By Alix Boucher – Less than four months after the European Union pulled a 2,000-strong security contingent out of the capital, Kinshasa, up to 600 people have been killed in clashes there between forces loyal to losing presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba and government forces.
Despite presidential elections last October generally held to be free and fair, the Democratic Republic of Congo still faces critical instabilities and the need for international peacekeepers. The EU force, code named EUFOR RD Congo, had deployed for five months to bolster the UN Operation in the DRC, MONUC. The UN force is at the moment the organization’s largest peacekeeping force with 17,000 troops, some deployed in Kinshasa but most in the restive eastern provinces of North and South Kivu, and in the northeastern Ituri district. The EU force had been crucial to securing the elections, particularly in volatile Kinshasa. Between the two rounds of presidential elections last year (in August and October), the back-up they provided to UN forces helped the United Nations negotiate an end to similar clashes that would surely have spelled the end of the democratic process.
The relative security vacuum left by the withdrawal of EUFOR RD Congo and the subsequent, fatal, clashes, show the danger of removing external security props prematurely. This is not the first time that international forces have gone home too soon: In Timor-Leste, Australian and UN forces pulled out just months after a successful election only to redeploy after violent clashes-much like the ones in Kinshasa last week-threatened an all too fragile peace.
Thirty remaining European police advisers and trainers, a contingent called EUPOL Kinshasa, will not suffice to allay public fears that government forces will be unable to bring lasting calm to Kinshasa without outside support.
The most recent clashes began last Thursday when the losing Presidential candidate and former rebel leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba, refused a month-old government order to integrate his militia and bodyguards into the Congolese Army. As of this writing, Bemba has sought refuge at the South African embassy in Kinshasa, avoiding arrest for high treason while the new Parliament discusses lifting his immunity (Bemba is a Senator) so he can be prosecuted for his role in the clashes. President Kabila insists that Bemba not be allowed to keep his militia and that he be held accountable for undermining the rule of law. Bemba insists his old foe, the president, is merely trying to get rid of him. MONUC has been left helping the government disarm Bemba’s fighters while trying to ensure that the notoriously undisciplined government forces do not treat the rebels like criminals-or battlefield enemies. MONUC’s guard force in Kinshasa, drawn mostly from Ghana, Tunisia, and Uruguay, numbers roughly 1,600 in a city of 6.8 million inhabitants, or roughly one peacekeeper for every 4,000 persons.
The UN estimates that costs for MONUC will stay constant in 2007 (at just over $1 billion), but the US government’s budgeting assumes a drawdown in MONUC. The State Department 2007 budget request plans for a 50 percent reduction in the operation’s size. Most UN and other DRC experts agree that such a drawdown is unrealistic. Moreover, since the UN pays its civilian logistics contractors before it pays its troop contributors, those governments whose troops are facing the greatest risks on the ground in the DRC will be the last to be reimbursed for their efforts if the US fails to meet its assessed contribution to MONUC of roughly $275 million. Globally, about 100,000 UN peacekeepers function in 18 risky post-conflict situations for an annual cost equivalent to just one month of expenditures on the war in Iraq. Let’s hope that the death of almost 600 people in just two days will convince the US, EU, and the international community of the risks of removing peacekeepers too quickly and of the need to renew MONUC’s mandate, at its current level, before it expires on April 15, 2007.