The consent, the one lost, and its search

(To Enrico Magnani)

Between the second half of July and the beginning of August, over thirty people died (including two Moroccan soldiers and two Indian policemen) in very violent incidents that pitted civilians from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and 'helmets blue 'of MONUSCO (Mission des Nations Unies pour la Stabilization au Congo). Local civilians clamored for UN troops to leave the country and attacked several installations. The violence and the extent of the incidents, however, let us suspect that they were much more than spontaneous and uncoordinated initiatives. These incidents highlight the profound crises of consensus and legitimacy of these operations.

MONUSCO - has the weak consensus of the government to operate and exert force, but has failed to build legitimacy and consensus among ordinary people, those most affected by an internal and international conflict that started since the end of the regime of Marshal / President Mobutu in 1997 and not yet resolved.

The government of Kinshasa has tried to start the mission since 2010 and the UN has begun to withdraw the mission from 2020, with a plan that should continue slowly, also in consideration of the unstable situation in the east of the immense country. large number of military personnel involved and the enormous logistical-operational installations. Protesters, meanwhile, claimed (and still affirm) that they wanted the UN to leave because it failed to protect civilians and ensure peace.

As evidence of a climate that became very tense after the incidents, a UN department, confronted by a peaceful protest demonstration by civilians, opened fire on them, killing 2 and injuring over a dozen. The rather serious fact has embarrassed New York and has given force to the request of the government of Kinshasa to speed up the end of the mission.

In reality, MONUSCO, heir to MONUC, deployed since 1999, is an entity in continuous evolution, having changed, even heavily its mandate over the years, always with the same objective: to cooperate with the local government, to contribute to the protection of the civilian population, protect refugees from violence by armed groups from the east, disarm the latter (through a special entity of the mission, the Force Intervention Brigade established in 2017, albeit after much hesitation), improve internal political dialogue.

Many promises very few results

President Felix Tshisekedi, elected in 2019, has an ambiguous attitude towards MONUSCO, his armed and security forces are unable to face external and internal threats in the east, so he needs the 'blue helmets' but wants to reduce them presence at the minimum necessary and has major problems of internal legitimacy, which makes dialogue with the UN even more difficult, unwilling to appear, even indirectly, support for ambiguous internal (and electoral) policies.

In early August, the Security Council met for consultations after the incidents and the Undersecretary General for Peace Operations, the French diplomat Jean-Pierre Lacroix, briefed the Council on his July 28-29 visit to Kinshasa. where he met with senior Congolese officials and UN personnel in the country. The meeting, wanted by India, was held in the midst of heightened tensions between the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, accused by Kinshasa of hostile activities in the eastern Kivu region through both the infiltration of regular military forces, and in support of local armed groups, obscure entities such as the M23 at ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) involved in the exploitation of rare earths, diamonds and more of which the eastern region is very rich.

But the relationship between the UN and the host states is also flawed elsewhere

In Mali, government consensus for MINUSMA (Multi-Dimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission) is equally weak; the government of Bamako had interrupted the authorization for the rotation of troops for the mission for a whole month and reactivated it in the middle of August, with the widely expected result of accelerating the return of the other contingents of 'blue helmets', in this case the German ones. It also expelled the mission's deputy spokesperson (immediately after the incidents in the DRC, the government of Kinshasa did the same).

The mission activated in 2013, from 2020, following a coup d'etat is sailing in dire straits, increasingly badly tolerated by the military junta, which is close to Moscow, has managed to speed up the departure of the French troops of the 'Barkhane' operation, those of the European multinational mission 'Takuba' and those of the EU training mission, EUTM-Mali.

The recent debate at the UN Security Council on the MINUSMA renewal mandate initially stalled on freedom of movement in the country and how to manage the reported increase in alleged human rights violations by the Malian armed forces and the presence of contractors. Russians from Wagner. The 'blue helmets' in Mali today operate in a political context for which their mandate is not suitable, with a diminishing benefit for the civilian population and with great risk for themselves: for eight consecutive years, MINUSMA was the most lethal to the world among UN operations in terms of fallen in its military ranks. Protests in the DRC underline how the consent of the populations, and not just the state, is central to the effective work of UN peacekeeping operations, while the turmoil over the terms of MINUSMA's deployment highlights how political issues, the inappropriate and contextualized exercise of force, remain at the center of the debate on how to conceive and conduct peace operations.

If the United Nations member states (which ones? And on this should a serious debate be opened ...) of the United Nations want multidimensional peacekeeping operations to survive, they should authorize peace operations that create consensus and support for peace and for their presence and objectives at multiple levels - including the state and its populations - and drafting mandates that are anchored in meaningful and context-sensitive political processes that achieve diplomatic and humanitarian objectives.

United Nations peace operations are the most important contemporary tool for multilateral conflict management around the world and have historically distinguished themselves from other types of military interventions by adhering to three fundamental principles such as consent of the parties; L'impartiality andlimited (and appropriate) use of force.

