against the government of the DR Congo?

The UN unfortunately does not have an enormous amount of leverage here in that the UN and various member states have already imposed sanctions on high ranking Congolese government officials. Those sanctions have been in place for many months but do not seem to be having much impact on changing the political environment in Congo. The UN knows that the only real solution here is to try to put more diplomatic pressure on the Congolese government and to lobby them to allow this UN investigation take place. But until now, Kabila's government has been very effective at remaining intransigent and refusing to budge on this issue. It does look like it is going to be difficult for the UN.

There is still an ongoing conflict between DRC's government troops and armed troops and the intervention by the government was perceived as manipulation designed to tighten its control over the Kasai region. Can we say that this is the case?

The situation in Kasai province is becoming increasingly violent and volatile by the day. This was always one of the more peaceful and most stable parts of Congo but in the last 12 months it has become one of the hottest beds of opposition to Kabila's government. Because of that opposition we have seen the rise of various militia groups.

In response to those militia and the atrocities that they have been committing, there has been a very severe government crack down and the Congolese government has built a militarized zone right across the Kasai. In the process, the Congolese government has also been committing wide-spread atrocities against civilians. So the civilian is caught between the militia on the one hand and the Congolese army on the other. This has led to the deaths of more than 3000 people since the beginning of this year and the displacement of more than a million people into neighboring provinces.  The situation in Kasai is escalating by day and the danger is that it will spark further violence not just in this part of Congo but in several neighboring provinces as well.

Joseph Kabila
President Kabila refused to step aside when his mandate ended in 2015Image: picture alliance/dpa/A.Gomber

It is not the first time that the UN is accusing authorities in Congo for the attacks in Kasai. What can we make of this?

There has been very little reaction to the outcry over government atrocities in Kasai. There has been very little leverage or the international community to change the behavior of the Congolese army. Part of the problem is that the UN peace keeping mission in Congo, the largest in the world which has been in place for more than 20 year has never had much of a presence in the Kasai province. It has always focused more in the far eastern provinces of north Kivu and Ituri in particular. So it [Kasai violence] very much caught the UN off guard and without a larger UN presence in Kasai, it is impossible for the UN to protect the civilians. It is also very difficult for the UN to try to stop other Congolese army from committing crimes against the civilian population. Specifically it is in Kasai that the UN faces a very difficult task.