What's In Blue

Posted Fri 5 Jul 2024

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Briefing and Consultations

On Monday morning (8 July), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), including the work of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the DRC and Head of MONUSCO Bintou Keita is the anticipated briefer. The DRC and Rwanda are expected to participate in the meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Keita is expected to describe recent developments in the DRC based on the Secretary-General’s latest report, which was issued on 20 June and covers the period between 20 March and 19 June. She is likely to address the political situation in the country, including President Félix Tshisekedi’s formation of a new government in April and the appointment of Judith Suminwa Tuluka as the DRC’s first female prime minister, as well as of 17 other women as cabinet members in May.

The deteriorating security and humanitarian situations in eastern DRC are likely to be a major focus of Monday’s meeting. Keita may highlight the dire situation in North Kivu province, where fighting continues between the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC), supported by allied militias known locally as Wazalendo, and the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23). According to the Secretary-General’s report, the M23 has been consolidating its control over areas in North Kivu and advancing towards South Kivu province. Since March, the armed group had positioned itself close to Sake, a town located approximately 27 kilometres west from Goma (the provincial capital of North Kivu), before withdrawing from these positions in April. However, on 30 April, the M23 seized the town of Rubaya, one of the world’s largest coltan mining sites. More recently, on 29 June, the M23 reportedly captured Kanyabayonga, a strategic town providing access to other major commercial centres in North Kivu.

On 4 July, the US announced that a humanitarian truce has been agreed by the parties to the conflict in eastern DRC. The truce, which appears to be a follow-up to the November 2023 visit by US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to the DRC and Rwanda, is expected to begin at midnight on July 5 and continue for two weeks, until July 19.

On Monday, Keita may describe MONUSCO’s ongoing support for the FARDC and the challenges it faces in this regard. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the mission has come under direct and indirect attacks from all sides, including the M23, the FARDC, and Wazalendo. These parties have also hindered MONUSCO’s freedom of movement and undermined its ability to implement its protection of civilians mandate. Additionally, the mission continues to face difficulties in coordinating and deconflicting operations with the FARDC and other bilateral and regional forces operating in eastern DRC.

Keita may note that the deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC is also fuelling regional tensions. On 7 June, the East African Community (EAC) held an extraordinary virtual summit to discuss, among other things, the strained relations between some of its member states. During the meeting, Rwandan President Paul Kagame reportedly requested an in-person EAC summit as soon as possible. Although Kagame and Tshisekedi had earlier in the year agreed in principle to meet for direct talks in a tripartite format under Angola’s mediation, this meeting has yet to take place. Tshisekedi  did not attend the EAC virtual summit, apparently to signal his unhappiness with comments made by Kenyan President William Ruto in a 22 May interview with Jeune Afrique, in which Ruta said that the M23 is a Congolese issue, not a Rwandan one. Relations have been tense between the DRC and EAC member Kenya following a 15 December 2013 press conference in Nairobi, Kenya, where a new Congolese political coalition known as the Alliance Fleuve Congo (AFC)—reportedly comprised of several armed groups, including the M23—was announced.

At Monday’s meeting, Council members are likely to focus on two major issues: the implementation of MONUSCO’s disengagement plan, agreed with the Congolese government and endorsed by the Security Council through resolution 2717 of 19 December 2023 (which extended MONUSCO’s mandate until 20 December), and the consideration of possible UN support to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in the DRC (SAMIDRC) operating in eastern DRC since December 2023.

Regarding the first issue, the UN and the DRC submitted a joint report on 28 June (S/2024/520). In this regard, Keita is expected to update Council members on the transfer of several MONUSCO facilities and operational bases to the Congolese government, as well as the repatriation of over 2,500 uniformed personnel as part of MONUSCO’s first phase of drawdown from South Kivu. She may also highlight some challenges faced during this process, including a lack of adequate resources and the deteriorating security situation. Council members are expected to decide on the next steps of the disengagement process based on the evaluation of the drawdown in South Kivu, including the challenges encountered, lessons learned, and the evolving security situation in eastern DRC.

On 22 November 2023, SADC sent a letter to the Secretary-General, formally requesting UN support for SAMIDRC, including facilities, equipment, air asset services, medical support, and information and intelligence-sharing. In a 4 March communiqué, the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) endorsed the deployment and requested the Security Council to support SAMIDRC. The DRC also expressed support for SADC’s requests in an 8 May letter to the Security Council. Resolution 2717 requested the Secretary-General to submit a report on possible UN support to SAMIDRC, including recommendations on the matter. This report (S/2024/519), submitted on 28 June after consultations with the Congolese government and other stakeholders, will be discussed at Monday’s meeting.

The report presented three options for Council members’ consideration. The first option focuses on improving coordination, information-sharing, and technical assistance to deconflict MONUSCO operations with SAMIDRC, enhance civil-military coordination, and provide expertise in areas where MONUSCO’s mandate overlaps with the regional force. Council members have consistently emphasised that enhancing coordination and deconfliction is not optional but rather a necessity, a message that some members are likely to reiterate at Monday’s meeting. The second option proposes the limited use of MONUSCO’s logistical assets and capabilities, including air assets and armoured and non-military troop-carrying vehicles, to support SAMIDRC’s medical and casualty evacuations, troop movements, and rotations. It also suggests sharing peacekeeping intelligence gathered through MONUSCO’s air assets with SAMIDRC on a case-by-case basis. This option appears to be the most feasible and likely to gain the support of Council members. However, the Secretary-General’s report currently rules out accommodating SADC’s request to use MONUSCO’s bases. The report notes that, as progress is made in the mission’s disengagement process and its bases are handed over to the Congolese government, the government could decide to make them available to the regional force.

The third and final option proposes more comprehensive UN support to SAMIDRC, including troop deployment and rotation through strategic airlift, dedicated evacuation capacity and related medical support, life support services, consumables, capabilities for managing environmental impact, and maintenance contracts for geospatial, telecommunication, and other infrastructure support. This level of support exceeds the parameters established in resolution 2717, which allows only limited operational and logistical support within existing resources.

At Monday’s meeting, Council members may express their views on these proposals. The “A3 plus one” members (Algeria, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Guyana) may support the AU’s call for UN assistance to SAMIDRC. France, the penholder on the DRC, stated at the Council’s latest meeting on the DRC, held on 27 March, that any decision will be based on the modalities of UN support outlined in resolution 2717. France may propose a Council product reflecting members’ views on UN support for SAMIDRC following Monday’s meeting.

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