The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known as MONUSCO, which has been instrumental in combating rebels for more than two decades, is set to completely withdraw from the country by December 2024. This decision was announced by Bintou Keita, the head of MONUSCO, during a media briefing in the Congolese capital Kinshasa. The first phase of the withdrawal will see approximately 2,000 UN troops leaving the volatile eastern areas by the end of April, reducing the current 13,500-strong force to 11,500.
The Reason Behind the Withdrawal
The announcement of the withdrawal comes after the re-election of the Congolese government in a disputed vote, which called for the departure of the UN mission. The government asserted that the mission had failed to adequately protect civilians from armed groups. Notably, several armed groups, including the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and M23, remain active in the restive eastern areas, such as North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri provinces, posing significant threats to civilians through violence and displacement.
Phased Withdrawal and Future Plans
The withdrawal of MONUSCO will occur in three phases. The first phase will witness the departure of 2,000 UN troops from South Kivu by the end of April, with the subsequent transition of fourteen UN bases in the province to the Congolese security forces. Following this, the forces in North Kivu and Ituri will also depart from the region. Congolese Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula has confirmed that the remaining UN forces are expected to be out of the country by December 31. While the withdrawal signifies the end of MONUSCO’s presence, it does not mark the end of the country’s fight to protect its territorial interests, as emphasized by Lutundula.
Continuing the Struggle
Lutundula stressed that the withdrawal of MONUSCO does not signal the end of the ongoing battle to safeguard the country’s territorial interests. The presence of MONUSCO was a result of taking over from an earlier UN operation in 2010 to address insecurity in the eastern part of the country, where armed groups have been engaged in territorial and resource-related conflicts. However, the mission’s presence has experienced diminishing popularity in recent years. In a unanimous vote in December, the UN Security Council approved the gradual phasing out of peacekeeping operations, reflecting the growing desire to transition away from peacekeeping efforts.
Ongoing Support and Regional Involvement
Addressing concerns about the end of the UN’s role in the country, Keita assured that the mission’s conclusion does not imply the end of the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Additionally, the Congolese government has directed an East African regional force, deployed in the past year to help end the fighting, to also leave the country for similar reasons as the UN peacekeeping mission.
Impact on the Population
The crises in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have led to the displacement of more than seven million people, mainly in the three eastern provinces where numerous armed groups continue to operate. The departure of the UN peacekeeping mission and the regional force is taking place amidst this backdrop, emphasizing the critical need for continued efforts to address the underlying conflicts and provide stability and security to the affected population.
The impending departure of all UN peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo by 2024 marks a significant shift in the country’s security landscape. While it symbolizes the end of a long-standing presence that provided vital support in combating armed groups, it also underscores the ongoing challenges and the need for sustained efforts to ensure stability and protect civilians. As the country anticipates the completion of this transition, it also looks towards embracing and implementing new strategies aimed at addressing the persisting conflicts and safeguarding the interests of its citizens.