By Stephen Hindes*
The Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has arguably become one of the most persistent and complex conflicts in Africa. Now, with the region being host to a massive influx of aid workers and the largest UN peacekeeping mission in MONUSCO (the United Nations Organisation Stabilization Mission in the DRC) a testament to the difficulties the international community has in bringing peace and stability to countries at war with themselves. While the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) was meant to give the UN and the DRC government a proactive means through which to address the chronic insecurity of the region; its implementation, which was the first time the UN mandated a military force with an explicitly offensive mission, and subsequent decisions in who it does and does not attack invigorated, a debate surrounds the relationship between the use of military force and aid. With MONUSCO now beginning to look for a way out, both the FIB and the aid community are going to have to put their differences aside and find a way to work together if there is to be any hope in a region where such has been a rare commodity.
Despite the swift defeat of the M23 rebel group by the FIB after their takeover of Goma in November of 2013, history has demonstrated that military victory is only temporary if not part of a broader political plan. Since 9/11, whole of-government responses blending military force with aid targeted at alleviating local grievances have been viewed as the best approach for securing peace amidst intra-state conflict. Yet as the counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated, aid organisations have been reluctant to get to close to military forces for fear of compromising their core values of impartiality and neutrality – values they deem necessary to be able to carry out their work. In the DRC, the fear that the FIB is just another armed group pursing its own agenda amongst many others doing the same has given this sentiment voice amongst the aid community in the region.
This fear is not unfounded. DRC analyst Jason Stearns explains [i]that the FIB came with a heavy dose of regional politics. According to him, a major reason South Africa and Tanzania wanted to be part of the FIB was due to their feuding with Rwanda, a fact that has had ramifications for how it has carried out its mandate. While the FIB was quick to defeat the M23 rebel group, this was largely due to its strong relationship with Rwanda. When it has come to operations against the FDLR (the French acronym for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), the Hutu rebel group that has been active in the region for around 20 years, the FIB has shown reluctance to commit to that fight, fuelling speculation both countries have been using the FIB to satisfy their own political desires.
Despite this, the DRC painfully demonstrates that despite the presence of an army of foreign aid workers occupying towns such as Goma and Bukavu, aid alone has not worked. In nine out of the previous ten years, the DRC has been amongst the top ten recipients of humanitarian assistance and between 2003 and 2012 received $17.6 billion in Official Development Assistance. Yet in 2014 the DRC ranked amongst the bottom five in the UN Human Development Index rankings, a harsh reminder that aid alone has not worked.
Therefore, the issue facing the FIB and the eastern DRC may not be the politcalization of the FIB per se, but rather ensuring that the right politics come into play. As Clausewitz noted, war is but the extension of politics, and winning the day in any conflict is achieved by whoever can best exploit military force for political gain. For the United Nations this has meant throwing its weight behind the DRC government. While the actions of the FARDC, the DRC national army, has meant this alliance has at times resembled a hand-shake with the devil, it has been a necessary choice. Given the eclectic mix of tribal groups and militias roaming the country-side, further fragmentation would be worse.
The FIB and the aid community therefore should not fear the political ramifications of its use but instead ensure its use is tailored towards a more appropriate political outcome for the DRC and its people. This will require the aid community to work alongside it. While the FIB can create the space needed for stability measures to be implemented by removing threats and deterring others, it is the aid community who are best equipped to work within these communities to ensure these measures are locally driven and sustainable. The aid community therefore needs to realize they are also political actors despite their claims to being completely impartial and neutral. Hugo Slim, scholar for the Centre of Humanitarian Dialogue, made this point when he explained that most aid agencies are multi-mandated. As he said, while aid agencies work to secure the implementation of aid programs for those in need, there actions and presence have political implications. As such, aid agencies need to realize that while they may differ in means, often, they share the same desired ends as government forces, in the case, the FIB.
If the DRC is to move forward and break its cycle of poverty and conflict, the aid community and the FIB are going to have to find a way to align their political agendas. If the international community’s experience in the region has taught us anything, it is that not doing so is a sure recipe for failure.
[i] Via email correspondence with the author
*Stephen Hindes (email@example.com ) holds a Double Masters in Policing, Intelligence and Counter-terrorism and International Security Studies from Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, and a Bachelor of International Studies (International Relations) from Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia..All views expressed in the AfSol blog are solely the views of the authors and do not in any represent the views of the IPSS or APSP. For more information on AfSol Blog, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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