Speaking on behalf of the A3+1 group in the UN Security Council, South Africa’s senior representative at the world body warned against “a budget-driven rushed exit” of MONUSCO from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Leila Zerrougui, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ special representative, in September indicated MONUSCO, the French acronym for the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC, was “in the process of demilitarising and closing offices, in view of its withdrawal from the country”.
In October, the mission and the Congolese government submitted a “Joint Strategy on the Progressive and Phased Drawdown of MONUSCO” to the UN Security Council.
MONUSCO is currently in six of the DR Congo’s 26 provinces with over 18 000 uniformed personnel made up of military personnel and officers as well as police and a thousand plus police “formed unit” members. The UN on 7 December said by June 2021, MONUSCO will withdraw completely from the Kasais province and by June 2022 it will be able to withdraw from Tanganyika province, should stabilisation continue.
The DRC government agrees, in the coming years, that MONUSCO will consolidate its footprint in North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri provinces where conflict persists, while continuing good offices work and institutional strengthening at national level.
Ambassador Jerry Matjila this week said A3+1 (Niger, South Africa, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Tunisia) are in accord that the Security Council should provide MONUSCO “with all the necessary means to execute its mandate in close collaboration with the DRC government”.
“A budget-driven rushed MONUSCO exit would be disastrous and undermine decades of investment in peacekeeping,” he said. He added the peacekeeping mission in the central African country, along with its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), should be “adequately capacitated to address challenges with regard to the effectiveness of the entire UN mission without compromising existing capacity including key force enablers,” the South African senior diplomat said.
He went on to say the A3+1’s delegation supported the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) pledged regional support to developing and implementing a joint strategy on a progressive, phased withdrawal of MONUSCO, the largest UN mission of its kind.
Force Intervention Brigade (FIB)
Matjila welcomed reconfiguration of the FIB. This will include “strengthening” the brigade’s headquarters with staff offices from non-FIB troop contributing countries (TCCs).
“This will ensure the FIB’s operational effectiveness to conduct targeted operations against negative forces in eastern DRC and protection of civilians (sic).”
According to him, the southern African regional bloc wants “accelerated approval of all planned operational order directed at conducting targeted operations against negative forces jointly with FARDC (the DRC defence force) and or singlehandedly, as the continued delays embolden armed groups’ attacks against the defenceless population in eastern DRC”.
ISS (Institute for Security Studies) senior researcher Gustavo de Carvalho said the UN “has for some time” wanted to change the FIB, not least because it takes a major part of MONUSCO’s $1.2 billion a year budget.
He wrote in a paper titled “Reinventing the FIB” the SADC, until recently, resisted UN pressure to “cut down” on the brigade, the only UN peacekeeping force with an offensive mandate.
“SADC at last backed down. At an extraordinary summit of its security organ in Gaborone on 27 November, SADC accepted a proposal by the UN to realign current FIB troop strength to create headroom for Quick Reaction Forces (QRFs) and generate two QRFs from the SADC TCCs.”
MONUSCO’s mandate dates back to July 2010, when it took over from an earlier UN peacekeeping operation, the UN Organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).
South African soldiers are mandated to deploy with MONUSCO, with the responsibility currently falling to 15 SA Infantry Battalion from Thohoyandou. The Limpopo–headquartered unit replaced the Zeerust, North West-headquartered 2 SA Infantry Battalion, which served an extended period in the central African country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The other major South African component of MONUSCO is the SA Air Force (SAAF) composite helicopter unit (CHU) at Goma in eastern DRC. The unit’s combat support Rooivalk and medium transport Oryx rotary-winged aircraft are widely acknowledged as making a significant contribution to MONUSCO’s overall success.
The UN is expected to extend MONUSCO’s mandate, which expires on 20 December.