The United Nations withdraws from the Democratic Republic of Congo

(To Guglielmo Maria Barbetta)

The gradual withdrawal of the MONUSCO Mission officially began on 29 February (Mission of the United Nations Organization for the Stabilization of the Democratic Republic of Congo) from the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo1.

The United Nations Peacekeeping Mission, launched in 2005 with the task of protecting civilians and maintaining stability in the area, has transferred command of operations to the Congolese national police, officially starting the demobilization process (to be completed by 31/ 12/2024)2.

Currently, more than 15.000 peacekeepers of the UN are still operational in the three most problematic provinces of the region: South Kivu, North Kivu and Ituri3.

The request to withdraw the peacekeepers was expressed directly by the Congolese government and the current president, Felix Tshisekedi. The latter, recently confirmed as leader of the country after a controversial election4, harshly criticized the mission's work, highlighting its ineffectiveness in countering the over 100 armed groups wreaking havoc in the east of the country and in ensuring the protection of civilians from internal violence (an opinion which, moreover, seems to be widely shared by the local population).

The insecurity of the DRC

The estrangement of peacekeepers takes place in a context of growing violence in the eastern regions of the DRC, the epicenter of a conflict that had its origins already during the end of the genocide in Rwanda in 19945.

Although multiple peace agreements have attempted to resolve the problem, the conflict persists above all due to the presence of numerous military groups (supported, in various ways, by neighboring countries, first and foremost Rwanda).

Currently, it is estimated that the departure of the operators will only increase insecurity in the country (one of the most unstable places on the continent) and there is a fear that the absence of international troops will create a real power vacuum: this it could strengthen the armed groups and militias present in the region, which terrorize local populations and exploit the area's mineral wealth. The region, in fact, holds more than 70% of global cobalt reserves and other crucial resources for the so-called "energy transition" (such as bauxite or coltan)6.

Because of the conflict, Congo matters one of the highest levels of internally displaced people in the world (about 7 million people affected).

Another “Gaza Strip”?

After a quarter of a century of presence and with an annual budget of over a billion dollars (which made it the most prolonged and expensive peacekeeping mission in the history of the United Nations), the MONUSCO Mission ends its mandate with the bitter taste of failure.

Over the years, the fragility of Kinshasa's government in the country's east and the involvement of neighboring countries in supporting evolving rebel alliances have helped create what the United Nations calls "one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world". However, unlike other crises, the situation in Congo attracts little attention from the international community. Recently, it was the national football team that brought Congo back to world attention, when before the semi-final of the Africa Cup of Nations7, the players took to the field with one hand over their mouth and one at their temple, simulating a gun.

In the country, the situation is often compared to that in Ukraine and the crisis in the Middle East, so much so that Mediacongo channels have defined the province of Kivu "la Bande de Gaza africaine oubliée (the forgotten African Gaza Strip)"8, wondering why the international community has not yet sanctioned Rwanda.

On the contrary, on February 19 this year, the European Commission and the Kigali government signed Memorandum of Understanding (i.e. a Memorandum of Understanding) for the exploitation of "strategic raw materials"9. On the same day, in Goma (capital of the province of North Kivu), residents burned French and US flags in protest against Western indifference.