Consultations on the Independent Strategic Review of MONUSCO
On Wednesday (13 November), Council members are expected to hold consultations to discuss the independent strategic review of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). The meeting was requested by France, the penholder on this file. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix is likely to brief.
The discussion of the strategic review takes place as the Council continues to follow closely significant political developments in the country. On 9 October, Special Representative and head of MONUSCO Leila Zerrougui briefed the Council on MONUSCO. In the days following the meeting, Council members negotiated a press statement that was issued on 14 October. In the statement, members welcomed the inauguration of the new coalition government, announced on 26 August, as well as President Félix Tshisekedi’s commitment to national unity, the rule of law, and the fight against corruption. (The new government, which took seven months to form after Tshisekedi’s inauguration, includes 23 members of Tshisekedi’s Direction for Change party; the remaining 42 are from former President Joseph Kabila’s Common Front for Congo coalition.) Council members also called for increased state presence in the eastern DRC in order to consolidate peace and address continued insecurity. The statement furthermore reiterated Council members’ overall concern about the humanitarian situation, including the ongoing Ebola outbreak.
The Security Council requested the independent strategic review by resolution 2463 of 29 March, and Council members received the text of the review on 25 October. Notably, they received the full review, something that has not happened with most mission strategic reviews. In his letter transmitting the review, Guterres said that he may send additional comments and recommendations ahead of the mandate renewal. MONUSCO’s mandate expires on 20 December.
The review was led by Youssef Mahmoud, Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute (IPI) and former Special Representative and head of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT). He and his team undertook two visits to the DRC, from 24 June to 18 July, and on 9 September. The team was unable to consult with the new DRC government and get their views about how they foresee MONUSCO’s role changing. MONUSCO’s future role in the country—and discussions with the coalition government on how the mission’s drawdown will proceed—are likely to be a key focus of the Council’s attention in the coming months and years.
The review has several sections. It starts by analysing political challenges and opportunities in the DRC, as well as assessing MONUSCO’s current mandate. It then moves on to discuss how to have a responsible and phased drawdown and how MONUSCO should be adjusted accordingly. The review also includes best/worst-case scenarios and options for several types of future MONUSCO configurations.
The discussions Wednesday will mark the first chance for Council members as a whole to discuss the next steps for MONUSCO, although there have already been some informal discussions among members. It will also be the first chance for the UN Secretariat formally to express its views. Some members believe that the report’s analysis of the situation in the DRC is thorough and useful. There is likely to be discussion of the feasibility of several of the review’s options, such as the prospect of a three-year phased withdrawal concluding MONUSCO’s presence by 2022. Members may also exchange views on the utility of timelines and benchmarks to be achieved for the mission’s drawdown. Some will stress that any change in the mandate should not roll back what has been achieved by UN peacekeeping in the DRC in the last decades.
It remains to be seen if the ongoing Ebola crisis will have an impact on the Council’s upcoming decisions regarding MONUSCO. This Ebola outbreak is the second-largest on record. By 6 November, it has surpassed 3,200 confirmed cases and caused 2,187 deaths in the DRC since August 2018, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which declared the crisis a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 17 July. The Council adopted a presidential statement on the Ebola crisis on 2 August, in which it reiterated its grave concern about the outbreak, condemned attacks and threats against medical and humanitarian personnel, and demanded safe and unhindered access for those personnel to patients and others in need. It stressed that these attacks are hampering response efforts and facilitating the spread of the virus in the DRC and the wider region.
Council members are currently united in their positive view of Tshisekedi’s efforts as president. As the decision to renew MONUSCO’s mandate draws near, Council members’ differences are likely to become more distinct, however. Some Council members, such as the US and France, have been adamant in the past about their wish to implement an exit strategy for MONUSCO once the electoral cycle is complete. Large troop-contributing countries to MONUSCO on the Council such as Indonesia and South Africa, also a key actor in the region, are likely to continue to demonstrate strong interest and engagement on the DRC.
France is likely to circulate a zero draft resolution to renew MONUSCO’s mandate next week.