Not expecting Serious Trouble
Author: Rafael Velasquez
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 07/12/2006
MONUC’s General Mujahid Alam tells Rafa Valsquez that he is “not expecting serious trouble” in this exclusive interview
The second Congo war came to an official end in 2003. However, human rights violations, generalized violence and misrule, have been present throughout the post-war transitional process. The upcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are intended to mark the next phase in this country’s road to recovery but the challenges are overwhelming.
The UN, through its mission in the DRC, has embarked in its most ambitious electoral-support endeavor yet. I had the opportunity to meet up with General Mujahid Alam, Head of the Pretoria Liaison Office of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), to discuss the ongoing preparations for the upcoming elections.
RV: One of the former rebel groups, the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), seems very unpopular and is likely to loose most of its current power in the upcoming elections. This has in the past meant and upsurge of violence in the east and could present a challenge to the elections and the transition in the DRC. What can be done, what is being done and what do you expect will happen regarding this issue?
GMA: You see, the way we look at it in the UN and MONUC is that, for us, all the political parties, all the political players are equal, and we treat them equally with due respect. We wish for them the best in the elections. At this stage it is difficult to say what would be the outcome of the elections, because there are no scientific polls being carried out, so whatever estimation one can make, it is of a generalized nature, but you are right, the RCD, which is a major player now in the transitional government, may not come out very strongly in the elections. It is quiet possible that this may happen to other parties, it may happen with the MLC which also has a vice-president and is also a major player. This might even be the case for the PPRD which, you know, is the party of president Kabila. So one doesn’t really know, but overall I would share your concern. Irrespective of whether it is RCD, MLC or any other party, if they do not do well in the elections and they do not have the same influence politically as they do now, there could be a factor for major concern if the future policy of the elected government in the DRC is not a policy of inclusivity. That is the message that we are sending to all of them. Irrespective of the outcome of the elections a situation where the winner takes all will not really work in a country like the DRC, which is still only now trying to come out of such a prolonged period of problems. Irrespective of which party wins or which parties loose there has to be a policy of inclusiveness. A political system will have to be formed where all the major key players feel that they have a stake in the future of the country. This is something that needs to be addressed and that is the message of the UN and MONUC through the head of our mission, ambassador Swing. We all are giving this message to all the major players, from president Kabila to the deputy presidents to all the major parties. We do not expect any serious trouble in the post-electorate situation irrespective of which party looses if this whole situation is handled in a very pragmatic and prudent manner. If there is a willingness for accommodation, if there is a willingness for tolerance then we feel that the situation will remain under control but if these recommendations are not taken into consideration then of course this could lead to some problems, but it is premature to say that only the RCD may loose in the east and that it may revert to creating problems I think it will not really be fair to say that at this stage.
RV: Etienne Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) will boycott the election. His support in Kinshasa and the two Kasai provinces is considerable, how will this infringe the electoral process and the peace process in general?
GMA: Etienne Tshisekedi’s case is different from that of the RCD or MNLC or other parties in the sense that Etienne Tshisekedi and his party, the UDPS, did not take part in the voter registration (they boycotted it), subsequently when the electoral schedule was announced they again abstained from participating –they said that they did not want to be a part of this electoral process–. Now, this has happened despite all possible efforts made by the UN, MONUC the AU, the EU and the government of South Africa. Tshisekedi’s party had some preconditions, some demands, they wanted the voter registration to be re-opened throughout the country. It was explained to them that this cannot be done, if it was to be re-opened throughout the country this would have set back the electoral time table by many, many months. Still, it was offered to them that the voter registrations could be re-opened in two provinces. He did not take up this offer. He, then, insisted –I think rightly so– that his party should be registered as the sole legitimate UDPS, because there are some splinting groups. Initially there was some hesitation on the part of the government but later the demand was accepted and his party was registered and is currently registered as the sole UDPS. Somehow, he has still decided to remain out of the system and I can tell you that the UN, MONUC, the head of our mission ambassador Swing and the previously mentioned organizations, have tried their best, but somehow he has still decided to remain outside of the process. We would very much wish for him and his party to come into the system because he is an experience politician, he does enjoy a degree of support particularly in Kinshasa and the Kasai, where he originally comes from. We would very much like, even at this belated stage, for him to come into the political process. If he still decides to remain outside of the system we hope that he and his party will not resort to violence and will not resort to trying to sabotage the elections. This is a message that we have been giving him, we are willing to accommodate him in any reasonable way but overall political accommodation is from all the political players there, we cannot force all the political parties and leaders to do things or to accept Tshisekedi’s demands if they don’t want to, I mean, this is a national reconciliation process.
