Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa of Kisangani says that two decades of peacekeeping have not brought the desired result of peace to the Congo.
By Fredrick Nzwili, OSV News
NAIROBI, Kenya — Even though the U.N. troops have been in the country for more than two decades aiming to bring peace and stability, a Congolese archbishop said the mission’s results are “too weak and too little.”
His remarks come amid rising calls for an accelerated departure of the stabilization force.
Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa of Kisangani, president of the bishops’ conference of Congo, said the eastern parts of the country were still yearning for peace and security, despite the troop’s presence in the region for more than two decades as part of MONUSCO — the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“MONUSCO has spent more than 20 years in Congo, but the result of their work is so weak, so little. It has not brought security in the region,” Archbishop Tapa told OSV News. “Partners have to respect their commitment. … The best result remains (unresolved) — peace in that part of the country.”
Archbishop Tapa’s comments came as the region buried over 40 people killed in an army crackdown of violent anti-U.N. protests in the eastern Congo city of Goma. Nearly 56 others were injured and over 150 arrested in the crackdown in late August.
“We are extremely alarmed that at least 43 people were killed, including a policeman,” U.N. Human Rights Office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told a briefing in Geneva Sept. 1, Reuters reported.
“We are concerned that people have died in the protests. I condemn that. The Church promotes dignity, and the right to life, and life is a special gift from God. Everyone’s life must be protected,” Archbishop Tapa told OSV News.
The mission has faced protests since 2022 — due to complaints of the people of Congo that it has failed to protect civilians against decades of militia violence. An anti-MONUSCO protest in July 2022 resulted in at least 15 deaths, including three peacekeepers in Goma and the city of Butembo, according to Reuters.
In the provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu of eastern Congo, a mineral-rich African country the size of Western Europe, a deadly conflict has unfolded for decades. An intricate mix of regional politics, ethnic and national rivalries, and a fight for the control of the mineral resources have fueled the conflict, according to analysts.
More than 120 armed groups are active in eastern Congo with many of them regularly killing, kidnapping, raping women and girls, and sometimes attacking churches.
The U.N. peacekeeping troops have been assisting the Congolese army, known by the French acronym FARDC, in an offensive against the armed groups, but militia violence has been escalating with the local populations bearing the brunt. Recently, attacks by deadly groups such as the March 23 Movement, the Islamic State-linked Allied Democratic Forces and the Cooperative for the Development of Congo have surged.
The force’s presence, its departure and the future of Congo has been a source of tensions and populist debates in the central African country. Now, the U.N. troops are no longer welcome in eastern Congo.
On Sept. 20, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly, President Felix Tshisekedi said an accelerated withdrawal of the troops was necessary to ease tensions between the peacekeeping force and the local populations.
“It is time for our country to take full control of its destiny and become the main actor in its own stability,” said Tshisekedi. He said that the mission of peacekeepers “has not succeeded in confronting the rebellions and armed conflicts … nor in protecting the civilian populations.
He added it is “illusory and counterproductive to continue to cling to the maintenance of MONUSCO to restore peace.”
In August, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres confirmed that the 15,000 soldiers and police officers will leave the country in an “accelerated withdrawal.” At the same time, U.N. chief said the body’s mission is entering its’ “final phase” and warned that the situation in the country has “deteriorated sharply.”
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo started in July 1999, under the name MONUC and aimed to use all necessary means to protect civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders and support the government stabilization and peace consolidation efforts.
However, the general feeling among the local population and politicians is that this is not happening.
“The main reason (is) that the U.N. has been in Congo for more than 26 years now and nothing has changed in the situation of the country. On the contrary, it looks as if the security situation has gone from bad to worse,” said Father Dennis Dashong Pam, an assistant provincial superior of the Missionaries of Africa in the Central African province.
According to the priest, ordinary people are being killed around the U.N. bases but the forces never respond unless or until when the troops are attacked. In 2022, an estimated 1800 people died from the violence in the three provinces, according to the U.N.
“So the population is asking why they are there and if their presence is helping solve the problem, if at all it will ever be solved,” he said.
“There has also been reports of the U.N. trafficking minerals and arming some of the rebels, cases of sexual abuse, or exchange of food for sex,” the cleric said.
Featured image: A United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo armoured personnel carrier drives through a road in Rhoe camp for the internally displaced people in Ituri, Congo April 20, 2023. Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa of Kisangani, president of the bishops’ conference of Congo, recently called for more effective assistance from the international community. (OSV News photo/Paul Lorgerie, Reuters)