Congo-Kinshasa: UN Mission to Downsize

MONUSCO, the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is in the process of downsizing its peacekeeping forces in the country. 764 posts will be cut and eight offices closed down.

MONUSCO, the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is in the process of downsizing its peacekeeping mission in the country. 764 posts will be cut and eight offices closed down. The next phase will examine MONUSCO's overall exit strategy from the DRC.

MONUSCO is the United Nations largest peacekeeping operation with a 20,000-strong mission which has been operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the past 20 years.

Its budget for 2019/2020, which will be effective as from 1 July, will face new cuts. The current budget amounts to over one billion US dollars and the downsizing plan is seen as a pre-emptive measure anticiupating upcoming budget cuts.

In January, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres warned that almost 2 billion US dollars in contributions to the UN remained unpaid. Meanwhile, under the Trump administration, the United States - the UN's largest donor - announced, in December, that it was reducing its contribution to the UN's 6.7 billion US dollars peacekeeping budget from 28.5 percent to 25 percent.

US national security advisor, John Bolton, said that the "United States will no longer provide indiscriminate assistance" across the entire African continent.

"We will no longer support unproductive, unsuccessful, and unaccountable UN peacekeeping missions. We want something more to show for Americans' hard-earned taxpayer dollars," Bolton declared in December 2018.

Streamlining MONUSCO

The new downsizing plans announced on April 22 by Leila Zerrougui, the head of MONUSCO, should be completed by the end of June ahead of the UN's new financial year.

The 764 job cuts will not affect military personnel but mostly concern Congolese civilians.

Eight offices will be shut down in Dungu, Mbandaka, Bandundu, Kamina, Matadi, Mbuji-Mayi as well as Kisangani and Lubumbashi.

The security situation remains quite volatile in Lubumbashi but a UN peacekeeping spokesperson told RFI that "the possible closure of any office does not mean that the UN will stop covering the area."

For Stephanie Wolters, the head of the Peace & Security Programme for the Institute for Security Studies, MONUSCO's plan to close offices is bound to influence the security landscape in the DRC.

The UN told RFI that there are "alert mechanisms in place" and military and civilian teams which can be deployed on a temporary basis when a crisis is announced or under development.

"For instance, last week, we had around 15 temporary teams deployed throughout the country including in the areas where we have no permanent presence," added a UN peacekeeping spokesperson.

Wolters believes that MONUSCO's decision to close down offices will lead to some shift in the balance of power between the different armed groups operating in the east of the vast country. What remains uncertain, she added, is how they might choose to regroup.

DRC leaders want exit plan

Former President Joseph Kabila, who according to Wolters, has had a difficult, often hostile relationship with MONUSCO, has repeatedly called for the departure of the UN mission.

President Felix Tshisekedi, too, supports a withdrawal plan but he also says he is in favour of a "better armed" MONUSCO and offered to cooperate with the UN. Wolters believes Tshisekedi was referring to MONUSCO's inability to tackle the many military challenges prevailing in eastern DRC.

"Tshisekedi ran on a platform of trying to pacify a very unstable eastern DRC where we have up to 120 different armed groups of different sizes, and ethnic groups with different motivations," Wolters explained.

After 20 years on the ground and with its military strength, MONUSCO has not achieved some of its key targets.

"MONUSCO hasn't been able to prevent certain cities from falling to armed groups nor has it succeeded in ending the insecurity caused by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the Beni and Butembo area [in the North Kivu province]," said Wolters.

But then again MONUSCO is operating in Congo, this vast country which is "at the same time post-conflict and also very much still a conflict state.

"It is a very difficult landscape in which to measure success and achievement," added Wolters.

Leaving DRC

In March, the UN Security Council agreed to extend MONUSCO's mandate until 20 December 2019 to allow time for a withdrawal agreement to be drawn up.

The council unanimously adopted a French-drafted resolution that asked Secretary-General Guterres to present a strategic review no later than October on a "phased, progressive, and comprehensive exit strategy."

For Wolters, the measures, announced by the head of the mission early this week, represent the first phase of MONUSCO's exit strategy from the DRC.

"There is a lot of fatigue with MONUSCO," she says. But withdrawing such a gigantic presence is going to have a dramatic impact The departure of a mission of this magnitude is more than likely to "create many ripple effects on the Congolese economy.

"MONUSCO has been a major employer and consumer for many years with military and civilian forces present in so many towns and cities," explains Wolters.

It is unclear to what extent the new budgetary measures will affect Radio Okapi which has been broadcasting throughout the DRC since February 2002.

"We are making arrangements to ensure that Radio Okapi will keep on broadcasting its programmes in the areas where offices may be closed," declared a UN spokesperson.

For Wolters, the radio is an independent and credible voice in the DRC.

"Radio Okapi is one of MONUSCO's key achievements. It is the UN's largest ever peacekeeping radio and remains the only network radio with a national reach.

"We still need Radio Okapi, one of the things that many Congolese civilians still like about MONUSCO," said Wolters.

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