The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a volatile place that can change quickly and the threat of armed rebel groups attacking civilians is still very real, according to a South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Major stationed in the country.
The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) was established on 1 July 2010 with the mandate to protect civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders against the threat of violence by armed rebel groups. In addition, to support the government of the DRC in stabilisation and peace consolidating efforts.
Ten years on from Monusco’s inception, the threat of armed rebel groups attacking civilians and carrying out illegal agendas is still very real, predominately in the North Kivu region in the easter DRC. As recently as December 2019, the village of Kamango in North Kivu, bordering Uganda, was attacked by a group said to be the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group with the intent to create an Islamic state. Seven people were killed including woman and a baby shot in the thigh. Some villagers recall Ugandan dialect being spoken by the ADF during the attack.
Major Clint Van Jaarsveld, the head of operational security and security awareness for the South African contingent deployed in the DRC, states the country is a reasonably volatile area and can change from minute to minute.
The ADF and other armed rebel groups in North Kivu have been pushed back to good effect recently, but Van Jaarsveld stated that they are still fighting for territory. The ADF is the main rebel group present in the DRC and as Van Jaarsveld said, “There are various armed groups that are also established in the DRC itself and they basically fight for their own territories within the areas. So, you’ll have armed groups fighting amongst one another as well for territories.”
These rebel groups are using mainly small arms and machetes to attack civilians, leaving the local population with the feeling that the UN is not doing enough to protect them. Van Jaarsveld said this is translating in a stronger effort to support and protect the local population as well as provide them with resources. “The basic idea is that the UN is not doing enough and that the armed groups will utilise that to discredit the UN and their activities here.” The UN does interact with the local communities, Van Jaarsfeld said: “There is a lot of inter-activity with the chiefs of the various communities.”
The Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) is the state organisation tasked with defending the DRC. The FARDC has recently had issues with payment and subsequently, there are reports that their soldiers are taking money illegally from citizens in the form of road blocks and other means. Van Jaarsveld was unable to comment on these accusations but did state, “We are in support of them and they may have one or two issues from time to time but that’s within their internal management.”
“I think a lot of South Africans would think that we’re here just fighting but there are smaller, behind the scenes elements such as the Ebola [crisis] within the DRC. So, there are those health issues, there are those safety concerns, there are those personnel hygiene issues and putting that all in a nutshell, I put that under the banner of safety and security,” Van Jaarsveld said.
Van Jaarsveld was happy to report that there have been no casualties (under his deployment) and stated, “If I can make our contingent security aware and they just listen to one part of my briefing during security awareness briefings and they come back safely, then I have done my part.”
The UN mission in the DRC is not only about fighting rebel groups seeking territory and resources but facilitates the protection and safety of civilians and troops. Although the UN has cut back on engagements with armed rebel groups and the Ebola epidemic in the DRC seems to be coming to an end, safety and security remains a top priority.