United Nations begins fighting in Congo
November 7, 2013
The Congo is known for its vast wealth of natural resources such as tin, gold and coltan. However, this region is also known for its long history of conflict.
When dictator Mobutu Sese Seko fell from power in 1997, the country was launched into a state of complete chaos. Several rebel militias have been fighting over natural resources and territory throughout in the Congo for over a decade. The conflict in the Congo has been deemed Africa’s “first World War,” involves nine nations and dozens of rebel militias and has killed over 5 million people since 1998, according to The Washington Post.
The United Nations has had roughly 17,000 peacekeepers in the Congo since 1999. However, these peacekeepers have been unable to stop the rebel militias from killing and raping civilians. Despite the presence of United Nations peacekeepers, some of these rebel militias have taken over entire towns in the eastern part of the Congo.
In fact, last year the primary rebel group, M23, seized the city of Goma for a period of ten days before voluntarily withdrawing, according to The Washington Post. This incident was deemed a major failure, and millions of people throughout the world were infuriated that the 17,000 peacekeepers had failed to protect the city. As a result, the United Nations was heavily criticized.
In response to this heavy criticism, the United Nations Security Council recently approved and launched the Forward Intervention Brigade (FIB). The FIB is the first offensive combat force the United Nations has implemented and is composed of 3,000 soldiers. The goal of the FIB is “to reverse the trajectory of one of the world’s most horrific and complex conflicts,” according to The Washington Post.
While it is clear that the United Nations is taking initiative to reach a solution, it is also obvious that launching the FIB will have detrimental consequences.
The first problem with the FIB is that the brigade openly supports the current Congolese government. This open support goes against the principle of neutrality that has traditionally guided United Nations missions.
The Congolese government also has a history of human rights violations. On top of these violations, the current political institutions in the Congo are crumbling. Therefore, even if the FIB is successful in defeating the rebel militias, it is highly unlikely that the current Congolese government will prevail and remain both stable and successful in the future.
Another problem with the FIB is that the brigade has made neutral volunteers from Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and other nonprofit organizations targets in this conflict. When rebel militias see white vans, they immediately launch an attack regardless of who is in the van because they believe that the vehicle is carrying the enemy: FIB soldiers.
Since these volunteers are now directly in the line of fire, it is likely that there will be a decrease in the number of volunteers in the Congo. This will have a horrific impact on Congolese citizens because many of them rely on these nonprofit organizations for medical support, food, water, and other necessary resources. Without the presence and assistance of volunteers, the situation in the Congo will only continue to degrade.
Finally, the FIB puts the reputation of the United Nations at risk. The United Nations is recognized throughout the world as a neutral and just intergovernmental organization.
However, after the launch of the FIB, the United Nations risks being viewed as a partisan entity that is both willing and capable of resorting to violence. States will be less likely to turn to the United Nations for assistance because of the potential for a violent outcome.
If the organization’s reputation stoops this low, it is highly unlikely that the United Nations will be able to exert its influence throughout the world with as much ease as it has in the past.
The FIB is the United Nations’ way of taking control of the conflict in the Congo. However, the Security Council members should have given more thought and consideration to the circumstance before making the decision to launch the FIB.
The implementation of this new mission will undoubtedly have crippling consequences for Congolese citizens, volunteers, and the United Nations. All we can do now is sit back, cross our fingers, and hope that the United Nations can do some serious damage control.
Morgan Stippel is a political science major and a professional writing minor. When she graduates from UW-River Falls, she wants to become a state prosecutor and specialize in domestic violence cases.