Were it not for its tragic nature, the news of another attack by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) on a civilian convoy in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on September 1 would have perhaps passed without eliciting a second glance. But the numbers and images from Wednesday’s ambush of a 100-vehicle convoy as it made its way from the city of Butembo to Beni were too grim to ignore and, once again, brought into sharp focus the insecurity that has held the area hostage for more than two decades.
Four people were confirmed deceased, more than 80 are unaccounted for and nearly all the vehicles in the convoy were burnt.
In a video that went viral, a scared woman whose fate is unknown, is seen praying to God, wondering where to run to as the sound of gunfire is heard coming from the back and front of the convoy.
For the umpteenth time, the carnage raises questions about the functionality of the United Nations Mission for the Stabilisation of Congo, Monusco, and what sustains instability in the eastern DRC. With 14,000 boots on ground and a continuous presence in the country for two decades, Monusco would be expected to have developed some institutional memory and the agility to deal with insecurity better. It is one of the UN’s largest and longest running missions globally.
With an approved headcount of just over 16,000 people, at least 12,000 of these are fighters.
Yet, in the face of the frequent failures to prevent attacks on unarmed targets, its value can only be imagined in terms of what could have been, if it were not there.
The need to pacify the mineral-rich country should be a matter of regional and international interest. As the global economy pursues a green future, it will need a pacified Congo. Home to 60 percent of the world’s reserves of cobalt, a key element in the manufacture of electric batteries, a peaceful DRC means cheaper minerals and a more economically efficient green future.
At the regional and continental levels, the DRC is the next big opportunity and fast movers are already taking the risk of establishing a foothold there.
That march by East Africa’s corporate prospectors and the country’s integration into the East African Community will, at best, be slow and costly, if nothing is done to secure the region’s people and its resources in a more credible manner. That will require the international community to commit more to the DRC mission and the African Union to create a framework that allows neighbours with a strong motivation to intervene to do so.
Although the ADF have for long been associated with international terrorism, the UN’s Western funders have tacitly denied that classification because in would impose on them a duty to intervene.
At the end of the day, the DRC is East Africa’s to gain or lose. The ADF and the plethora of local militias succeed primarily because of an overwhelmed national army and an absence of infrastructure, which slows down responses to any breaches of the peace.