RV: The role of media in peace conflict and peacebuilding is a subject of growing interest. How is MONUC’s radio station, Radio Okapi, ‘gearing up’ for the upcoming elections?
GMA: This is one of the priority areas for us. Civic education, public information, the outreach campaign, and support to the media are absolutely major priorities for us and a lot of efforts have been put into this. As you know, the national media of Congo is still very weak and has very limited reach (both print and the electronic media). Now, radio Okapi, which is the voice of MONUC, is the only national broadcasting organization. When I say national I mean our reach is throughout the country. Almost 80% of the population is covered by radio Okapi broadcast. Okapi is broadcasting 7 days a week 24 hours a day in all 5 national languages (Lingala, Swahili, Ciluba, Kikongo, and French). Radio Okapi has FM and SW transmitters throughout the country, the electorate can now be reached with civil education campaigns, public information, information on what is going on regarding the electoral rules and it is really moving into high gear. I think and excellent work is being done by this particular department of MONUC (the Public Information Department) so we are giving a lot of importance to this, and of course is absolutely unbiased. What we broadcast is absolutely neutral, there is no party biased political message and it is absolutely fair.
RV: Speaking of logistics, you job sounds impossible. You are looking at holding the first elections in 45 years in a country the size of Western Europe, with no major communication infrastructure and a population of 60 million. How do you maintain a positive outlook on this situation?
GMA: Logistics for the elections are, I think, the biggest challenge for MONUC for the UN and for the International Community. I have no hesitation in saying that. You yourself said it, 60 million people, a country the size of Western Europe, with no roads no communication facilities. It really is a huge undertaking, a huge challenge, if I use the term that is almost a nightmare, it will not be wrong. We are going to be having over 50,000 polling stations throughout the country. The total number of election staff and workers is going to exceed 300,000. Now, all the electorate material has to be moved in all 9 provinces, it has to be deployed in districts in the most remote areas where there are not roads, there are no communication facilities, and all of this is being coordinated by MONUC. Most of it is going to be transported by air, but once they are taken to where they have to be landed, then they also have to be taken further inside and that is being done by MONUC’s military. Trucks, jeeps and in certain cases people will have to carry them on their shoulders. So it really is a huge undertaking, the UN and the International Community have never, never, done anything like this before. Countries where the UN has conducted elections or helped conduct election like Cambodia, Afghanistan, Liberia, Haiti, Sierra Leone can all fit into the Congo with a lot of space leftover, you see this is the magnitude of the challenge, but I can tell you that we are reasonably confident. MONUC’s headquarters in Kinshasa, our administration the military component of MONUC, the electorate division is all geared up for this now, along with, of course, our partners and friends who are also in some way assisting. We are reasonable confident that this challenge can be met. There will definitely be some problems, I am sure there will be problems, there are problems even in established democracies some times! In a country like Congo I am sure there are going to be some problems, but we hope that the election will still be fair and credible
On the exploitation of natural resources:
RV: In 2001, you were a member of the Panel of Expert for the DRC established by the UN to investigate the illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth. The DRC is Africa’s most resource-rich country in Africa. Gold, diamonds and other natural resources have fed and prolonged the fracas. What lessons did you draw from your previous participation in the Panel of Expert, what do you think still needs to be addressed on this matter in the DRC?
GMA: A lot needs to be addressed, a lot more needs to be done regarding the illegal exploitation of DRC’s natural resources. The current situation is far from satisfactory. The DRC resources are still being exploited and plundered both by internal as well as external actors. A lot more has to be done, the resources of the country should be utilized for the benefit of the country, as a matter of priority, as a matter of principle, there is no doubt about it. However, the governmental structures are still very weak. The system, the rules and the laws are still very weak. The political will to address this problem needs be strengthened the country needs a lot of support from outside, it does not have the technical or the administrative expertise to ensure that mining licenses, for example, or prospecting licenses are given in a proper, transparent way. Whatever production there is, mineral extraction or any other activity, there needs to be proper accountability, whatever taxes have to be paid, whatever duties have to be paid. Very little of that is being done at the present, but we hope that after the elections with the newly elected government these things will slowly then start materializing. But as I said, will the country itself be able to do it? Not it all, they will need a great deal of support from outside, from outside intuitions from outside countries and all to make sure that this illegal exploitation and plundering of resources is stopped. Yes, some of the neighboring countries have a role to play, they had their hands in this as we all know, exploiting the DRC’s resources, and they need to be pressured and make sure to stop this completely, completely.
