Why is the peacekeeping operation coming to an end?
The UN Organisation Mission in the DRC started off as a small observer force in 1999. It was deployed by the UN Security Council to monitor the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement signed in August 1999. At the time the hope was that this would mark the end of the Second Congo War. It did not. The war was also known as Africa’s World War because, at one stage, it pitted the government of President Laurent Kabila and allied troops from Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia against the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy, fronting for forces supported by the governments of Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. The war officially ended in 2003.
War and profound insecurity in the eastern part of DRC continued to be the norm after 1999, at a horrific cost to civilian populations. By one estimate, more than 5 million people had died as a result of war and violence by 2008.
Continuing instability and violence led to a deepening of the UN’s involvement. The initial observer force grew in size. It’s now the UN’s largest field operation with an overall strength of about 20 000, including civilian staff.
Over time, it also came to assume a much more ambitious mandate. Changing its name to the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC in 2010, the principal mandate of the mission became two-fold: the protection of civilians and the strengthening of state institutions in the DRC.
The Security Council first called for the withdrawal of the mission – or rather a transfer of responsibilities to the government and the UN country team – in 2015. Since then, every mandate renewal (every nine months) has involved calls for plans to be developed for its withdrawal. In March this year, the Security Council ordered an independent review of how exactly a phased, progressive and comprehensive exit strategy could happen. This was presented to the Council in October.
The argument in favour of a progressive withdrawal has long been that the Congolese government, after years of UN involvement and three presidential elections, must now assume full “national ownership” of the peace and stabilisation process.
But this isn’t the only reason. At US$1.1 billion per year, the mission is an expensive peacekeeping operation, and member states have been anxious to cut costs.