U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon must be grinding his teeth this morning as word filters out of Eastern Congo that once again his peacekeepers stayed in their barracks while fighting raged just down the road and precious resources were wasted looking for a foreign journalist rather than saving the women and children who were being murdered in the cross-fire between rebels and government militia.
The key indicators of the UNs ineptness in Eastern Congo came from the resignation of Vicente Díaz de Villegas y Herrería, the Spanish General who only was in-country for three weeks before jumping a plane back to Madrid. The official U.N. response was that the resignation resulted from ‘personal reasons’ but the U.N. is a very leaky ship and the real story seems that the Iberian Commandante was upset that he was a given a mission with ‘no mandate, no strategy and no resources.’ (One wonders why he didn’t inquire about these things before he took the assignment, but who knows what the career ‘wishful-thinkers’ in New York promised him. Remember how they bamboozled General Dallaire during the Rwanda Crisis.)
The war in the Congo is essentially an international conflict, a world-war involving many nations that has lasted longer than any other modern conflict and has resulted in the deaths of over 5 million people, the vast majority being innocent civilians. Having said that, how many people, even well-informed ones, would recognize the name Nkunda, the head of the main rebel faction? Despite its ferocity this has been an invisible conflict and is likely to remain so since aside from a few mining companies it will be hard to find anybody’s strategic interests at stake and the Security Council has been resting easy because its peacekeepers are on the ground. The problem is that the 17,000 strong peacekeeping mission, code- named MONUC, is in shambles and seemingly unable to protect itself, not to mention the hundreds of thousands now fleeing, whose safety they were sent to guarantee.
It is becoming increasingly clear that U.N. peacekeepers should stay out of areas where there is no peace. In a country like Liberia, the U.N. does a credible job of keeping the lid on a disarmed and developing country. The experiences in Rwanda, Bosnia and now the Congo suggest that a toothless U.N. presence, backed up by an ambivalent Security Council mandate, is more to be pitied than supported. It is also necessary to monitor and investigate the actual behavior of the so-called peacekeepers. During the 1990’s the forces that made up the ECOMOG peacekeeping forces in Liberia (sponsored by the Economic Community of West Africa) were too busy looting the country and starting up various self-supporting rackets to engage in much peacekeeping. There are suggestions that troops under UN command in the Congo are into the same sort of shenanigans. Why else, a cynic might ask, would they sign up for such a thankless task in the first place?
The bottom line is that the U.N. has to act fast to plug the holes in their Congo adventure, or else stop pretending and start begging for some effective help. Presidents Kagame of Rwanda, Museveni of Uganda and Kabila of the Congo have to pledge themselves to stop the carnage by cutting off aid to their proxies while the next U.N. commander on the ground had better have more in his pocket than his return ticket.