1 January is commencement day of withdrawal for the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where South Africa is the fifth largest troop contributing country (TCC).
The withdrawal was made public in what MONUSCO (UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in DRC) and the country’s government termed “a disengagement plan” late last month. In the absence of firm dates, a defenceWeb request was told the first day of the new year will see the withdrawal process begin.
This publication was informed the first phase of disengagement is at “an advanced stage” and will lead to complete withdrawal of MONUSCO military and police personnel from South Kivu by 30 April 2024. The withdrawal will see 14 MONUSCO bases handed to the DRC government.
Phase two is withdrawal from North Kivu during the second half of next year. This will follow “a full evaluation” of the first phase and will see “sequential withdrawal of forces from the central sector to ensure MONUSCO protection tasks can be carried out in Goma while the disengagement process is underway”.
The Kivu withdrawal will see a further 22 MONUSCO bases handed to DRC government authorities.
The third phase, according to the mission, will start post phase two evaluation and see MONUSCO exit the Ituri province.
The South African commitment to MONUSCO comprises a battalion component of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), a quick reaction force (QRF), an intelligence unit and the combined helicopter unit (CHU) manned with Oryx and Rooivalk as well as a level two SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) facility in Goma.
The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) presence in the DRC in the long term remains unclear, with the SANDF indicating it will stay put for now.
The MONUSCO exit was first put on the table at the UN Security Council in September 2022 when President Félix Tshisekedi and his Vice Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Francophony, Christophe Lutundula, “reiterated their country’s desire to accelerate withdrawal” starting in December 2023.
“We want this withdrawal to be a model that will give us greater international respectability and help us improve our country’s image. This document contains a plan for the disengagement of the MONUSCO force and a plan for transferring tasks and responsibilities from MONUSCO to the government of the DRC. We foresee a quarterly evaluation mechanism to enable regular stocktaking of the situation and minimise any sudden disruptions that could lead to a security vacuum,” Lutundula is reported as saying.
MONUSCO Head Bintou Keita said the mission worked with Congolese authorities toward “accelerated” withdrawal in “a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect”.
MONUSCO came into being on 1 July 2010 in the wake of the closure of MONUC (UN Organisation Mission in DRC) and became the first authorised to use “all necessary means”, including force, to carry out its mandate. This authorisation saw the establishment of the FIB, staffed by three Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries – Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa. All three number in the top 10 TCCs with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia, Morocco and Uruguay.