Ban Ki-Moon: In the DR Congo, UN Money Can't Buy You Peace (Yet)

We know money can’t buy happiness, but can it buy peace? The UN sure thinks so. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim made their first-ever joint trip to Africa last week, stopping in Kinshasa and Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kigali, Rwanda. The purpose of their visit was to announce the World Bank’s pledge of $1 billion in aid to support peace and stability efforts in the Great Lakes region.

Additionally, the UN is paving the way for a new “intervention brigade”, the first-ever UN peacekeeping mission with a mandate to seek out and actively engage in combat with rebel groups. Already the most expensive peacekeeping mission in the world, the intervention brigade will add an additional $150 million to the existing UN regional operation budget of over $1.3 billion.

But the money isn’t coming for nothing. The World Bank’s $1 billion pledge is contingent on the players in the region upholding a peace agreement signed by 11 different countries and organizations in February. Ironically, just two days before Kim and Ban’s scheduled arrival in the eastern, war-torn city of Goma, fighting erupted between government forces and the M23 rebel group only six miles outside the city. Around 20 people were killed over three days of fighting. A truce was called only hours before the big visit, and Ban and Kim were able to complete their trip.

The violence broke a shaky six-month truce between M23 and the Congolese Army that has kept the region relatively calm since November. M23, an armed rebel group that has been terrorizing the Kivu Lake region of Eastern DRC, is comprised of a group of defected Congolese soldiers that were, until recently, led by warlord Bosco Ntaganda — “The Terminator” — since they broke away from the army in April of last year. M23 continues to cause havoc in the region, despite Ntaganda’s surprise surrender to the ICC at the U.S. embassy in Kigali this past March.  

The fighting in the densely populated and deeply impoverished eastern DRC is part of a protracted conflict in the region that has been continuing on and off for nearly 20 years. With roots in both the massive refugee crisis following the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and the dictatorial regime of former DRC President Mobutu Sese Seko, the situation in the country is exacerbated by the fact that the region is rich in mineral resources, the source of funding for many of the regions armed groups.

Neighboring Rwanda and Uganda are widely believed to be backing the M23 movement, though both countries deny accusations and have signed February’s peace agreement.

Both Ban’s intervention brigade and Kim’s $1 billion bribe for peace are signs that the international community is running out of ideas. Does the most expensive peacekeeping operation in the world really need more money thrown at it, or (in the words of the late Notorious B.I.G.) will mo’ money only create mo’ problems? The World Bank's billion-dollar dangling apple is slated to go towards development projects, including regional trade initiatives, and health and education infrastructure. The UN believes that the extreme poverty and lack of basic services in Congo’s east are some of the root causes for the continued violence. Ban sees a light at the end of the tunnel, believing that between the intervention brigade and the February’s peace agreement, “We have the best chance in many years to bring peace, stability and development to this country and this region.”

With over a decade of ineffectual operations in the region, it doesn’t seem as if another billion dollars will change much for the UN. However, if the major players involved find that a billion dollars in development projects is in their best interest, there is hope that they will come together and commit to a lasting solution. If not, the people of eastern DRC will continue to suffer, with or without another billion dollars.