Fighting in DR Congo Africa’s World War … without the world?

Fighting in DR Congo Africa’s World War … without the world?

The recent DR Congo Government’s request on the apace UN forces withdrawal by next summer elections, caused scepticism and phobia about the already troubled country’s future.

By Ioannis Chapsos[1]

The last months’ escalation of violence especially in its Eastern provinces and the updated reports on the continuation of hyperbolic human rights abuses, not only didn’t convince the UN Security council that DRC is not yet mature to handle and provide security by its own means, nor sponsored by the UN peacekeepers, but instead lead to the authorisation of 2.000 peacekeepers’ withdrawal by the end of June[2].

Mr. J. HolmesIn May 2010 Mr Holmes, the top UN humanitarian official and emergency relief coordinator visited DR Congo on a five day trip[3].  Mr Holmes was in discussions with DRC President J. Kabila concerning issues of civilian protection and the potential of MONUC withdrawal by August 2011, as the DRCG wants the UN force to leave the country before the scheduled elections.

Findings in North and South Kivu

In March 2009, operation ‘Kimia II’ was launched by DRC Governmental Armed Forces (FARDC) against the Forces for the Democratic Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), supported also by MONUC. Its primary objective was the disarmament of FDLR combatants, but until its end in December 2009, MONUC reported the demobilisation of approximately 1400 rebels (ICG 2010a).The operation was characterised as a fiasco by UN itself, not solely for failing to dialyse the rebel’s political and military configuration, but also in humanitarian terms.

Map of North and South KivuHuman Rights Watch (HRW) reported more than 1.400 dead civilians, 7.500 rapes, 9.000 burned buildings and 900.000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Kivus (HRW 2009a, 2009b). Those human rights violations were perpetrated by both FDLR rebels and FARDC units; hereof the 22.000 soldiers’ force of MONUC received heavy criticism for failing even to thwart non combatants’ targeting.

In the dawn of 2010, a new three-month operation under the code name ‘Amani Leo’ was launched by FARDC, logistically sponsored by MONUC, aiming anew at the elimination of FDLR rebels. The operation was primarily focused on civilian protection but both objectives were of questionable outcome. The number of FDLR demobilised insurgents was very limited[4] (ICG 2010b), while heavy fighting broke out when Mai-Mai militia attacked the town of Fizi in South Kivu (IRIN 2010a). Besides the casualties, seven aid workers, members of the ICRC, were captive by the militia.

The Ituri Province

The North-East district of DRC remains in a state of terror from the attacks of the Uganda based militia named Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). MONUC participated in the joint operation ‘Rudia II’ with the DRC Army (officially ended in March 2009) in order to protect autochthonous population from the LRA, while the Ugandan Army is believed to retain an estimated force of 2-3.000 soldiers in Northern DRC for the same cause (HRW 2010:56-59).

Map of IturiBut the LRA continues to massacre civilians in the region; it is estimated that approximately 500 people were killed between December 2009 and March 2010 (Fessy 2010) and 318.000 were displaced in other regions (IRIN 2010c) or to the adjacent countries of Sudan and Central African Republic (IRIN 2010d).

As stated by Alan Moss, the head of UN peacekeepers in DRC[5], LRA moves in small and agile groups operating in a vast area, hence greater air mobility and better intelligence gathering is needed. The cooperation with local inhabitants is crucial as well, but the horror that LRA’s tactics embed in civilians proves to be its best weapon which makes this task extremely hard to accomplish.

The latest clashes between FARDC and LRA that took place in April 2010, entrapped nearly 5.000 civilians in the fighting, forcing the government to create a humanitarian corridor in order to relief the IDPs (IRIN 2010b). But they also emphasised anew the ineffectuality and lack of coordination of all three actors (FARDC, MONUC and Ugandan army) operating in the region gainst the LRA (IRIN 2010c). Hereof, despite the DRCG request concerning the potential withdrawal of UN forces from the country, the Ituri civil society called for a longer and more robust MONUC presence (ICG 2010c).

Unexpected clashes in Equateur province

Another front erupted in April 2010 in the North-western Equateur province. Enyele rebels occupied the Provincial capital, Mbandaka and in the clashes that followed between FARDC and MONUC, 21 people were killed, including 3 UN personnel (Ibid).

The insurgents attacked several governmental buildings before seizing the airport, which they held until 5 April when they were ousted by MONUC-backed army troops (IRIN 2010e). Previous clashes between local ethnic groups in the province resulted in the death of at least 270 people, while more than 100,000 were displaced.

