News / Africa

DRC: High Hopes for New Intervention Brigade

FILE - M23 rebels near the town of Bunagana, Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Nicolas Pinault/VOA)
FILE - M23 rebels near the town of Bunagana, Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Nicolas Pinault/VOA)
Nick Long
Troops from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi are starting to arrive in the Democratic Republic of Congo to reinforce the U.N. stabilization mission MONUSCO.  Many observers are wondering if the new force can tip the balance against the rebels.

The Tanzanian general commanding the intervention brigade arrived in Goma last week with some of his headquarters staff.  The rest of the brigade is expected to arrive in June or July.

A spokesman for a civil society group in Goma, Goyon Milemba, told VOA the brigade’s arrival was welcome news.

"For the first time people feel they can look forward to a better future - because the new force has a mission to put an end to the armed groups," said Milemba.

The U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUSCO, has had 16,000 to 17,000 peacekeepers here for the past eight years, so the arrival of another 3,000 might not look like a game changer.

But Congo expert Jason Stearns, who worked for the United Nations in its previous incarnaton as MONUC, says the brigade will be a force with a difference.

"They will bring with them additional weapons - for example they will have additional attack helicopters," said Stearns. "But they do not bring an enormous amount of logistics.  They bring with them most importantly, I think, a new mandate.  It is a very aggressive mandate.  I would say it is almost an historic mandate for this kind of conflict that allows for aggressive pursuit of armed groups in eastern Congo."

The acting head of MONUSCO for North Kivu province, Alex Queval, puts it slightly differently.  He says it is the first time a U.N. peacekeeping force has deployed a brigade tasked with carrying out targeted attacks to neutralize and disarm armed groups.  

The U.N. peacekeepers already in the DRC will be mainly protecting civilians, Queval says.

"These troops are spread out on the ground in 36 or 37 different camps," said Queval. "Their aim is to protect civilians, not to attack armed groups.  The brigade on the other hand will be concentrated in just two locations.  They will be highly mobile and their job will be trying to persuade the armed groups to disarm.  They are not here to wage war.  They are here to contain, neutralize and disarm the armed groups, so if this can be done without firing a shot everyone will be very pleased.  They can shoot if necessary."

Stearns suggests the brigade’s troops have, in a sense, another weapon - their nationalities.  The troop contributing countries, particularly South Africa and Tanzania have links with the countries of the Great Lakes region.

"Remember the countries currently participating in the UN peacekeeping force - none of them are from the region," he said. "They’re mostly South Asian, actually Indians, Bangladeshi, Pakistanis some Uruguayans. So their states have no involvement in the conflict."

This, he suggests, means there would be a heavy political fallout if the brigade is targeted by rebel groups, such as M23.

"If 10 South African soldiers die, South Africa will be on the phone to leaders in the region, particularly with regard to the M23, they will be putting pressure on Rwanda to bring an end to their support for the M23," said Stearns.

Rwanda has persistently denied accusations it has been supporting the M23.

Several Congolese observers have asked whether MONUSCO can continue its existing mission if the brigade starts targeting rebels.  They suggest the rebels might retaliate against the spread out groups of blue helmets from Asian countries, who could be vulnerable and might even be taken hostage.

Quevel dismisses the idea that the brigade's tasks might become impossible.

"All the necessary precautions will be taken, but I cannot go into military details," he said.

There is broad support for the new brigade from opposition and ruling parties in DRC and from the population, but civil society activist Milemba says they should not be expected to pacify eastern Congo all on their own.

"This mission can only be successful if it is well supported by the Congolese actors," he said. "On its own it would not achieve anything."

Queval says the force is not going to wave a magic wand, a hint perhaps that the United Nations might want to renew the Brigades’ mandate when it runs out in a year’s time.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs