To do good is not enough

Its been almost ten months since this incident. I didn’t share it then, because I was of two minds about publicizing this, a little nervous about the PR and dealing with much bigger issues at the time. But I’ll share it today, because it warrants sharing…finally.

As a caveat – let it be said, that though I despise the UN, thanks to the people I’ve interacted with, while in Congo and Haiti, I would never make up lies to justify this disgust. Every bit of it, is well-deserved.

In September 2011 a UN military observer in Bukavu, DR Congo assaulted me. He grabbed my arm and twisted it around me till I was bent over in pain, because I dared to help a then – friend, that he was harassing. He stood over me while I was bent forward, unable to move, and this drunk member of the Russian UN force began whispering what I thank God I was unable to understand, in my ear, in his native tongue. I wrestled myself out of his grip and walked out of the restaurant/bar with what little dignity I could muster to go comfort my terrified companion.

A few days passed, during which I worked up the courage to hang this MILOB out to dry. I placed a complaint with the UN’s disciplinary agency in Congo and pushed it till the very end. They eventually asked me to choose among having him court marshaled, removed from his duty-post and/or a public apology. I chose his removal from his post.

I was fearful about the ramifications of my decision at the time. Would they place this obviously misogynistic and racist man with a gun, within arms length of a Congolese woman who would be less inclined to stand up for her rights the way that I had? Would my name forever go down in UN archives as a whistle-blower? Would I ever be respected at UN meetings again, if someone found out that I was pushing for the highest punishment for someone who twisted my arm? What was the right choice? Should I eat humble pie and accept his apology? Why did I even push this complaint, I wasn’t scared of him, what did I care?

But I did care. I cared because military observers in the worst place to be a woman should not come from racist and misogynistic cultures. They should not be there, wielding their weapons against a people they don’t care about and seem to hate. They should not be paid exorbitant salaries for cruising through town with their aviator sunglasses, spitting on the streets, scorning the people they’re meant to “protect”. They should not be out all night, partying with prostitutes and further destroying the people they are meant to “serve”. They should not only monitor expat-populated areas and they should not be allowed to go unscathed after approaching a woman – of any race or nationality – in a threatening manner.

This MILOB was later repatriated to his home country and court marshaled. After I requested his removal, he found himself in another fight, and this second complaint against him, resulted in his being sent home for his own country to deal with his lack of self control and anger issues.

I am proud of this decision to report this military observer. My complaint meant that the second time he got into an altercation, he was swiftly removed. He was scum and he is only part of the reason why I now throw up a little in my mouth each time someone mentions the ‘good-work’ of the UN. Such a noble concept – completely ruined by the egos and money-grubbing, violent attitudes of men.

I often mention that the real problem facing so many war-torn and developing nations is not the lack of aid, but rather too many ill-intentioned aid-workers.  No recruitment process is perfect, but the UN MUST work to ensure that the people they are sending into the field are not maniacal drunkards who hate women. Is it a joke that a Muslim nation – a culture that is notorious for mistreating the fairer sex, forms the majority of the UN mission in a country already plagued with a disrespect and hatred toward women? Is it funny that these UN observers spend their nights with prostitutes at local watering holes, trade sex for supplies and still tout themselves as “humanitarians” and “brave soldiers”? When in fact – I have real-life stories of women getting raped in front of UN bases, frightened people running away from their persecutors begging the friendly neighborhood UN observer for assistance, and my own personal experiences of almost being run over by sleek UN vehicles speeding down the street and being treated like dirt by UN soldiers because I am a black woman with no desire to kiss their combat boots or elsewhere? I wonder if I were just another Congolese woman, if my complaint against this UN MILOB would have gone further than a uniform’s desk? Doubtful.

My last few months in Congo, taught me a lot about the dark underbelly of the aid and development world – that I am privileged and troubled to share with you here. Mostly it just made me ponder – where are the good people?

To do good, is not to don a uniform. To do good, is not to brandish a weapon in the name of a questionable peace. To simply do good…is not enough unless one means good.

Good is not accidental.

4 thoughts on “To do good is not enough

  1. Wow. Thank you for sharing such an awful story and I’m sorry/mad that that happened to you. And way to go for reporting it and pushing to make sure appropriate consequences were taken. Meaning good…..not so simple and so so awful when those that are supposed to be doing good are doing the opposite.

  2. This is very dismaying, to say the least. It resonates with a story I heard on the CBC radio of similar abuse of women by UN staff in, if I’m not mistaken, the Baltic countries. I believe there was a documentary about it, but investigations were thwarted so that no one was ever held accountable. So your success is to be congratulated. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to do it, I am sure you spared other women a lot of grief. I only hope others follow your example.

    • Thank you for your comment ER. I only hope that this particular UN observer was prevented from being violent with more women, local or expat. But he is just one of so many.

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