By Naomi Friedman, Opinion Editor
While the East part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is still home to Africa’s most brutal and longest-running wars, the United Nations (U.N.), locally present since 1999, has since deployed drones to keep watch over the militias terrorizing the region.
The on-going 20 years of war in East Congo has claimed an estimated 5 million lives since 1998. This conflict has had more casualties than wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined, more than any conflict since World War II, yet no one knows about it. It has been the world’s largest and most expensive U.N. peacekeeping mission — so far, a mission that has failed to quell.
The United Nations is an international organization founded at the end of World War Two in October 1945. The “maintain [of] international peace and security” is the UN’s priority, according to its official Charter. But although the organization’s intentions are great, have the world’s conflicts lessened? Have peace and security been maintained?
While 193 nations are now represented at the UN’s General Assembly, only five truly have a voice: USA, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom. The Big Five or Permanent Five (P5), as they are called, are the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. This title grants the power of veto, which allows any permanent member of the Security Council to prevent the adoption of any potential resolution regardless of the level of international support for that same resolution.
Ten non-permanent members elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly are also part of the Security Council but are not given the power of veto. And among the 187 non-permanent members, more than 60 have never been a member of the Council yet. Non-members may participate to the discussion but cannot vote. This inequality of power makes the “united” part of the international organization’s name controversial. Indeed, it has never been a world decision-making process, but rather a handful of historically important nations imposing their own interests on the rest of the world.
Talking about imposing their own interests, their presence in the DRC has done more harm than good. The large reserves of minerals such as gold, copper and coltane — used in making cell phones — make Congo a strongly coveted land. It all comes down to a contest over power, wealth and identity between tribes from neighboring countries playing out with great intensity — a conflict also referred as Africa’s First World War involving nine nations and a dozen rebel groups.
The U.N. soldiers are in the Congo with the ambitious goal to reverse the trajectory of this complex and horrific conflict, but also to rescue the image of the troubled U.N. peacekeeping mission in the eastern regions. Inaction is what the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, referred to as MONUSCO, has been criticized in the 14 years since the U.N. dispatched soldiers to Congo — inaction, but also violation of moral ethics through rapes and corruption in the East.
To make matters worse, the approved UN budget for years 2014 to 2015 was approximately $1.4 billion — an outrageous amount for the little improvement that they are bringing.
Having lived in the Congo myself, I have seen and heard of their actions, and I have witnessed the rising inflation they have brought to the Congo. The Congolese perceives MONUSCO as careless, inadequate and ineffective. Scandals happened and vanished because of a lack of coverage by the media, but Congolese remember and lost trust in global measures like these.
The U.N.’s usefulness in the region is still questioned by the locals who have noticed “no discernable difference to their daily lives” even after the major rebel groups has been subdued.
“At first [the drones] reassured us,” wrote Albert Gomabishi in an email as Observer for France 24. “We thought their presence would have a positive impact on security in the region, alas nothing has changed. People have become wary of the drones and have started to trust the FARDC [Congolese Army who has committed many massive rapes] more than MONUSCO. Perhaps it’s down to a lack of communication that we don’t understand their importance, but from where we stand, in terms of our daily lives… Well, we continue to count our dead.”
The United Nations have an office in downtown Kinshasa, 600 miles away from the war zone in the East, guarded by thick six-feet walls topped with layers of barbed-wire and a number of armed men – what a paradox for an institution wanting to be the Ambassador of Peace.