by Cecilia Capanna* – MONUSCO (UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC)
Nobody talks about the failure of the UN
There are some facts happening in the world that are extremely serious, but very few media talk about them. Few weeks ago, for example, shocking news from the Democratic Republic of Congo has passed silently.
On July 26 in Goma, responding to North Kivu people’s protests against MONUSCO (the United Nations Stabilization Organization Mission in the DR Congo), the UN peacekeepers opened fire at head height against the crowd. At least 12 demonstrators and 3 UN soldiers died, and about 50 people were injured.
A few days later, on 31 July in Kassindi, on the border between DR Congo and Uganda, “for inexplicable reasons” UN intervention brigade’s soldiers, returning from leave of absence, opened fire against the border outpost. The number of fatalities and injured is unknown. According to rumors, Blue Helmets refused to register at the border, perhaps because they were hiding something or someone in the tanks that should not be discovered.
If the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo does not seem to catch mainstream’s interest per se, this time the media did not tell that the killers were those who should protect the population, those paid by us to guarantee peace, the “good guys. Why?
John Mpaliza, an Italian-Congolese activist, commented: “I had to ask to stop sending me videos of the bloody and atrocious crimes in my country. I can’t even show many of them to my partner. It is ridiculous that the general press does not talk about what is happening in DR Congo. But it is quite eloquent that RAI (Italian Public TV) no longer has reporters in the south of the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. In order to get information, you only can check Aljazeera and a few other media. Many bishops keep denouncing the occupation of eastern Congo’s territories by Rwandan-speaking groups that are trying to replace the original peoples. They denounce massacres, house burnings, rapes as a weapon of war. But nobody stops these crimes”.
In the shadow of Russia-Ukraine conflict, while it is said that this war will change the geopolitical structure of the planet, many other wars fought in “third theaters” are neglected. Those wars clearly show the world is divided into two halves. They also show that stronger countries look after their own interests while they destroy and starve minor countries. One of these wars is the one in DR Congo, which has been defined a “civil war”, or “ethnic” or “between groups including Islamist ones”. A war often dismissed as too complicated to understand and resolve, and which instead has very specific historical origins and actors. Furthermore, it is taking place, not by chance, only in the eastern region of the country: North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri. This is the area with the richest subsoil in the world. There are cassiterite, gold, oil and the famous coltan, which is very precious for high-tech companies: it optimizes chips energy’s consumption, so it improves our phones and computers battery life. It is the same area where the Italian ambassador Luca Attanasio, his escort carabiniere Vittorio Iacovacci and his driver Mustapha Milambo were murdered while they were traveling in an unprotected convoy of the UN World Food Program agency. Not even their death has brought world attention to seek the truth behind what happens every day in Congo. And coincidentally, Pope Francis’ trip, who was expected to visit the area at the beginning of last July, did not happen.
How many times do we ask ourselves why countries like Congo are so rich in minerals and water and instead their people die of hunger and thirst? And why have we been told for weeks with a pietistic attitude about the agreements allowing ships loaded with Ukrainian cereals leave from Odessa in order to feed Africa, while most of the press deliberately ignores the atrocities that are being committed in the continent?
Consciences and common thinking are probably relieved by the idea that UN missions are in the hotspots of the conflict. Unfortunately, however, MONUSCO several times has been accused of very serious crimes and for this reason the Congolese citizens and politicians are asking for its withdrawal. Now even more, after the two recent shootings documented with chilling videos. This time we cannot get confused, it was not a matter of battles between rebels or irregular indefinite armies, this time Blue Helmets killed civilians with their weapons. Why didn’t the UN open internal investigations? About 1Billion dollars a year is spent on MONUSCO. Why did the 193 UN countries that are paying for it did not say anything about UN soldiers’ crimes?
Pierre Kabeza, a Congolese political refugee in Italy, former trade union activist for the right to education of all children in Congo, explains: “Blue Helmets crimes in Congo have been committed for years and have been documented with videos and photos. There is violence against women, including young girls, and illicit trafficking in minerals such as gold and coltan. Congolese civil society and even the church have accused them many times. Furthermore, Congolese citizens have never felt protected by MONUSCO since the beginning of the mission. Blue Helmets have always appeared inert in front of everyday massacres”.
John Mpaliza and Pierre Kabeza both say MONUSCO’s disengagement is necessary but with a peaceful exit agenda. “Missions have a beginning and an end and this one also proved it failed”, says Mpaliza. United States are the main UN financiers and their only response in this regard was they asked DR Congo government to guarantee security to Blue Helmets (which should guarantee the safety of the Congolese!). They also asked to keep the UN troops on the territory for at least other 15 years. Meanwhile, a video circulating on social media apparently show new Blue Helmets getting off an Ethiopian Airlines plane landed at Goma airport.
At this point the question is: are the United Nations in good health? Have they shown to work during their 77 years of life? How did UN get to the point MONUSCO soldiers rape women, smuggle minerals, shoot civilians while they are supposed to guarantee peace and protection in Congo?
“United Nations first problem is systemic”, explains Roberto Savio, journalist and expert in multilateralism and international cooperation. “The 5 founding countries, USA, Russia, China, England and France, are Security Council’s permanent members. The Security Council has the final word on any proposal. The rule says that in order to deliberate unanimity is required. If only one of the 5 countries puts its veto, any resolution doesn’t go through. This didn’t allow the UN to work as an executive guarantor of peace and protection so far, and you can read it in its Statute. Despite International Law and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it happens that in case of an “inconvenient” proposal, any Security Council member can block it with its veto, making prevail its own interests. In addition to that, there is another problem pretty unknown. Even if war crimes or crimes against humanity are detected and documented, not all UN countries have ratified the agreements that allow Hague Tribunal to have authority in their territory. There is a lot of talk about Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine for example. Biden himself points the finger but neither Russia, nor Ukraine, nor even the United States recognize the international criminal Court of the Hague. Nor China. That means three out of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and they are the most influential”.