The unrest is claimed to be separate from the clashes in the Eastern DRC and it was the first time that army killings had been reported in Mbandaka. But once again there was a death toll and FARDC had been accused anew by Human Rights NGOs for killing civilians[6].

Assessing Human Security in DRC: MONUC’s presence

In all the above situations civilians are the primary target, hereof the morphed human security conditions are in unacceptable levels. DRC has been announced as the rape capital of the world[7], while more than 8.000 women were raped during 2009 clashes; and sexual violence is the new ‘dogma’ that determines the strategy of all warring parties (HRW 2009b). Obviously, it’s harder to be a woman in the DRC than a soldier…

The conditions are not much better for the children: those who manage to survive from the brutal and gory clashes between various belligerents are threatened by malnutrition and diseases. According to the country’s Ministry of Health reports, ‘about 530,000 children younger than five and more than a million women need urgent nutritional support…, at least 700 children under-five die each day in the five provinces… and an estimated one million women aged 15-49 are malnourished’ (IRIN 2010f). Additionally, the medical supplies are not usually sufficient for the vast number of injured, and the healthcare infrastructure cannot respond to the demands (IRIN 2010e).

A sense of securityAfter the clashes in the Western provincial capital Mbandaka, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed also his fears for the potential of local conflicts to rapidly escalate in the vast country[8]. Considering the recommendation for the MONUC withdrawal in two phases, starting from the West with 2.000 soldiers, the two aspects are quite antithetical (IRC 2010c). Another antithesis occurs between the Ituri’s civil society plea for further MONUC presence in the region and the withdrawal recommendation of eastern troops after UN/DRCG periodic review (Ibid).

Mr. Holmes pointed out that any ‘exit strategy should be considered carefully’[9]: MONUC’s mission is the protection of the civilians and aid agencies; even if this mission is getting fulfilled in the framework described above and with a plethora of deficiencies, this withdrawal could be catastrophic without the guarantees that the FARDC could take over the UN forces’ role and the hypothesis that it will not further act as the major violence projector against non combatants.

DRC’s President J. Kabila wishes the UN presence to be ended before the 2011 elections, but findings emphasise that this could remain only rhetoric. The external aid that was invested for the rebuilding of DRC after all those years of conflict will be wasted, since conflict, sexual violence, human rights abuses and looting of natural resources remain prominent especially in the Eastern provinces. The reconciliation process still has a long way ahead, since many demobilised ex-rebels assimilated in the FARDC retain their ties with the LRA, FDLR, Mai Mai or other armed groups, perpetuating violence against civilians and present an ostensible framework of ethnic tensions, stemming actually from land disputes and resources revenues (Hara 2010).

Obviously the one decade’s presence of MONUC can’t be extended diachronically. Despite the intense criticism from UN polemics, concerning the MONUC’s pragmatic contribution to DRC’s security and its indeed problematic performance, it remains a deterrent paragon for further violence stemming from armed groups in the Eastern region, as well as from the DRC army per se.

Conclusion – Recommendations

DRC President’s request for the MONUC withdrawal before next year’s elections seems to be anachronistic and provides the potential of creating further chaos in the vast strife country. DRC has to take its fate on its own hands sometime; but the diagnosis is that it still needs both Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding for a long term.

DRC President J. KabilaThe state’s infrastructure is not deep enough rooted in order to provide security and development, while its capacity in conflict management should be taken under serious consideration.

Instead of the imminent withdrawal of UN forces from the DRC, its further reinforcement in terms of human and military assets is essential. The hitherto largest ever UN peace enforcing force[10], is not sufficient for such a vast territory to control, with so many different actors to confront. The human rights abuses and the atrocious tactics of the armed groups leveraged in the Eastern region are evidence for the necessity to upgrade the level of intelligence gathering, analysing and exchanging with adjacent countries. A key role could also be assigned to the UN peacekeeping missions of these countries (MINURCUT in Chad, UNMIS in Sudan) in order to contribute to the control of the border crossing activities of the armed groups (ICG 2010d).

Further efforts should be dedicated in peace building. Promotion of the security sector reform (SSR), establishment of connection between development, security and democratic governance and fostering the civil society are all paragons that will be protagonists in the metamorphosis of DRC.

The international community needs to be enthusiastic in promoting this framework and contribute to the preparation and holding of the coming elections under the aegis of the UN, not its absence.

