The continued fighting in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is yet another vivid example of the permanent state of insecurity facing many people in Africa today because of the inaction of the continent’s premier body the African Union.
The task of bring peace and stability to the DRC is mainly down to the UN, which is really on the back foot even though the peacekeeping force in the troubled country is the largest in the world.
“Our mission is so far the largest peacekeeping mission deployed around the world and we are facing all the challenges that peacekeeping have to face today,” the peacekeepers’ force commander, Lieutenant-General Babacar Gaye, told journalists last week. “This means the use of force, the protection of civilians and so on and so forth.” Lt.-Gen. Gaye stressed the drastic need for extra troops on the ground to implement his force’s protection mandate.
“Everything is on track but unfortunately the first boots are still expected.”
He said that his force was soon receive a Bangladeshi battalion, an Egyptian battalion, a Jordanian special force company, an Egyptian special force company and a Bangladeshi engineer company. “Unfortunately, we are yet to have the 18 helicopters that have been authorised by the [Security] Council,” he added.
This rather confused manner in which the UN is dealing with the fighting in the DRC has not helped matters.
The world body has 17,000 so-called peacekeepers in the DRC, but so far they have failed woefully to help the stricken Congolese people. In the recent past the peacekeepers have accused of sexual abuse of young children, mining and gun-running. To crown it all, the quality of the troops has been described as poor.
Well, with UN peacekeeping these days it appears that it is big business for impoverished nations whose nationals form the bulk of troops that are sent to the world’s trouble spots.
The UN currently pays $1,028 to troop-contributing countries for each peacekeeper’s monthly salary and allowances. It also provides each month, $303 as supplementary pay for specialists, $68 for personal clothing, gear and equipment and $5 for weaponry.
Why, you might then ask, with this sort of money the peacekeepers are involved in money-making schemes in the DRC that are totally at variance with their mandate? It’s obvious, isn’t it? They do not get the full whack from their governments. But having said that, the various troop-contributing countries still pay their soldiers on peacekeeping missions a lot more than they would receive at home.
If you are a soldier from Pakistan or Bangladesh the top two peacekeeping troop-contributing countries and you see your salary of, say, $100 a month jump to $600, shouldn’t that be enough incentive to protect vulnerable civilians?
But can you blame them if they err? If Africans are at each other’s throat and the AU is impotent to act, why should outsiders care? And in a region rich in natural resources, the temptations are great.
Those who have profited most from the activities of the rebels and government troops are Western companies. Congo’s eastern provinces of North and South Kivu are notable for cassiterite (tin ore), gold and coltan.
The mineral trade has underpinned the war since 1998. Almost all the main armed groups involved in the conflict, as well as soldiers of the national Congolese army, have been trading illegally in these minerals for years, with complete impunity. Many have been taxing the civilian population and extorting minerals or cash along the roads or at border crossings.
In August 2008, the non-governmental organisation, Global Witness, documented extensive involvement of armed groups and Congolese army units in the cassiterite and gold trade in North and South Kivu. Global Witness complained that the buyers and Western companies trading in minerals from eastern DRC were failing to take responsibility for breaking the link between the mineral trade and the continuing violence.
What’s new? Western companies have always been quick to make capital out of African countries whose citizens gratuitously kill each other. Africans never learn. What is the essence of fighting and destroying your environment while someone else’s is improving his life all the while at your expense?
Even for the rebels who get their hands on these natural resources and sell them, what benefits do they get? Not much, I guess. Indeed the money is frittered away on buying more arms and ammunition from Western arms dealers to continue to despoil their country’s natural resources for the benefit of others.
It doesn’t make sense.
The poor people of eastern DRC must be at a loss to see such madness taking place among them.
They must be wondering whether the rebels and government forces, for that matter, care about the well being of the DRC. They must also be wondering what the AU’s Peace and Security Council is doing. Not much, really.
The AU has not been up to the task of providing security for Africans who are in distress.
Instead it is depending on the international community to bail Africa out.
As always, outsiders have to be the ones asked to heal Africa’s self-inflicted wounds. Why should the international community take the initiative in such matters, which have everything to do with Africans themselves? It really does not tell well on the continent. Indeed, this sort of dependency on the UN prompted Alex de Waal to note in a book looking at how Africa could let go of the apron strings of others: “Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region of the world where the United Nations can fulfil its mandate in all its breadth. Aid to refugees, assistance to children, food aid, peacekeeping, environmental protection, human rights advocacy, development planning all can be pursued in Africa.”
Aren’t there governments in Africa that are supposed to assume such responsibilities?
Finally, let’s expose the falseness of the argument that African militaries do not have the wherewithal to mount rapid peacekeeping missions. Surely, in almost all African countries the lion’s share of the national budget goes to the armed forces? That being the case, where’s the problem in providing military protection for the people of the DRC, Darfur and Somalia?
The answer is that the continent’s leaders do not really care about acting on behalf of distressed Africans.
By Desmond Davies