MONUSCO and MINUSMA, as well as MINUSCA, the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic (CAR), are large-scale peace operations with stabilization mandates, they collect the bulk of the 'blue helmets' deployed around the world, but are at the center of growing internal and external pressures that make their end, or in the best of cases, their resettlement, to be glimpsed. Unlike the old missions that focus on maintaining peace agreements between warring parties, MONUSCO, MINUSMA and MINUSCA are all tasked with helping the state government deal with violent internal challenges and assert their leadership, reflecting the dramatic change the nature of the conflicts that have emerged since the end of the Cold War, where the predominant conflicts are intra-state ones to the detriment, up to now, of inter-state ones. In these missions, the UN is explicitly intervening on the side of the state and the peacekeepers have been accused of using force in defense of state authority, which lacks legitimacy. But peace operations that undertake offensive military action (applying Chapter VII of the UN Charter) challenge the principles of impartiality el 'limited use of force, leaving only the consent to distinguish UN operations from other types of military interventions.

Consent is key

Traditionally, consensus is based on the approval of the host government, even when the state itself that is rescued by UN action is a notorious violator of the human (but also economic and social) rights of its population.

While MONUSCO still operates today with the consent of the Congolese government, it is clear that the civilian population is not very favorable to the presence of the 'blue helmets' and this above all in the seething eastern region, where enormous natural wealth, interests of neighboring countries make the explosive area. The mission failed to address the security problems of civilian populations in the east and for decades (MONUC, the mission that preceded MONUSCO began deployment in 1999 [sic]), thousands of soldiers have been rotated by half the world but nothing has changed on the pitch. Furthermore, the behavior of international soldiers towards the civilian population that they should protect from violence is so deplorable that they open deep wounds due to serious and prolonged abuses and that can be easily exploited by those who want to turn an exasperated population against the UN.

As a general aspiration, the interventions of the United Nations are undertaken in the service of people, not just states. In one interpretation, a whole body of international obligations stems from the initial declaration of the United Nations Charter that peoples, not states, enter into a pact to save subsequent generations from the scourge of war. In this interpretation, the UN mandate is not simply about defending state sovereignty and the preferences of member states, but about the security, dignity and protection of people, ideas that are reflected in the mandate to protect civilians that each mission multidimensional authorized since 1999 received by the Security Council. In practice, both local activists and scholars have argued that peace takes root only when international actors invest in local communities and when political solutions that center the concerns of the local population have a way and a way to develop.

Missions focused on state security rather than people's will and security explicitly make peacekeepers another potential source of instability in areas already fraught with threats to ordinary people. This more securitized and coercive version of peace operations runs counter to the United Nations' vision of peacekeeping and peacebuilding that emphasizes the "primacy of politics." The missions in Mali, DRC and CAR, on the other hand, act with the explicit consent of the host state in order to support and extend the power of the nation often working alongside state forces to counter the groups that it has identified as rebels. .

In Mali, MINUSMA's sustainability was in question long before the military coups: as the UN Secretary General's 2018 report noted, an independent analysis from that year concluded that the mission "Was faced with a dilemma between the need to reform and reconstitute the Malian defense and security forces and at the same time support the existing forces in dealing with the current situation of stability", and that only a "Clear regional policy framework" it would make mission objectives achievable.

Today, as we have seen, the mission cannot move freely; cannot investigate alleged human rights violations; only after a month of suspension to alternate troops; finally, while there is an underlying political process on paper, in practice it is empty. Furthermore, the instability of regional security arrangements raises further questions about the mission's ability to implement its mandate.

MINUSMA depended heavily on French, European and African counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel, which had formed a unique architecture of external forces with over 21.000 troops deployed across the region. This architecture is in flux, having proved ineffective and largely unpopular (it must be admitted that the narrative of some media about the welcome by local populations to international forces, wherever they are, is a legend fueled for internal policy purposes by many states that participate in those operations to make them acceptable to their own opinions public). In addition, the same states that formally invite the UN to deploy, very often have no other choice and many governments do not look favorably on foreign soldiers to circulate freely on their territory.

Mali is not the first host state to be so openly hostile to the peacekeepers. Perhaps the best known example is the United Nations operation in Sudan in the early 2000s, carried out without the consent of the Sudanese government, which went out of its way to sabotage its work and freedom of movement. Yet MINUSMA's mandate to stabilize Mali makes the situation unusual: the 'blue helmets' are on the ground to help the Malian government fight jihadists and terrorists while they are accepted with increasing difficulty by the same government they are supposed to help (and this malaise towards the 'blue helmets' is present both DRC and CAR, at the government and local public opinion level). The political context has changed so radically that MINUSMA may no longer be in a position to operate in its current form and mandate. Renegotiations of this year's mandate at the UN Security Council also proved very difficult: the transitional government and Russian mercenaries were accused of being involved in atrocities against civilians, and Russia initially opposed the draft resolution. that tackled human rights violations and local restrictions on MINUSMA movements and came up with an attenuated solution to avoid the Moscow veto, which would have meant the total end of the misison and therefore the lesser evil was chosen.

