Tag Archives: DRC

Drones for the Congo

5 Dec

The United Nations has recently launched the first surveillance drones ever deployed by a UN peacekeeping force. And where else but the Democratic Republic of Congo, home of the first UN peacekeeping force ever authorized to use lethal force in an effort to weaken – and ultimately help defeat – the recently surrendered M23 rebel movement in DRC’s North Kivu province. Following justifiable concerns that a lethal peacekeeping force could have a detrimental impact on the humanitarian presence on the ground in DRC and the ability of civil society to effectively deliver aid to those in need, the UN has been further criticized for providing too little help, a little too late.

Two Falco drones, manufactured by the Italian Selex ES, were launched this Tuesday after the UN Security Council approved their trial use in January. Another drone will be on the way later this month and two additional drones are expected to be launched in March 2014. The drones will be used to monitor population movements in areas affected by recent violence, as well as monitor the alleged transfer of arms and munitions from neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.

If the UN has managed to approve a mandate to launch drones to monitor military presence, what could this mean for the future work of UN agencies like OCHCR, UNHCR and other coordinating bodies for monitoring forced displacement, attacks on schools, and the myriad widespread human rights violations that plague DRC and surrounding regions? Ideally, this increase could signal an imminent expansion of the United Nations’ global reach into the safety and well-being of populations usually too remote and removed from urban centres to adequately monitor.

Like here in the United States, many may argue that the increased use of surveillance drones by the UN could constitute an invasion of privacy. Or, as in the case of recent allegations aimed the International Criminal Court, African nations could interpret this move as yet another “toy of declining imperial powers,” being used to remotely monitor and ultimately influence the affairs of African populations.

Here in the U.S., I for one do not generally lose too much sleep over Orwellian prophecies (despite my love of sci-fi). Perhaps that is because there is nothing that the government could pick up in my phone calls or find in my mail that could ever get me into any trouble, but I do believe that such ‘Snowden-era’ surveillance (despite the geopolitical and moral implications) is ultimately conducted in an effort to keep us safe, not to control our thoughts or actions. With a new mandate to launch surveillance drones now in the UN’s hands, could this indicate new options for the future of global security? Could this mean that rural populations in the developing world may one day be afforded the same protection and security that is arguably offered in the United States? Will the people of Syria, Mali, Central African Republic and Sudan be able to benefit from this effort to monitor the interactions of armed groups and civilians? Or will this program simply run out of support and funding next year and be remembered only as a waste of time and money?

Fighting Fire With Fire: The UN in DRC

3 Aug

I am curious to get some other views on this development. Back in March, the United Nations issued UN Security Council Resolution 2098, which authorizes the use of a new UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). The FIB is the “first-ever ‘offensive’ combat force, intended to carry out targeted operations to ‘neutralize and disarm’ the notorious 23 March Movement (M23), as well as other Congolese rebels and foreign armed groups in strife-riven eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.” As of Thursday, August 1st, the invitation for the M23 and other rebel groups throughout the region to lay down their arms peacefully before the FIB is fully launched has officially expired.

It may be an appealing option to some: send in a force of 3,096 armed troops from Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa with the sole mission of disarming any armed individuals who are not members of national or UN security forces. The aim is to ultimately bring peace to the tumultuous Great Lakes region by reducing the level of weaponry in the hands of rebel groups. However, many have expressed concerns about the level of danger that the first offensive combat force coming out of the United Nations will cause, particularly for civilians and aid workers operating in the region. A May 23rd letter signed by 19 NGOs was sent to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pleading that the FIB be kept under close surveillance to ensure it is operating solely within its mandate, to prioritize the protection of civilians, and to fully commit to the inclusion of community voices throughout the process.

Atrocities carried out on civilians run rampant in the Great Lakes region, perpetrated by both rebel and government forces alike. It is thus understandable that introducing more arms into the region is a powerful cause for concern. NGOs and aid workers on the other hand, now have added cause for concern. With the United Nations and MONUSCO now associated with an offensive armed force in the eyes of rebel groups operating in the area, the connotation could easily spread across the aid-community. Personally, I have stopped applying for jobs based in DRC, for the same reason many NGOs likely fear reprisal for actions they have nothing to do with. As IRIN reports, “several observers have questioned whether MONUSCO’s existing role of protecting civilians, particularly in displaced peoples’ camps, will be possible in areas where the Brigade attacks armed groups, as this could result in retaliation against all UN military and civilian personnel as well as against other aid workers and civilians.”

Meanwhile, other armed groups are strengthening in the region. The DRC-based Ugandan rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) could further exacerbate UN efforts and serve to spread the FIB’s mandate into neighboring countries as well. The Ugandan government hopes that the FIB will ultimately assist in the disarmament of ADF rebels, but where will the FIB’s mandate stop? With new rebel groups emerging from Eastern DRC and its neighboring regions each year, how long will FIB be charged with ‘protecting’ the local populations. I see this move as a dangerous and volatile solution to a dangerous and volatile problem. Peace talks have perpetually failed, and though the FIB may be seen as the only option remaining, I don’t believe that introducing more armed groups is really what the region needs. The situation reminds me a bit of the death penalty – deterring murder by murdering – and the United Nations does not look fondly on that deterrent. Now the UN is effectively situating itself as a lethal force to wipe out lethal force in the eyes of regional armed groups, and that image will be very tough to shake. Looking back at the onset of genocide in Rwanda, I am of the opinion that military force SHOULD have been enacted by the UN, but exacerbating the subsequent history of violence pervasive throughout the Great Lakes seems to be quite a risky move in this particular situation.

I am interested to hear the opinions of others, but I will first say that I was very moved by the way Stephen Oola, transitional justice and governance analyst at Uganda’s Makerere University’s Refugee Law Project, framed the issue with reference to Uganda in particular. I am glad someone can see the forest for the trees:

According to Makerere’s Oola, Uganda needs to do some soul-searching if it is to defeat the rebellions that continue to destabilize the country: “We must sit down as country in judgment of oursel[ves], through truth-seeking and national dialogue, to ask the right questions. Why are they fighting? What should be done to end their rebellion? How do we address the impact of the cycle of violence that has bedevilled this country from independence?”

The path of military personnel has been wrought with complication, confusion and a failure to recognize the unique needs of a heterogeneously populated region. I am not sure if the UN’s new ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ approach is the best idea. Thoughts?