On Sunday, January 14th, the United Nations announced a definitive plan for the complete withdrawal of its peacekeeping forces from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC or DR Congo) by the end of December 2024. This decision marks the end of a significant chapter in the UN’s involvement in the DR Congo, which has spanned over two decades.
Bintou Keita, head of the UN mission known as MONUSCO, confirmed the three-phased withdrawal plan during a media briefing in Kinshasa. The first phase will see approximately 2,000 UN troops leaving South Kivu by the end of April, reducing the 13,500-member force to 11,500. Subsequent phases will involve the withdrawal of forces from North Kivu and Ituri provinces.
The announcement follows the Congolese government’s request for the UN mission to leave the country. The government, recently re-elected in a disputed vote, has criticized MONUSCO for failing to protect civilians from armed groups. Despite the mission’s efforts, eastern Congo continues to be ravaged by more than 120 armed groups, leading to mass killings and the displacement of nearly 7 million people.
Christophe Lutundula, the Congolese Foreign Minister, emphasized that the withdrawal of MONUSCO does not signify the end of the fight to protect the country’s territorial interests. He stressed the need for continued efforts to secure the region, which has been plagued by violence over territory and resources.
The UN Security Council had previously voted unanimously in favor of gradually phasing out its peacekeeping operations in DR Congo. Keita assured that the end of the MONUSCO mission would not be “the end of the United Nations” in the country, indicating ongoing support in other capacities.
The decision to withdraw the peacekeeping forces has been met with mixed reactions. While some view it as a necessary step towards self-reliance and sovereignty for the DR Congo, others express concern over the potential security vacuum that could be created in the absence of UN forces.
The DR Congo government has also directed an East African regional force, deployed last year to help end the fighting, to leave the country. This move aligns with the government’s broader strategy to take greater control over security operations within its borders.
As the UN prepares for its final exit from the DR Congo, the focus shifts to the Congolese government and regional partners to ensure stability and security in a region long troubled by conflict. The withdrawal of MONUSCO presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the DR Congo to chart a new course in its quest for peace and development.