The United Nations Security Council, now increasingly divided internally, simply tends to renew mandates and repeat the language and terms of commitment when possible, instead of having to completely renegotiate the terms of an intervention, and this approach favors compromise solutions to the downside. In the case of Mali, DRC and CAR, this approach places peacekeepers in an increasingly hostile environment with little noticeable benefit while leaving the door open to their near demise or (costly) irrelevance.

Two potential options are open for these three missions: be re-authorized as more effective and with clear mandates, enforceable and clearly negotiated with host nations, or put an end to them. A "third option" would be to prioritize the protection of civilians and document human rights violations, tasks that require the consent governments are clearly reluctant to give.

In more general terms, the protests in the DRC raise questions about the current nature and prospects of peace operations. They cannot do their jobs when the local population does not want them there, and UN operations without the consent of the local people are mere exercises to defend state sovereignty, not attempts to build lasting peace. And operating in dangerous circumstances without the consent of the host state or the ability to protect people from state violence or a clear peace to be maintained, as they are doing in Mali, DRC and CAR, risks further damaging the position of the UN and the its residual prestige. Building consensus at multiple levels is the key to the lasting success of UN peacekeeping operations and the cornerstone for finding lasting political solutions to conflicts.

The UN has tools and techniques to promote local peacebuilding efforts and focusing these tools and techniques to build consensus and consensus on the UN presence in local communities should be a key part of any mission. And, where host state consent is not possible, humanitarian and diplomatic goals - not security goals - should be the central axis of the UN's efforts in a conflict. Otherwise, UN peacekeeping operations risk being left in a quagmire between divergent and unattainable goals, such as protecting people and solving security problems..

But if the UN is in the process of losing consensus in Africa, the USA, one of the most important states of the organization, in one of the numerous, but so far not very conclusive returns, are in search of it. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was on tour in Africa with the announcement of the Joe Biden administration's policy towards the continent as a highlight of the visit. The new strategy was launched during the South African leg of the tour that also took Blinken to DRC and Rwanda between 7 and 12 August. Blinken's country-specific discussions in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda are not to be defined as irrelevant, but as part of the US global strategy to contain Russian and Chinese pressure, and consolidate the anti-Moscow and Beijing front. in every sphere, including that of the United Nations, considered by Washington as basic and legitimizing. However, the announcement of the new policy for the entire continent is the most significant development with far-reaching ramifications in the immediate, medium and long term.

It is the tradition of most American administrations to set up political and economic projects and initiatives towards Africa, whether they are well structured and articulated or simply ad hoc and disordered. The importance of these policies is that they shape relationships through trade and investment, political and diplomatic engagements, assistance through various humanitarian agencies and initiatives, and military relations. According to an improper vulgate, Donald Trump's administration (2016-2020) would have made Africa disappear from its global political agenda. To be sure, the Trump administration hasn't completely neglected Africa. One of the highlights of the Trump administration's engagement with Africa was the 2018 launch of prosper africa, an inter-agency entity that provides a coordination mechanism for commercial and investment programs.

That prosper africa continue to exist during the Biden era, so ideologically poles apart, it shows that something good for Africa also came from the Trump administration. However, the Trump administration did not design a global strategy, aside from casual statements by officials at the time - such as former National Councilor John Bolton - often based on the United States' exclusive need to stand up to China and Russia on the continent.

Basically, a constant approach is lacking, replaced by moments of interest and phases of stagnation. The latest US global strategy towards Africa was formulated ten years ago in 2012 by the Barrack Obama administration. That policy had given priority to strengthening democratic institutions; stimulate economic growth, trade and investment; promoting peace and security; and, promoting opportunities and development through initiatives in the fields of health, food safety, climate change. While these issues remain relevant to Africa-US relations in 2022, political, economic, security and geopolitical circumstances have changed exponentially in the United States, Africa and around the world.

During the first months of Biden's presidency, there was optimism in Africa about better relations with the then new administration. Some of the optimisms have been bolstered by the appointment of personalities believed to be in tune with African causes and interests, starting with Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the United Nations.

While analysts, scholars and strategists await the formal policy, there are first indications on the key aspects, which recall what was proposed by Washignton on the occasion of the Pan American Summit of Los Angeles and Biden's trip to Korea and Japan: democracy, good governance and respect for human rights, support for security (through AFRICOM), politics should be expected to include the theme of "economic prosperity", which be inclusive and consider not just the interests of American companies, which made offers to the Indo-Pacific and Latin America rather weak.

Photo: United Nations Mission in the DR Congo - Monusco

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