In the Congo, the UN takes the offense

File this under ‘things the UN should have done ten years ago’.

Two weeks ago the UN approved a ‘search and destroy’ unit for driving the rebels out of the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The UN Security Council plans on sending 2,000 or so troops to the Kivus to carry out targeted offensive operations and neutralize the various armed groups that operate with impunity in the region.

Some of you might be scratching your heads, thinking ‘A peacekeeping force making war?’ Maybe you feel that the UN has no business ‘hunting rebels’. You might also wonder why the army of the DRC doesn’t step up and ‘do the hunting’.

First, the FARDC, the army of the DRC, is almost as bad in some areas as the rebels themselves. It is still suffering from mismanagement and poor training, and in places in the Congo, the army has committed as many atrocities as the rebels have. The government in Kinshasa was more than happy to hear the news of the UN force, if only because it relieved the government from having to take care of the problem.

However, the only groups really upset with the news of the force were, you guessed it, the very rebels the unit is to hunt. Bisimwa, the current leader of the M23, said that peacekeepers would now be waging war on a population of citizens, and then scrambled to make sure that the M23 wouldn’t be on the ‘hit list’.

The FDLR was also upset. The FDLR decried the move by the UN as an act of war. The FDLR, some of you might know, is the same group that once perpetrated the genocide in Rwanda. The group has been terrorizing the eastern Congo now for 19 years.

I have little sympathy for the various rebel groups that have torn apart the Congo for the last 19 years. The international community has tried various things to work with the many rebels. Want a list? Tactics for the last 20 years go as follows: negotiated peace settlements, army integration, bargaining, telling them to stop killing/raping/torturing civilians, setting up the world’s largest and most expensive peacekeeping force, asking them to stop killing civilians, passing legislation at the US/EU state level to block funding for armed rebel movements, conflict mineral legislation, peace talks. That is just a short list of tactics the UN and the Congolese government have tried. The US and EU even recently cut funding to Rwanda, a notorious backer of rebel movements, to stop the violence. Nothing has worked.

Which is why Africanists were very excited to hear the news about the special unit. These rebels are mostly cowards, who have terrorized civilians, ruined lives, raped women, destroyed homes, used forced slave labor, turned children in to soldiers, and in the case of the FDLR, committed genocide. This force offers the best chance the global community has in putting a stop to the violence. Yes, the Congolese state needs legitimate government and state capacity.  Yes, this force might open up a gray area of ‘peacekeeping’. But it has become the only feasible option in a place where nothing else has worked. If it brings peace and security to the people of the Kivus, I am all for it. The number of ‘rebel movement’s is likely to drop, once there is a force that is standing against them.