Tuesday, November 24, 2009

MONUC 10 Years Later: Anything New?

MONUC's mandate is up for renewal in a couple weeks and there's lots of discussion now about what needs to change and what MONUC should do differently. The discussion is also occurring in the context of MONUC's 10th anniversary and a strong desire, both at the UN and of course within the Congolese government, for the mission to begin drawing down. There's also much controversy over MONUC's support to the Congolese Army (FARDC) as it attempts to get rid of the FDLR.

Given this context, I thought that what the Force Commander, General Babacar Gaye, told the Congolese paper, Le Potentiel, in an interview was interesting. He explained his evolving strategy in DRC. It's in French--the link is to Relief Web.

The General said:
It would be pertinent to evaluate the situation and put in place new modes of action rather than launch counter-guerilla operations which requires capacities and means that the FARDC does not have have. This is why it's better to control the zones where the FDLR usually came to stock up on resources.
He adds that this effort needs to happen alongside better support to security sector reform, in particular for the Army and National Policy, and capacity building for Congolese institutions.

Does this seem a little confused to you? I'm not sure I get it because so far the only thing that's happened is that ongoing operations have pushed the FDLR deeper into Congo but without protecting populations from reprisals. They have also not completely cut off the FDLR from their mineral resource funding bases, and finally security sector reform efforts right now are not much beyond really intent prayers. So I'm curious, what are your thoughts on a strategy for MONUC and how should its mandate change?


  1. On October 29, I attended a panel discussion on the reform of the security sector in the Congo at the National Defense University. And the assessment by the expert panelists was bleak, to say the least. (I'm quoting from my notes.)
    Two myths about the Congo need to be dispelled, according to them:
    1. Congo doesn't have an army. It's a patchwork of variegated rebel groups upon which the label FARDC has been stamped.
    2. The second myth is that of real armed combats in the Kivu. But whenever combats are reported in the Kivu by the international media, however, in reality no real such combats take place. What actually happens is that armed groups engage in a sort of macabre rituals. One armed group would show up in force in an area and terrorize the opposing group into a flight. Then the group that gains control over the new territory goes on rampage against civilians.
    Hence, the talk in Kinshasa of dismissing the MONUC is quite premature and irresponsible. Some of these experts even suspect that a stronger Congolese army wouldn't be in the interest of some powerful people in Kinshasa. For instance, the outcome of the joint military operation between the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) and the FARDC and the integration of Nkunda's outfit into the Congolese army are not in the best interest of the civilians of Kivu. Instances of collaborations between the FDLR and the RPA or between the FDLR have been reported. And the newly integrated Nkunda's army is accused of massacres of civilians.
    MONUC, despite its shortcomings, seems to be the last line of defense of these civilians. And it does have a clear mandate: protection of the civilians. One panelist claimed it'd take only one or 2 well-trained brigades (with embedded MONUC NCOs as mentors) to pacify eastern Congo.
    Gerard Prunier, author of "Africa's World War" who was one of the panelists, says that there are even more ominous dangers facing the Congolese army: 1) the LRA, whom he calls "Killers Without Borders," who are doing the bidding of the Khartoum government which might unleash them on Southern Sudan and the Congo during the referendum on the independence of Southern Sudan; and 2) Nomadic bands of Libyan, Chadian and other pastoralists who're encroaching on the northern borders of the Congo.
    The Congolese army is the only army on the African continent facing domestic as well as foreign foes. A comprehensive reform of the security sector of the Congo is thus a daunting task and a costly enterprise: $2 billion as a down payment!
    More importantly, according to one expert, the reform of the security sector in the DRC should entail the implementation of a three-pronged strategy encapsulated in the acronym TPA: 1) Effective Training; 2) Good Pay; and 3) Accountability. This strategy involves massive donor involvement. Good pay for instance had the effect of completely boosting the morale of troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sierra Leone. In Sierra Leone, the UK took serious steps in training, structured instruction and embedding mentors into newly-trained army units, with dramatic results.

  2. Alex, thanks for the comment. I mostly agree with you (though I'm not sure about the 2 well-trained brigades and just NCOs as mentors--I think that's stretching it). Mentoring is hard. I'd actually be interested in lessons on that from Iraq and Afghanistan. Seriously, I went looking for good practices on that topic for work and the only stuff I could find was in US doctrine.

