March 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2019
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Democratic Republic of the Congo

Expected Council Action

In March, the Council will renew the mandate of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Before that, a briefing on the Secretary-General’s latest report and consultations with the head of MONUSCO, Leila Zerrougui, are likely.

MONUSCO’s mandate expires on 31 March 2019. 

Key Recent Developments

Felix Tshisekedi was inaugurated as president on 24 January in what some are calling the first peaceful transfer of power in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) history. Since then, he seems to have been accepted by the region and the international community, although the only head of state to attend the inauguration was Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta. In early February, Tshisekedi attended the AU heads of state summit and travelled around the region. At the summit, he held bilateral meetings with Paul Kagame of Rwanda, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, and the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini. The EU and the DRC have also reached an agreement for the EU’s ambassador to return to Kinshasa after he was expelled by former President Joseph Kabila last December. During a visit to the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville, Tshisekedi called for thousands of DRC exiles to return to the country.

It remains to be seen how the new government will act. In his AU speech, Tshisekedi called for the return of the rule of law following the elections, an end to corruption, and increased control by the DRC of its own resources. However, in the parliamentary election, the pro-Kabila Front for Congo (FCC) coalition won 337 seats; opposition party Lamuka, fronted by Martin Fayulu in the presidential election, received 102 seats; and Tshisekedi’s Heading for Change coalition won 46 seats, posing real questions as to whether Tshisekedi will be able to achieve his agenda when his party is in the minority. With Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala due to submit the government’s resignation soon, the new government is expected to be fully formed by April.

Meanwhile, opposition candidate Fayulu, whom several international and national groups considered the actual winner of the election, wrote to the AU calling for another round of elections in six months. Legislative and provincial elections in fact still need to be held in Beni, Butembo and Yumbi in March after being postponed because of government concerns about Ebola and the security situation. In mid-January, Internet access was restored after being suspended on 31 December 2018.

Apart from political developments, a major concern has been the Ebola situation. At press time, over 800 people had been infected, resulting in at least 546 deaths, and about 80,000 people had been vaccinated. DRC Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga has praised the vaccination effort and believes it has contained the outbreak. Other organisations, however, remain worried about the continued spread of the disease. Médecins Sans Frontières has reported a surge of cases since 15 January. Given the suspension of healthcare activities during the electoral season because of security and capacity considerations, the numbers of registered cases may be increasing simply because these activities have resumed. On 8 February, two Médecins Sans Frontières staff members active in Ebola prevention were abducted in the Masisi health zone in North Kivu. While the staff members were returned unharmed, safety fears remain, and field operations were suspended at press time.

In January, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that there was evidence of a massacre in December 2018 in which at least 890 people were killed in four villages in Yumbi territory, Mai-Ndombe province, in the west of the country, apparently in clashes between the Banunu and Batende communities. On 13 February, the DRC army announced it had arrested 15 people for alleged complicity in the killings. On 12 February, the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said there had been a rise in refugees coming into the DRC from South Sudan, with approximately 5,000 having arrived in north-east Ituri province border towns.

Sanctions-Related Developments

The 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee met in a briefing on 1 February with UN member states from the region. The meeting provided an opportunity for those countries to comment on the Panel of Experts report.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 19 March, the Human Rights Council is scheduled to hold an enhanced interactive dialogue during its 40th session on the oral update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on developments in the human rights situation in the Kasai region, as well as the report by the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in the DRC before, during and after the December 2018 elections (A/HRC/40/47).

Women, Peace and Security

The Secretary-General’s January report on MONUSCO noted that conflict-related sexual violence continued during the reporting period, including an increase in sexual violence in Ituri Province perpetrated by both the Force de résistance patriotique d’Ituri (FRPI), often in the form of gang rape and in association with the looting of villages. There were also reported incidents of rape by the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo in Djugu, Ituri Province. In Tanganyika Province, an upsurge in ethnically motivated conflict-related sexual violence was documented, and a worrying trend of mass rapes by certain factions in northern Shabunda continued, the report said. The report also noted that MONUSCO paid greater attention to involving women in countering the Ebola outbreak and addressing the specific needs of women.

Key Issues and Options

The main issue for the Council in March is the renewal of MONUSCO’s mandate. Given that the electoral process is almost over, the existing mandate will need to be adjusted.  Resolution 2409 of March 2018 requested the Secretary-General to support the electoral process and report on such efforts to the Council. Given the continued fragile situation after the elections, some members may propose a short mandate renewal, with few changes at this time. Several months from now, once the electoral process is finalised and there is a new government in the DRC, MONUSCO’s position could be re-evaluated.

If the latter type of mandate renewal occurs, the resolution is likely to include a request for an independent or strategic review to better prepare for an eventual withdrawal, exit strategy, or modification of MONUSCO. The last strategic review took place in 2017, and there are some questions whether its conclusions remain applicable today.

Council Dynamics

The Council met three times on the situation in the DRC in January but did not meet in February. Having since moved on from responding to December’s elections, it will be interesting to see if the divisions that were apparent then resurface for the mandate renewal. Some members do not want to reconfigure the mission in an uncertain environment. On the other hand, the fact that MONUSCO and its predecessor, the UN Mission in the DRC, have been in place since 1999, has led some to call for an exit strategy and eventual drawdown.

At the end of January, France led an experts-only mission to the DRC with the Council’s European members, the US, and South Africa. The purpose of the trip was to better understand the situation on the ground and gather information ahead of the mandate renewal. The members visited several cities in the DRC, among them Kinshasa, Goma and Beni. At the conclusion of the visit, the experts from those states appeared to agree that the situation in the DRC remains unpredictable and that a mandate change would be inadvisable until a new government is formed. Some expressed optimism that this may be a new era of cooperation between the UN and the government of the DRC.

There has not been a press statement about the situation in the DRC since 15 January before the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the validity of the elections, but it seems unlikely that another press statement would be agreed upon now because of divergences by Council members on how to characterise the elections.

France is the penholder on the DRC, and Kuwait chairs the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee.

Security Council Resolutions
27 March 2018S/RES/2409 This was a resolution that renewed MONUSCO’s mandate until 31 March 2019.
Secretary-General’s Reports
4 January 2019S/2019/6 This was the Secretary-General’s report on MONUSCO.
Security Council Press Statements
15 January 2019SC/13663 This press statement noted the announcement by CENI of provisional results of the presidential and provincial elections, welcomed the subsequent peaceful and stable situation, and encouraged any disputes to be dealt with along legal channels.