List of References

Fessy, T. (2010) ‘Top UN man investigates massacre claims in DR Congo’ [online]. BBC News (2 May 2010) available from <> [25 May 2010]

Hara, F.(2010) ‘Time to pull out UN troops in Congo? Not so fast’ [online]. The Christian Science Monitor (14 May 2010) available from <> [25 May 2010]

Human Rights Watch (2009a) ‘DR Congo: Civilian Cost of Military Operation is Unacceptable’ [online]. Available from <> [24 May 2010]

— (2009b) ‘UN: Act to End Atrocities in Eastern Congo’ [online]. Available from <> [24 May 2010]

— (2010) ‘Trail of Death: LRA Atrocities in Northeastern Congo’ [online]. Available from <> [25 May 2010]

International Crisis Group (2010a) ‘DR Congo Conflict History’ [online]. Conflict Histories (February 2010) available from <> [24 May 2010]

—  (2010b) ‘CrisisWatch N°80’ [online]. Crisis Watch Database (1 April 2010) available from <{C076CDFE-2B2D-4642-8895-5EF27AE4E416}#results> [25 May 2010]

—  (2010c) ‘CrisisWatch N°81’ [online]. Crisis Watch Database (1 May 2010) available from <{C076CDFE-2B2D-4642-8895-5EF27AE4E416}#results> [25 May 2010]

— (2010d) ‘Congo: A Stalled Democratic Agenda’ [online]. Africa Briefing No 73 (8 April 2010) available from <> [26 May 2010].

IRIN (2010a) ‘DRC: Fighting foils exams in South Kivu’ [online]. Available from <> [25 May 2010]

— (2010b) ‘DRC: Humanitarian corridor opened for trapped civilians in northeast’ [online]. Available from <> [25 May 2010]

— (2010c) ‘DRC: Minor rebels, major terror’ [online]. Available from <> [25 May 2010]

— (2010d) ‘DRC-UGANDA: Still afraid of the LRA’ [online]. Available from <> [25 May 2010]

— (2010e) ‘DRC: Doctors fear drug shortages after clashes’ [online]. Available from <> [25 May 2010]

— (2010f) ‘DRC: Half a million children at risk of malnutrition’ [online]. Available from <> [25 May 2010]


List of figures:

Fig 1: Mr. J. Holmes, available from <> [25 May 2010]

Fig 2: Map of North and South Kivu (HRW 2009b), available from <> [24 May 2010]

Fig 3: Map of Ituri (IRIN 2010b), available from <> [25 May 2010]

Fig 4: A sense of security… (IRIN 2010c), available from <> [25 May 2010]

Fig 5: Map of Mbandaka (IRIN 2010e), available from <> [25 May 2010]

Fig 6: Anti-raping campaign in the DRC, available from <> [27 May 2010]

Fig 7: Malnutrition in Congo, available from < >[27 May 2010]

Fig 8: MONUC, available from <> [31 May 2010]

Fig 9: DRC President J. Kabila, available from <> [31 May 2010]

[1] Commander Ioannis Chapsos (Hellenic Navy) graduated from the Naval Academy in 1989 and served most of his career in Fast Patrol Boats. He was assigned in the National Defense Planning Department of the National Defense General Staff and Human Resources/ Education Department of the Hellenic Navy General Staff. Since 2008, he serves in the Hellenic Supreme Joint War College as an instructor in the Security and Strategy department. He is a Marshall Center/Executive Program in Advanced Security Studies alumnus and he holds an MA in Terrorism – International Crime – Global Security (Coventry University- UK).

[2] See BBC News (28 May 2010): UN to reduce DR Congo peace force [online]. Available from <> [29 May 2010]

[3] See BBC News (1 May 2010): UN chief warns against early withdrawal from DR Congo [online]. Available from <> [25 May 2010]

[4] DRCG 11 March announced 271 FDLR rebels ‘neutralised’ during ‘Amani Leo’ operation.

[5] See BBC News (28 March 2010): DR Congo needs new strategy, says UN chief [online]. Available from <> [25 May 2010]

[6] See BBC News (19 May 2010): DR Congo rebels get death sentences for Mbandaka attack [online]. Available from <> [25 May 2010]

[7] See BBC News (28 April 2010): UN official calls DR Congo ‘rape capital of the world’ [online]. Available from <> [25 May 2010].

[8] See all (6 April 2010): Congo-Kinshasa: UN Deplores Resort to Arms After Deadly Attack on Provincial Capital [online]. Available from <> [25 May 2010]

[9] BBC News (1 May 2010): UN chief warns against early withdrawal from DR Congo [online]

[10] See United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo [online], available from <> [26 May 2010].