2006: A year of hope for the Congolese people
For the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), 2006 was a pivotal year: the first democratic elections since the country’s independence from Belgium more than 40 years ago were held. After two rounds of polling, the results were ultimately respected by the contenders. This was a success that Congo-watchers called miraculous, particularly since the DRC had been riven by years of conflict which in the past six years has cost some four million lives.
For the United Nations Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC), 2006 was also a year of major challenges and achievements. MONUC assisted the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in the organization of the largest and most complex election process ever supported by a UN mission, and probably the largest and most expensive in African history, costing some US$500 million. Kudos came in from around the world for the UN force that peacekeeping officials had struggled to expand in 2004 – to its present strength of 18,300 uniformed personnel – and whose efficacy had been doubted in influencing the fate of a huge, devastated country of some 60 million people.
To ensure that the elections took place under safe and secure circumstances, MONUC conducted joint operations with the national armed forces. It also collaborated with the Congolese Government in reforming the security sector through the creation of an integrated national army and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programmes. The mission provided further security and assistance to local populations affected by the grave humanitarian situation in the country.
By their approval of the new Constitution on 18 December 2005, the Congolese people manifested their wish for democracy and development. In 2006 they came out in formidable numbers – over 70% of the 26 million registered cast votes in the presidential and national assembly elections held in July, as well as the presidential second round and provincial assembly elections in October. The elections were widely regarded by both international and national observers as being technically sound, transparent and credible.The inauguration on 6 December of Joseph Kabila as the new President ended the transitional process outlined by the Global and All-Inclusive Agreement of 2002 which had established a transitional Government, headed by Joseph Kabila and four Vice-Presidents – two of them former rebel leaders.
With more than 17,000 peacekeepers and some 100 aircraft, MONUC was able to provide vital logistical and technical support to the country that matches Western Europe in size, but the Kalahari wilderness in infrastructure. MONUC supported the recruitment and training of over 250,000 polling agents, and transported over 3,500 tons of election material from four logistic bases to over 200 destinations around the country using aircraft, boats and other vehicles. Some local poll suppliers carried ballots by bicycle or by foot, walking for up to 10 days through the jungle.
MONUC’s Radio Okapi, run with the support of the Swiss Fondation Hirondelle, broadcast continuous elections-related programmes in five languages. Special publications were distributed to over one million readers, and dozens of elections-related video programmes aired on local TV stations.
MONUC also supported the collection of elections results from over 50,000 polling stations to 62 destinations where the results were processed, and helped in compiling the results. A total of 73,000 Congolese police officers were mobilized for the elections,more than half of them trained by MONUC.The deployment in August of the 1,200 strong European Union Force (EUFOR) as a temporary reinforcement to MONUC further helped secure the historic electoral process.
While the elections took place in a generally calm environment, violence broke out in Kinshasa shortly before the announcement of the provisional results of the presidential election on 20 August. This escalated over the course of two days into clashes involving the security guards of the two main presidential candidates, President Joseph Kabila and then Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba. Through the quick military intervention of MONUC and EUFOR, and diplomatic efforts in particular by William Lacy Swing, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the DRC, calm was restored and confidence rebuilt between the two parties, which paved the way for a largely peaceful second presidential round.
None of the achievements of 2006 would have been possible without the determination and desire for peace of the Congolese people, supported by UN peacekeeping troops and other international partners. Congo remains a tragic country,where 1,000 people are said to die each day from hunger and disease. Even voting was difficult as National Assembly ballots contained information on 3,000 candidates. The Congolese and the international community now face the challenge of turning election euphoria into a consolidated and functioning democracy.
A number of peacekeepers gave their lives to end conflict and secure the elections: in January, nine Guatemalan soldiers were killed in an ambush in Ituri. In May, one Nepalese soldier was killed and eight others detained during skirmishes between MONUC and a militia group. They were eventually released on 8 July.
On the humanitarian front, MONUC supported the formulation, development and coordination of a national humanitarian strategy,which resulted in an action plan and US$681 million worth of projects around the country. The mission was also involved in innovative approaches to reconcile military and security objectives with improved protection and assistance to vulnerable civilian populations. This led to the deployment of Mobile Operating Bases all over the country, and later to the return and repatriation of over half a million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 26,000 refugees. During 2006, MONUC organized over 350 humanitarian missions to Congo’s most isolated and vulnerable people; facilitated and implemented 100 Quick Impact Projects which assisted some 250,000 Congolese; and also supported the transportation of 206 tons of humanitarian cargo.
UN peacekeepers carried out robust joint military operations with the national armed forces in the troubled eastern district of Ituri, leading to the disarmament of 5,000 militia elements. In a year in which over 93,000 ex-combatants were demobilized, including 27,346 children, MONUC also assisted in the repatriation of 800 foreign combatants and 700 dependants to their countries of origin. In Ituri, MONUC acted as facilitator in talks that led to disarmament accords with three armed groups. In December, the first of these groups entered the DDR process, marking a significant step on the road to peace and security.
MONUC played a crucial role in ending human rights violations and impunity in the DRCthrough its instrumental role in collecting evidence that led to five high-profile trials for war crimes and crimes against humanity. On 17 March, Thomas Lubanga, a former militia leader, was transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of having enlisted, conscripted and used children under 15 to actively participate in hostilities (a war crime under the Rome Statute of the ICC). As most human rights abuses in the DRC involve police or army, MONUC trained 1,600 Congolese army officers, civilian judges, prosecutors, national police officers and election officials in internationally accepted human rights standards.
In response to reports of sexual misconduct involving military and civilian staff, MONUC created a special conduct and discipline unit which developed a network of 24 military and police focal points and regional action plans across the country. During the year, they processed several allegations, trained 1,469 staff and gave induction briefings to all newly arrived MONUC personnel.
If 2006 was a year of hope for the DRC, 2007 will be dedicated to the consolidation of the democratic process, the establishment of new institutions, the promotion of national reconciliation and good governance with a focus on managing natural resources and fighting corruption, and the promotion of economic development and reconstruction. Humanitarian needs remain dire. The expectations of the Congolese people are understandably high, and the country will continue to rely on the strong support of the UN and the wider international community as it works towards sustainable peace.
Prepared by the Peace and Security Section, United Nations Department of Public Information.
© United Nations 2007