To many in South African military circles he is the epitome of the professional officer and further testimony to this comes with the renewal of Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi’s contract as MONUSCO Force Commander in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for a further 12 month period.
This was confirmed to defenceWeb this week by Charles Bambara, director of the MONUSCO public information division in Kinshasa, and follows the extension of the mission’s mandate by the UN Security council – albeit with reduced troop numbers – for another year.
Mgwebi took up the post at the start of last year after being appointed by then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for a year. Bambara told defenceWeb: “General Mgwebi is still in charge as MONUSCO Force Commander. I am not aware of any plan for him to leave the mission soon and, like all staff in a peacekeeping mission, contracts are renewed once a year”.
The three star general, who headed up the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) Joint Operations Division before being named as the top man for the single largest peacekeeping operation being undertaken by the world body, said one of the major obstacles he saw as MONUSCO Force Commander was the existence and positioning of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
He recently told the SANDF publication SA Soldier: “The FIB can know the base, for example, of one armed grouping is about 10 km away, but they cannot attack because that would be called target operations and this is not allowed because they can only protect civilians.
“This is frustrating. The Security Council, when they renewed our mandate, was informed by us of the clause that said the FIB will neutralise armed groupings. It should rather say the MONUSCO force will neutralise and conduct targeted and offensive operations”.
As far as challenges facing the mission are concerned Mgwebi said both the MONUSCO mandate and the attitude of the host country to the UN are critical in making the mission successful.
Other challenges he listed were armed groups wearing the same uniforms as FARDC (the DRC defence force) “making it difficult in dealing with them”; the size of the country, absence of infrastructure such as roads and bridges restricting movement and affecting operations; the lack of political progress and armed groups entering villages to attack and kill civilians.
Mgwebi is nevertheless adamant that MONUSCO’s military component has made “a tangible contribution” to implementation of the overall mission mandate.
“Military peacekeepers in Congo are deployed in areas where innocent civilians and displaced communities require the most protection. The FIB continues to support FARDC to maintain peace in Eastern DRC and to neutralise armed groups terrorising innocent civilians.
“In case of any emergency notification from our early response system, we are able to send troops to affected areas in advance to defuse violence. It is worth mentioning that military peacekeepers render emergency humanitarian aid to the conflict affected areas including the provision of food, water and medical aid as well as evacuation of the seriously wounded,” he told the publication.
MONUSCO is not his first continental deployment in peacekeeping operations. Mgwebi previously served as Force Commander of the African Mission in Burundi.