The attacks targeting the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in the eastern part of the country could spell more instability for DRC and the Great Lakes Region, observers have warned.
Protests in Eastern DRC targeting the UN Force, which kicked off on Monday, continued on Wednesday, though with less intensity, with four people killed in the latest skirmishes.
The four were killed on Wednesday in the Congolese city of Uvira after troops fired warning shots which hit an electric cable that fell on the deceased, officials said.
At least 15 people, including three UN Peacekeepers, were killed on Tuesday as protests against MONUSCO raged on.
According to reports, protests mostly died out on Wednesday in the cities of Goma and Butembo but violence spread to Uvira, in South Kivu province, where crowds threw stones at a MONUSCO base.
South Kivu governor Theo Ngwabidje Kasi said that there were isolated demonstrations which were quelled by security forces but tragedy happened where the electric cable fell and killed some people.
He pointed out that investigations have commenced to find out whether the bullet was fired by MONUSCO or by the Congolese government forces FARDC. The South Kivu Governor said preliminary information pointed to the UN force for the incident.
The U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres on Tuesday condemned the attacks which claimed the lives of two Indian police officers and a Moroccan ‘blue helmet’ while an Egyptian police officer was injured. He called on the government to bring the perpetrators to book.
The demonstrators are accusing the United Nations of failing to do enough to stop a rise in deadly attacks by armed groups, some of which have been active in the area for decades.
“The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the fallen peacekeepers, as well as to the Government and the people of India and of Morocco”, said a statement issued by Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq on Wednesday night in New York. “He wishes a speedy recovery to the injured peacekeeper.”
Guterres condemned the multiple attacks on UN bases across the region which began on Monday, “in which individuals and groups forcibly entered bases and engaged in looting and destruction of United Nations property, while also looting and setting fire to the residences of United Nations personnel.”
In a tweet, MONUSCO said on Wednesday that protesters had “violently snatched weapons” from Congolese police and fired at peacekeeping forces.
Apart from the UN personnel who died during the violence, five civilians were reportedly killed in Goma, with around 50 others wounded, and seven died in demonstrations in Butembo.
The official warned that possible war crimes could have been committed during the attack on UN premises which are inviolable and protected, calling upon the Congolese authorities to investigate the incidents and swiftly bring those responsible to justice.
More trouble ahead
Analysts say that the attack on the UN force by elements in DRC, who included FARDC soldiers who were filmed looting property, spells more trouble for Eastern DRC, with many accusing the Government of DRC of overseeing the violence.
Until recently, MONUSCO has been fighting alongside FARDC in pursuit for M23 rebels, who earlier this year relaunched a resurgence in North Kivu, capturing parts of Eastern DRC.
Rwanda has also maintained that MONUSCO has been aware of FDLR elements fighting alongside FARDC without taking action, despite the UN peacekeeping force having a mandate of routing armed groups in the eastern part of the country.
Gatete Nyiringabo Ruhumuliza, a political analyst and writer who has been closely following the developments in Eastern DRC, says that while MONUSCO set itself for failure by falling short of executing its mandate, attacking it can only escalate an already dire situation.
“MONUSCO has not been efficient in executing its mandate. They went to DRC to stabilize the country by routing all armed groups but they never did that. Instead, they’ve been watching as many armed groups come up and as FDLR militia fight in the FARDC ranks,” Gatete said.
“When they got to DRC, they found, MONUSCO cannot attack FARDC,” he adds.
Gatete says that by overseeing what was going on and not doing anything about it for more than two decades, despite having all the resources to fight armed groups, MONUSCO was bound to fail in its mission and attract the ire of Congolese who also feel that the force is not serving their interests.
Gatete says that the romance between MONUSCO and FARDC ended when the UN force failed to support them to defeat the resurgent M23 rebels, hence the current fall out.
He however says that regardless of its shortcomings, removing MONUSCO from DRC would complicate an already intricate situation as it would leave a huge security vacuum, which some individuals or groups would wish to exploit to carry out their ulterior motives.
A similar view is shared by Tom Ndahiro, a researcher and political commentator, who says that by failing to defeat the M23 as it did in 2012 through the intervention bridge, some elements in DRC felt the UN force has not served their interests.
“The Congolese wanted MONUSCO to attack M23 positions and rout them and then they would go ahead to carry out the planned genocide targeting Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese,”
“What is happening is not something spontaneous. It is something that was planned from the higher level downwards. There is no way a UN force can be attacked and looted without the involvement of the government or government forces,” Ndahiro said.
Ndahiro says that when someone powerful like the President of the Senate, Bahati Lukwebo, wakes up and says it is time for MONUSCO to “pack up the bags” and the armed forces are seen joining looters, it goes to show that the plan came from above.
Though MONUSCO has failed to stabilize Eastern DR Congo for the past 22 years, Ndahiro says its presence is an obstacle to people who want to engage in ethnic cleansing and had previously thought that MONUSCO would back them up.
“As soon as the protests broke out, announcements began to circulate that the next move was to ensure that there were zero Tutsis remaining in Goma. Basically, what they wanted was for MONUSCO and the international community to support this Genocidal plan,”
“When MONUSCO failed to defeat M23, who in their minds think are backed by Rwanda, they felt frustrated and turned against it. They wanted MONUSCO to attack these people, who are actually Congolese citizens fighting for their rights,” Ndahiro said.
Ndahiro says that MONUSCO has had its failures, including overseeing the birth of over 140 armed groups in DRC during its stay while the likes of FDLR, ADF and RED Tabara remained active, with the support of elements in the DRC Government.
On the other hand, Gatete pointed out that the refusal by MONUSCO to categorically accuse Rwanda of backing M23 and at the same time not defeating it dealt a heavy blow to Congolese politicians who were counting on the UN force to mudsling Rwanda.
Also, the fact that MONUSCO said that M23 had the capacity and firepower of a conventional army fell short of what DRC officials expected, which was accusing Rwanda of supporting M23.
Ndahiro says that there are several reasons behind the current developments, on one hand Congolese perpetrators who want to economically benefit from the chaos but also those who would wish to exterminate Congolese nationals who have been rendered stateless in their own country due to their historical background.
The Genocide scholar observes that the current developments are deeply rooted in past and has many parties with interests to protect and only a political solution that would involve the DRC government owning up to its responsibilities, which until today they seem to be in denial about, can suffice.
According to Gatete, the Congolese attacking a UN peacekeeping force can be counterproductive as it can invite more trouble ahead for the country and create more vacuum for armed groups to thrive.
The U.N. mission, which has around 12,400 troops in DRC and racks up a bill of $1 billion annually, has been in the process of gradually withdrawing from the country for several years but that hasn’t happened due to recurrent violence.
The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said on Wednesday that many children had been manipulated into joining the protests and were exposed to violence.
“UNICEF condemns the instrumentalization of children for political purposes and calls on authorities, members of civil society and parents to keep children away from protests in order to protect them,” said Grant Leaity, UNICEF representative in the DRC, in a statement.