December 5, 2012
Goma, a city situated in the volatile eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and home to an active volcano, has long been living under the shadow of strife of the ethnic and political kinds. Located close to the Rwandan border, the inhabitants of the city live in perpetual fear borne out of an uneasy peace that has often been driven asunder by ethnic strife and a war over its valuable resources.
It was only last week that a rebel group calling themselves, M23 or the March 23 Movement (Mouvement du 23 mars), took control of Goma city, brushing aside the token resistance of the Congolese troops defending the city.1 What is difficult to understand is the mute spectatorship of the UN peacekeeping forces comprising the large chunk of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) that were stationed in and around the city. Comprising of over 18000 troops2, equipped with heavy weapons and attack helicopters, this sizeable force (one of the largest UN peacekeeping forces to be assembled) did not offer any resistance to the intruding troops, showing a “lack of ambition” to fulfil its mandate.3 As noted by Henry Okello Oryem, the Ugandan State Minister for Foreign Affairs, “[i]f it [MONUSCO] was doing its job with its large numbers and budget, I don’t think we would still have the crisis in the DRC today”.4
Responding to international criticism, the UN has pointed out that despite the relatively large size of the mission (and sizeable funding5, I might add) it is grossly inadequate considering the fact that DRC is about the size of Western Europe causing the troops to be deployed thinly over a vast terrain. North Kivu province where Goma is located has only 6,700 personnel and 1500 more in the city itself.
Regional analysts like Jason Stearn emphasize that it was impossible for MONUSCO to defend Goma single-handedly,6 a statement that holds particular significance given the withdrawal of civilian and military Congolese officials who left the city undefended and ungoverned. UN spokesman Eduardo del Buey also made clear that peacekeepers were no substitutes for the national army7, as the mission’s mandate specifies that the former act in support of Congolese government efforts and to engage only when civilians are threatened – the protection of civilians being a core goal of Resolution 2053.
Lately the mission in Goma has been reinforced and seems determined to carry out its mandate. MONUSCO’s military spokesman, Colonel Felix Basse, has said that “MONUSCO is continuing fulfilling its mandate, which is protecting the civilian population in and around Goma town. We are conducting our patrols. We have deployed 17 quick reaction forces in order to protect the civilian population in Goma.”8