John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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The Geopolitical Quagmire of the Eastern Congo

by John Campbell
November 29, 2012

UN peacekeepers hold a position outside the eastern Congolese city of Goma 23/07/2012. (James Akena/Courtesy Reuters)


The situation in the eastern Congo is no less obscure than before the regional leaders met for negotiations over the weekend. M23 stated they would leave the city of Goma, captured on November 20, by November 27. They are still there. Now they claim they will hold a handover ceremony and pull back to Rutshuru, their original stronghold, on Friday, November 30; but only so long as M23 troops remain at the Goma airport. And possibly, that their political wing remain in Goma itself.

Rwanda and Uganda continue to vehemently deny that they back the M23 rebel group. This line becomes thinner each time they use it. Kris Berwouts provides a succinct analysis of the recent Rwandan/Congolese relationship.

Another player in the arena however is the UN, who stood by after the Congo army fled and watched M23 rebels march into Goma.

Many are asking why the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) doesn’t push the rebels out. After all, the Christian Science Monitor and the Economist estimate that M23 numbers in the range of only 1,000-1,500 while there are 19,000 UN troops supported by 3,800 civilian staff in Congo, including 6,700 troops in North Kivu, of which Goma is the capital. As the Economist says, “the UN…has once again been humiliated.”

The answer is that pushing the rebels out is not MONUSCO’s mandate. Essentially, MONUSCO is supposed to support the Congolese army and protect civilians. But the Congolese army fled, and, apparently, M23 has not attacked civilians—thus far.

The French foreign minister is calling for a “review” of MONUSCO’s mandate, noting, correctly, that future fighting could lead to civilian casualties.

But, expanding MONUSCO’s mandate would require UN Security Council action. Rwanda is, at present, on the Council.

I doubt that there is the political will among Security Council members to significantly expand MONUSCO’s mandate, and increase its personnel and budget. Previous humanitarian disasters, including Darfur (ongoing) and the Rwanda genocide are not hopeful precedents for greater international intervention; nor is Syria. So, the chances are good that the situation, and the violence, will continue to simmer in North Kivu. That is, unless Congo president Joseph Kabila and Rwanda president Paul Kagame do a deal that patches things up in the short term. Perhaps it will also involve Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni. On November 27, the State Department announced that Assistant Secretary John Carson would be leading a U.S./France/UK delegation to Uganda for talks with Museveni on eastern Congo.

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