    On integration of CNDP, completely agree, my understanding is that it consisted of little more than telling units they were now FARDC.

    On training, good pay and accountability, I completely agree and there are things that are moving on those fronts even in Congo. The training part is problematic but donors are working to support the creation of fair and accountable military justice system. On pay, you're probably familiar with EUSEC's efforts and the fact that they need to think of something else. I don't think good pay is sufficient, it needs to be regular and consistent as well.

    On SSR work in Afghanistan, Iraq and Sierra Leone, I'll stick with Afghanistan and Sierra Leone since I'm more familiar with those and others can fill in on Iraq (I hope). In Afghanistan, yes training, accountability and of course pay have improved but there's still a LONG way to go before the ANSF can operate independently, effectively, and in sustainable fashion. I think that efforts to open banks and basically do direct salary deposits are fascinating. The EUSEC effort to do that in Congo, via cell phone, were met with failure (as in troops get their pay, cash the cell phone credits and then walk around the corner to give the commander their cut).

    On Sierra Leone, the most comprehensive overview I've seen of the UK's work there, by Peter Albrecht and Paul Jackson can be found here:
    There are a lot of things that IMATT (the mission the UK led in Sierra Leone) did right but there are also still a lot of problems with the process there. These include financial sustainability of the current force (it's too big, the country can't afford it and the UK can't go on paying salaries for ever); pensions and benefits for veterans and their families (again, there are too many and it's expensive); and finally facilities and long term training.

    One SSR expert (who was involved with both IMATT and now in Liberia) told me that one major reason for this failing was that no systematic threat assessment was conducted in the planning for the RSLAF (Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces). This led to unrealistic expectations on the size and purpose of the forces.

    As far as I know, right now, the size estimates I'm hearing for FARDC are similarly pulled out of nowhere (80K from donors vs. about 120K from the government) and based on political convenience.

    So all this to say that yes, a lot of good things have happened in Afghanistan, Iraq and Sierra Leone, I'm just not sure we've learned enough about them, or perhaps even care enough, to do something useful with them in DRC.

  3. I might be misunderstanding either his French or his intent (or both), but it seems to me that Gaye is talking about constraining MONUC's mission set in recognition of the fact that one day, the Congolese army will need to step into the void and replace UN troops. If MONUC is prosecuting some kind of ambitious mission that requires a ton of resources and capabilities, then the Congolese army can have no hope of filling its shoes. And right now, "counter-guerilla" missions -- taking the fight to the enemy and whatnot, or aggressive offensive action -- seems like a bridge too far. So I think Gaye is talking about exploring ways to do area/sanctuary denial rather than force-on-force operations.

    But again, I could be totally wrong here.

  4. Gulliver: you got it right...

    Lil: then again, there's no integrated army in the DRC. The erstwhile rebels that are integrated keep their own chain of command and son on. Remember: Nkunda himself was "integrated" at one point but refused to go to Kinshasa to take up his new command in another province. The newly integrated CNDP have kept the territory previously under their control where they function as a parallel administration--controlling border posts and taxing the local population. The only thing they have in common with the Kinshasa government is the Congolese flag that mocks the local population... As long as this problem persists, no solution could ever be found.
    As for the 2 brigades, the training would take about 2 years, plus one year of deployment closely monitored by MONUC elements...

  5. I think we might be talking past each other a bit. On integration, I agree Alex, it's the biggest joke ever. It's a disgrace and until those elements are a) cut off from the resources they exploit, and b) fired in case of truly egregious human rights abuses, then nothing will change, particularly not in the eyes of the Congolese.

    On operations, last month, in Goma, I was told that MONUC was conducting offensive operations (using helicopters to fire on rebel positions). MK will be able to help here with some history on this but the thing that was interesting was that they weren't following through with UN ground operations (MONUC might have been providing the FARDC with air support but that seems weird to me).

    Anyway, maybe what Gaye is saying is that he doesn't want MONUC doing that anymore. The problem is though, that right now the "FARDC" can't be trusted to deal with these problems. So I wonder, is it better to do nothing to counter the rebels but try to help MONUC regain political neutrality, deal with the consequences of the abuse (at the hands of the FARDC) that will invariably ensue, or get MONUC what it needs to at least try and help?