UN peacekeeping in Africa is in deep crisis, with the Blue Helmets not only failing in their missions but also regularly getting caught up in the middle of scandals.
For the past few years there have been rallies in the Democratic Republic of Congo against the presence of representatives of the UN multidimensional mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) because of the poor performance of the Blue Helmets. Since July this year, the heaviest street protests have taken place in North Kivu province.
Although the UN multidimensional peacekeeping mission has been present in the DRC since 1999, the Blue Helmets have been accused by the people of that country of failing to tackle existing terrorist groups and militias, being unable to implement any provision of their mandate and incapable of protecting civilians. Meanwhile, as is known, the MONUSCO mission is mandated to use all necessary means to fulfil its mandate to, inter alia, protect civilians, humanitarian workers and human rights defenders under imminent threat of physical violence and to support the DRC government in its stabilization and peace consolidation work. So far, it is the biggest UN peacekeeping mission of its size among all the countries receiving such assistance, with a total strength of just over 20,000 people, including a contingent of 14,000 troops.
A large part of the DRC population, especially in the east of the country where terrorist groups and militias are most active, demands that the mandate of UN forces be changed so that they could conduct direct military action against the militants, rather than being limited to logistical support to the Congolese army. This is essentially why there have been sporadic public protests against the UN mission in eastern DRC over the past few years.
This year was no exception. In July, for example, there were mass demonstrations in North Kivu province demanding the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers, who are accused of failing to create safe living conditions for the population in that part of the DRC. In their protest, participants in the provincial capital of Goma stormed the regional headquarters of the UN mission and a warehouse, which were looted. Five people were killed in the riots that erupted during the demonstration.
At least 10 people, including three UN mission members, were killed in mid-July in the city of Butembo, also in eastern DRC, during riots accompanying a demonstration demanding the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from North Kivu province. “Three people from the MONUSCO mission have been killed – two Indian nationals and one Moroccan national – and there is one injured. Among the demonstrators, seven were killed,” the city’s police chief, Paul Ngoma, stated.
In early August, another wave of protests over the presence and inactivity of MONUSCO mission staff swept the DRC. In response to protests, “peacekeepers” used firearms and special equipment to disperse demonstrators, resulting in 32 civilian casualties!
Although the UN condemned the Blue Helmets shooting at protesters in the DRC and two Tanzanian peacekeepers were arrested for killing protesters, the DRC authorities nevertheless showed their determination against the MONUSCO contingent. In particular, the national government demanded that the Blue Helmets leave the country earlier than previously anticipated because of their inefficiency and acts of inhumanity. In addition, national authorities appealed on August 3 to the United Nations to expel MONUSCO peacekeeping mission representative Mathias Gillmann from the DRC.
As protests continued in DRC over the presence and actions of MONUSCO members in the country, on September 7 the Blue Helmets once again opened fire on protesters, this time in the city of Beni to clear the way for a transport convoy. One of the civilians was killed. The authorities of that African republic again strongly condemned the actions of the UN “peacekeepers”, demanded an accelerated withdrawal of the contingent from the country and notified UN Secretary-General’s representative Bintou Keita of their stance.
But the DRC is not the only African country where there have been strong recent protests against the Blue Helmets. Mass demonstrations are also taking place in Mali, demanding the withdrawal of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in September this year. In particular, members of the civil platform Yerewolo argue that for peace and stability to take hold in Mali, foreign peacekeepers acting under UN cover must be withdrawn. The movement’s coordinator, Adam Diarra, made several press statements, in one of which members of the Yerewolo platform pointed out: “The terrorist in Mali is France, and when we drove it out, MINUSMA was left behind. Everything that happens in the country now goes through the UN mission. That is why the only agenda is for it to leave so that we can have peace, because we have lost our sovereignty.”
As proof that there are no excuses for the inaction of MINUSMA and the French counter-terrorism operation Barkhane in the fight against terrorists and radical groups in Mali, the army of that country is showing its own successes in this field. Units of the Malian army and local law enforcers trained by Russian instructors are confidently searching for the hiding bandits and eliminating them, and have achieved great success in combating radicals.
According to Malian authorities, the jihadist threat remains the gravest problem for the country, and their activity is due to France’s subversive efforts in the region, which supports the militants. Referring to such criminal activities of the former metropole, the Malian authorities accuse France, among others, of aiding and abetting the radical Tuareg organization the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), as well as of carrying out illegal military activities on the territory of the republic.
The Malian authorities asked the UN Security Council to hold a special meeting to put an end to the “acts of aggression” of the Fifth Republic in an official letter addressed on August 15 to the leadership of the international organization. To this end, the republic’s Foreign Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, provided the UNSC with evidence of the crimes of the former metropole. On September 24, Acting Prime Minister of Mali Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga addressed the 77th session of the UN General Assembly, criticizing French policy in Mali and on the African continent in general, as well as the activities of MINUSMA peacekeeping forces, while pointing to the fruitful cooperation of the African country with Russia in ensuring state security and the lives of Malians.
In another African country, the Central African Republic, demonstrations against the Blue Helmets have also continued. The inhabitants of that country have recently caught the Mauritanian contingent of the UN multidimensional integrated mission (MINUSCA) supporting the militants of the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC), making a criminal agreement with the radicals, selling them weapons, ammunition and food.
In the past, the people of the CAR have repeatedly accused the Blue Helmets of smuggling and various criminal activities. In 2021, for example, 450 Gabonese peacekeepers were forced to leave urgently the CAR because of accusations of dozens of criminal incidents involving sexual violence; more than 80 members of the contingent have been accused of beating civilians.
Another high-profile scandal involving the Blue Helmets in the CAR was related to the criminal activities in 2021 of a Portuguese contingent of “peacekeepers” who used UN military transport planes to smuggle diamonds, gold and drugs into Europe. In exchange for jewelry and drugs, the “peacekeepers” provided the criminal groups with weapons and intelligence on the movements of the Armed Forces of the Central African Republic (FACA), provided shelter to wounded radicals and set up strongholds to house them.
In these circumstances, the African public continues to criticize UN peacekeepers, express dissatisfaction with their work and demand that the UN leadership take appropriate measures, disclose the crimes committed by the Blue Helmets and punish the perpetrators. Politicians and public figures in Africa have criticized the organization’s staff for being indifferent to the continent’s problems and for disregarding the Blue Helmets’ own mandate. And until effective action is taken by the UN leadership in this area, protests against the Blue Helmets will not cease.