On sexual exploitation by peacekeepers:
RV: As a military consultant and analyst with the UN Secretary-General’s Investigative Team to the DRC you investigated allegation of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. What has the UN done to prevent and punish the perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse among its peacekeepers?
GMA: Let me say that sexual exploitation and abuse is an offense, a crime which we at the UN, MONUC and the head of our mission, totally condemn. There can be absolutely no question of tolerating it, no question of impunity, no question of accepting it. This has been an insult on the name of the UN. We are very determined to stamp it out, to take the strongest possible actions against any offender and a lot of measures have been put in place to do this. Starting right from the Secretary-General and UN headquarter in New York the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Under- Secretary-General to the respective missions and in particular in our mission, which I am competent to talk about. The head of our mission ambassador Swing, and MONUC’s headquarters have implemented a number of measures: disciplinary measure, administrative measures, legal measures, to put a complete stop to this kind of practice. A large number of inquiries and investigations have been held, a number of people has been punished, some staff member have been dismissed from service, many of them have been disciplined and repatriated prematurely on disciplinary grounds, including some senior staff, and a lot of other measures have been taken to try and identify why this kind of abuse takes place. Is it because these peacekeepers are too stressed? They do not have any stress outlet? They do not have any recreational facilities? Is it that there was too much fraternization, too much interaction between the peacekeepers and the local community? Measures have been taken to put a stop or regulate that, curfews have been put in place, a number of places have been put out of bound. So a lot of things have been done, but still, I willingly admit that this kind of practice has not completely stopped but we must put this in perspective. When we look at the total number of peacekeepers in MONUC, and I am not just talking about the uniformed soldiers, I am talking about civilian and uniformed staff, the total number of the mission is on the excess of 17000. What is the percentage of people who have been involved in this kind of incident? It is not event 1%, you see, not even 1% of the total number. That means that more than 99% of the people are working in a dedicated way, working in a good way, doing a very good job. These bad eggs are a small, very small minority of less than 1% bringing a bad name to the UN. One last thing that I want to highlight is that whatever the UN or MONUC wants to do we cannot do in isolation to address this problem, a lot depends on the countries that contribute their contingents, their troops. MONUC, the UN is not an independent judicial body, we can of course investigate and inquire but then it is up to the countries concerned what actions have to be taken. Of course we urge them to take strict actions so as to deter future incident but, of course, it has to be done in concert and cooperation with all of them.
The International Community and the DRC
RV: Former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was strongly criticized by some and strongly praised by others for exposing the double standards of the international community when facing the atrocities in Rwanda and the Balkans. Currently MONUC, is receiving less money, per capita, for the upcoming elections than other UN mission such as Liberia did in past. What do you make of this?
GMA: I don’t know whether one can call it double standards, but I must say that the apathy of the International Community towards the DRC for a long, long time has been certainly a matter of very serious concern. There are estimates which consider that in the last four, five, six years -ever since these recent problems- almost 4 million people have lost their lives. Even today, 1500 people on an average loose their lives daily, due to disease, hunger and poverty. This is absolutely scandalous, and it is shameful that this kind of situation has been allowed to exist for so long, but as you know the international community also in the last 5- 6 years has invested a great deal in the DRC. Yes, per capita it is not enough, a lot more needs to be done but a lot has been done a lost has been put into place, the present international support and commitment towards the DRC is unprecedented, it has never been there before and this is something that needs to be capitalized, something that needs to be consolidated. Nevertheless, I feel very strongly that the outside world still does not know, it is still not fully aware of all the misery, all the depravation all the humanitarian crises that still exists in the DRC. I feel they need to be aware of it, it is the biggest, largest, ongoing human tragedy in the world and the outside world needs to be made aware of that. I think Congo needs much more support, it will continue to need more support after the elections, but of course the government must be held accountable for whatever comes in. Support should be linked to accountability, transparency and good governance. Coming back to the main point, yes Congo needs much more needed support and it has not been as forthcoming as it should have been.
RV: Thank you for your time General.
GMA: Thank you.