In the aftermath of the violent and contested 2011 elections, stability in the Democratic Republic of Congo seems more elusive than ever. What was meant to be a celebration of the Congolese commitment to democracy has descended into allegations of electoral fraud, political infighting and militia violence. On-going disputes over the results have led many to question the legitimacy of the election, fuelling political and regional tensions. The elections have been a disappointing failure earning criticism both at home and abroad. This failure of the democratic process has led many to question the role of the international community in Congo, supporting a flawed regime that receives millions of pounds of aid yearly.
At present the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) holds the title of being the largest and most expensive UN peace keeping force currently in action. Following an intense period of civil war culminating in the Lusaka Ceasefire agreement, the peace keeping force was established in 1999. Since then, the MONUSCO experience has had both its positives and negatives. The central objective of its mandate falls under the Responsibility to Protect principle. After years of civil conflict, large sections of the population are still vulnerable to instances of torture, rape and various other human rights abuses, which MONUSCO seeks to mitigate.
Over the years MONUSCU’s presence has been subject to various levels of criticism. It has at times found it difficult to adequately protect Congolese citizens from militia violence whilst also being accused of eroding Congolese sovereignty. But does this warrant calls for its departure? Despite its failings, MONUSCO has seen many success stories and has made a number of improvements within the country. It has succeeded in the demobilization of thousands of combatants and in bringing the leaders of militia groups such as the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda to account. Crucially, its peace keepers have been working with the Congolese army; training officials on the importance of human rights and issues of gender equality, a task which is vital in a nation known as the rape capital of the world.
The future of MONUSCO lies in its evolution. The challenges faced by Congo are complex and a force able to develop will be essential to combat these problems. For those who view the force as a negative foreign construct, increased Congolese consultation and participation will do much to improve its public image. Furthermore, focus must be placed upon developing Congo’s weak infrastructure which will be key to improving the situation in the country.
If there were any remaining doubts over the necessity of MONUSCO, they will have been quashed by recent events in the country. The failure of the electoral process has highlighted the country still needs the support of the international community if it is to achieve a long lasting and sustainable peace.
Onika has recently finished her BSc in International Relations and History at the London School of Economics and is currently a Programme Development Intern at UNA-UK.