Defining Peacekeeping Downward: The U.N. Debacle in Eastern Congo

From World ยป Alex Perry | TIME.com Mon Nov 26 2012, 01:00:14

At 9am on Monday Nov. 20, one of the few tanks belonging to the M23 rebels of eastern Congo fired a single shell into the international airport on the outskirts of Goma, the second biggest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The townspeople, who looked up to see the first of 1,000 or so guerrillas marching on the city, began walking and running towards the city center, carrying their children and anything else they could. After a short while they were overtaken - by two large trucks packed with foreign soldiers from the UN peacekeeping force for Congo, MONUSCO. Mandated to protect Congo's civilians, with 19,000 men in uniform and costing $1.4 billion a year, the world's biggest and most expensive peacekeeping operation was literally leaving its charges in its dust. Later in the day MONUSCO, far better armed and more numerous than the rebels, simply stood and watched as the M23 - easterners who oppose the central government in Kinshasa - took Goma almost without firing a shot. France called MONUSCO's conduct "absurd." The Congolese were less forgiving. Across the east of the country, angry mobs surrounded UN positions, threw stones at aid workers and burned UN compounds. Asked what they thought of MONUSCO, a group of young men standing by the shore of Lake Kivu in Goma cried out in unison: "Useless." Amani Muchumu, 18, had a message for the peacekeepers. "You could not defend us," he declared. "You are dismissed." MONUSCO's dismal performance this past week caps a wretched 12 years for the force that, by dint of its size and costliness, was meant to fly the flag for all 16 UN peacekeeping operations around the world. Since it was set up in Nov 1999, the then MONUC (renamed MONUSCO in 2010) has proved extraordinarily inept. Rarely has it engaged the various militias that hold eastern Congo in their murderous sway. Just as awkwardly, bound by the terms of its deployment to support the national government, it has found itself backing not just one of

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