This explains the absurd situation in DR Congo, where all five permanent members of the Security Council have strong economic interests.
What is really happening in Congo?
Pierre Kabeza used a suggestive image: “We can represent this war as a tree in the forest.
The roots are hidden, they are underground, they cannot be seen, they are the multinationals and behind them there are big countries like the USA, Israel, England, Europe. The roots feed the trunk which is visible up close and includes all Congo’s neighboring countries: Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola. The branches and leaves can be seen from afar and they are the armed groups making war with each other fed by the trunk. All the parts are then nourished by the sap: economic interests “.
Furthermore, in addition to western bloc countries, in Congo there are also the so-called BRICs: Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa under the shield of China. Or even BRICSIA, as the journalist Raffaele Crocco called them, adding Iran and Argentina. The presence of China was legitimized by the former president Kabila himself who at that time signed an agreement: China would provide for the construction of infrastructure for almost 9 billion dollars. In compensation, China would thus legitimately acquire the right to put its hands to the resources of Congolese subsoil. Kabeza’s comment: “We have to understand that in Congo took place the African World War, as it has been called”.
John Mpaliza explained: “The situation in DR Congo cannot be understood without reconstructing at least the last 40 years of country’s history”. Mpaliza tells how the Congo in particular was one of the key countries in Cold War’s chessboard, it is meaningfull Che Guevara had helped to organize its revolution.
Even before the Cold War there were two US military bases in Congo. Uranium used to build Nagasaki and Hiroshima atomic bombs was taken in Katanga. Then, behind the thirty-years presidency of the “anti-communist” dictator Mobutu, successor of the assassinated prime minister Lumumba, United States were orienting country’s political fortunes with the precise objective of seeking coltan this time: a fundamental mineral for technology and strategic for the Pentagon. Later, Soviet Union’s collapse after Berlin Wall’s fall made United States easier to get stronger in Central Africa. Taking advantage of the ethnic conflict in Rwanda in 1994 and the war in Congo in 1996, the US helped in replacing Mobutu with Laurent-Désiré Kabila in order to strengthen their economic position.
Globalization subsequently intensified the presence of multinational companies and labor exploitation at very low cost. Children are employed in the mines, at least those who have not become Kadogo (in Swhaili “the very little ones”), that are the child soldiers recruited by more than 100 armies fighting in eastern Congo.
From that moment on, subsoil exploitation and the attempt to balkanize the country started, explains Mpaliza: “This is why we Congolese think that Congo’s invasion by Rwanda with Uganda and Burundi was not a coincidence. It was something planned that included the massacres in Rwanda and also those in Congo. It is estimated that 10 million Congolese have been killed so far”.
At this point, in 1999 the UN mission and Blue Helmets presence in east RD Congo begun with the function of observers and later with the hybrid one of peacekeepers. In fact, it was United Nations who wanted the Mapping Report, a very detailed dossier documenting all the horrible crimes committed in Congo from 1993 to 2003. More than 6 Million victims, however, did not get justice because that report was locked up in a drawer. There were involved such uncomfortable people and countries that any disposition to proceed would be blocked by the veto of one or another UN Security Council permanent member. It is eloquent that the current DR Congo president Félix Tshisekedi denies Mapping Report’s validity. It would inevitably prove the responsibility of many personalities still present in the country’s political and military landscape.
The president has also decided to “start from scratch” with Rwanda and Uganda and he signed secret economic agreements with them, somehow legalizing Congolese minerals looting. Mpaliza comments: “Rwanda and Uganda’s common economic interest in Congo unites them. They can pretend to argue with each other but when it is time to act against Congo they do it together”.
Another question is: who arms the actors of the war in Congo?
The fact that Rwandan M23 irregular army’s extremely sophisticated weapons are much more powerful than MONUSCO’s suggests that they are supplied by super powers such as USA, Canada, Europe, England and Israel. A fact that makes the UN established arms embargo in Congo useless and meaningless. It looks like Congo cannot arm itself while its neighboring aggressors can. At the beginning of July, UN Council split precisely on this issue with France on one side and England and the USA on the other. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has reportedly signed an agreement to send unwanted migrants to Rwanda and they would likely end up being militarily conscripted.
Looking at our home, Italy apparently trains Rwandan military and Leonardo sells military helicopters to the Ugandan army. Furthermore, last February there was a parliamentary question on the weapons sold by Italy to Uganda.
In a few words, it is “the white tribe” the one who does harm to DR Congo, as Padre Alex Zanotelli said. But it is not alone: the neighboring countries are internal enemies along with rampant corruption. In 2023 there should be next political elections, how should they go to encourage hope? Kabeza and Mpaliza responded in the same way: crimes in Congo must be recognized, victims must have justice and national and international political will must build peace and true democracy through dialogue. In order to do this, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege, the doctor who has treated and saved thousands of raped women in Congo, should run and win the elections. A group of Congolese intellectuals signed a petition asking him to candidate. His moral stature, the fact that he is internationally known, that he has access to the world’s highest political spheres and that he keeps denouncing the crimes committed in his country, make him the key man who could write the new history of Democratic Republic of Congo. There’s one doubt though: would the “white tribe” allow it?
*Italian Journalist. Expert in communication, marketing and social media. Ability to manage international projects for the dissemination and strengthening of visibility in the information sector. Former Executive Director, Other News, Rome