This seminar is concerned with the broad issues raised by the UN’s long-running mission in the DRC and what it tells us about the deeper challenges facing the UN as it continues to grapple with civil war and protection crises in different parts of Africa.
In November 2012, the city of Goma in eastern Congo, whose population had recently swollen to nearly 1 million following the influx of refugees fleeing fighting and mass atrocities in neighbouring territory, fell to a Rwanda-backed armed group, the Mouvement du 23 mars (M-23). Some 1,500 UN peacekeepers were based in the city when it was overrun. The fall of Goma, more than a decade after the first arrival of blue helmets in the DRC and eerily reminiscent of earlier protection crises facing the organisation, cruelly exposed the bankruptcy of UN efforts to protect civilians and bring stability to the country. Responding to what was seen as humiliating ‘moment of truth’, the Security Council decided, in March 2013, to strengthen the UN mission with the creation of a Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), entrusting it with a mandate “to carry out targeted offensive operations … in a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner”. The Council insisted that such operations would, in principle, be directed against all armed groups in eastern DRC. The establishment of the FIB was described by the then Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, as a “milestone” in the evolution of UN peacekeeping. That view was widely shared and, in many quarters, warmly welcomed as evidence of a wholly different approach to the use of force and the protection of civilians by UN forces operating in conditions of civil war.
The presentation examines the actual record of the FIB and draws wider lessons from its experience. It is concerned, in particular, with the broader issues raised by the UN’s long-running mission in the DRC: to wit, what it tells us about the political economy of conflict in the DRC and, more generally, the dynamics of contemporary civil wars; about the inherent challenges of third-party intervention and the use of force in civil-war like situations; and, finally, about the deeper challenges facing the UN as it continues to grapple with civil war and protection crises in different parts of Africa.
Mats Berdal is Professor of Security and Development at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London.