The Fantasy of Neutrality

In February of this year an accord was signed in Addis Ababa to negotiate yet another tentative peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The accord called for the deployment of a neutral international force in the DRC tasked with, according to Ban Ki Moon, “containing the expansion of both Congolese and foreign armed groups, neutralizing these groups, and disarming them”.

The main difference between this force and the MONUSCO peacekeeping troops is more than just syntax and mandate however, this force is permitted to use aggressive action before being attacked. They will be peace “enforcers” not just peace “keepers.

The term peace “enforcers” is ominous, particularly since peace “keeping” has failed so miserably in the first place. There are several concerns surrounding this force and its implementation.

Firstly, will it ever happen? The United Nations goes by far less flattering monikers in this nation, playing off their lack of follow-through. Only a few months ago, the UN was not in favor of deploying an international force, recently Ban Ki Moon called upon the UN Security Council to back the proposal.  Things are carded to get moving at the end of the month and we wait with bated breath to see if this force will actually be deployed and how exactly.

The United Nations, particularly MONUSCO is notorious for being excellent at accords, deals and reports but much less so at actually implementing. A Congo political analyst blogged late last year his own opinion as to why MONUSCO has failed in Congo, explaining that it, “has been stripped of what it does best, brokering a political peace process, and has been reduced to what it is worst at – military protection”.  Now, yet another military unit is being added to its mission. One has to wonder at the logic behind adding additional logs to a fire that is out of control.

Yet another concern is that it is still a bit blurry as to how this force will work exactly. While it will be contained within MONUSCO, where do they fall in rank compared to peacekeepers? Are they autonomous? Who is responsible for them? The AU, the ICGLR, the countries that have supplied the troops, the Security Council? There is far too much gray area and too many unanswered questions, the existence of which, most Congolese citizens are unaware of. When I asked a few locals about when the force would be deployed, most of them did not even know what I was talking about.  The issue with special brigades such as these, is that it is always unclear to whom they answer to, which is really the ultimate issue with the neutral international force – there is no such thing.

Neutrality is a fantasy. Particularly, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a place where guns are wielded more in the interest of economics than of peace. It is shockingly idealistic of the United Nations to believe that a force comprised of soldiers from different countries will remain neutral and will not seek their own country’s interests, and of course their own personal interests. It is with this same blissful ignorance that some of the members of the UN Security Council are among the largest arms traders in the world, those same countries brokering for carefully calculated peace.  An African journalist, questions “will this force come to stop M23, or to dig and trade in shiny pebbles?”  We wait to see.

Perhaps it is naïve of me to wonder why it makes sense to the farcical international community to deploy yet another military unit into a country already overrun with military and paramilitary groups. So many that it is hard to tell the difference among them. Or better yet, why the response to the gross military failures of MONUSCO, is to supply another military force to operate beneath their auspices…but not really.  We wait to see what the deployment of this international force will bring, and if its soldiers will truly be as neutral as their uniforms and titles claim them to be.


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