When the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) closed its Lubero base on 26 December 2023 it brought to an end 21 years of international peacekeeping presence in that part of North Kivu.
The base closure, according to a MONUSCO statement, fits into “the framework of closing force military bases initiated since 2021, following a joint evaluation of the situation by MONUSCO and its Congolese partners”.
“The Mission,” it continues, “must steadily continue to adapt to the evolution of the security environment in the three provinces of eastern DRC, to changes in the nature of threats against civilians and to ensure its strategy and deployments are conducive for the implementation of the mandate”.
The exit from Lubero was marked by the UN flag being replaced by the DRC national flag. South African infantry soldiers detached to the MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) attended the base closure as did soldiers from Morocco and Nepal.
Notwithstanding ongoing challenges, including the presence of more than 40 armed groups in Lubero and surrounds, territorial administrator Colonel Alain Kiwewa saw the transition as an opportunity for Congolese forces to reinforce their commitment to secure the region.
“MONUSCO has done its part, we must also do ours. We must make efforts to secure and stabilise the territory of Lubero,” his statement read.
The base closure is part of the drawdown and exit of MONUSCO, currently scheduled to be completed by year-end.
On Lubero base and its activities, MONUSCO said it was central to the repatriation of 25 000 FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) “soldiers” to their home country. It also led in the demobilisation of 11 000 combatants. MONUSCO personnel at Lubero were instrumental in reintegration of demobilised fighters, including Gentil Kakule Kombi.
The former militiaman is reported as saying MONUSCO “facilitated” a transition to normal life for him and fellow militiamen. They were, according to him, hosted in MONUSCO camps at Rutshuru and Rwindi and given “adequate protection and secure accommodation”. MONUSCO support “allowed them to stabilise and prepare for reintegration into Congolese society”.
MONUSCO Beni-Lubero office chief Josiah Obat was confident the local civil society would preserve the gains of the past two decades.
“We leave behind a well-equipped civil society and hope they will continue using the same tools to serve the cause of lasting peace,” he said at the base closure.
Even though MONUSCO is leaving Lubero, the UN system remains committed, through its agencies and programmes, to assist the local population.
In its 21 years at Lubero, UN personnel, from military to police and civilians, were part of stabilising the region, protecting civilians against threats from armed groups and supporting pro-peace projects.
“Despite challenges and misunderstandings fuelled by disinformation, the time in Lubero is marked by achievements in favour of women, civilians, local partners as well as ongoing efforts to consolidate peace in the region,” the Monusco statement reads.