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Interview with outgoing MONUC head Amos Namanga Ngongi

Special Representative of the UN
Secretary-General, Namanga Ngongi
Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Namanga Ngongi (MONUC)

Amos Namanga Ngongi, Special Representative of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), completed on Tuesday his nearly two-year mandate at the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, known as MONUC. In an interview he granted to IRIN on 28 June, he talked about the successes and difficulties during his tenure, particularly of the frustration of being expected to act above and beyond MONUC's mandate. Ngongi's successor, US diplomat William Lacy Swing, is due to arrive on Saturday.

QUESTION: Ambassador, how would you evaluate your two years at the helm of MONUC?

ANSWER: I am proud of what we - MONUC and the international community in cooperation with the Congolese - were able to accomplish during this period. When I first arrived, the initial deployment of MONUC across the country had only just been completed, with about 2,000 [UN] soldiers throughout the DRC. MONUC was created in 1999, but this deployment only began in mid-March 2001. So, that took a lot of time. I arrived at the end of August [2001] and assumed my duties in the beginning of September. Since then, we have had to focus on consolidating the situation on the ground, especially the ceasefire, and ensuring the withdrawal of belligerent troops to agreed positions.

We also began a political process, because it was during this period that reconciliation discussions began among the Congolese. This was not the direct responsibility of MONUC, but MONUC supported this process because if there had been problems on the ground, this would have significantly hindered political discussions.

We also participated in the reopening of the Congo River. As you know, it had been closed, blocked. However, today, I can tell you that the river is open. There is a convoy currently on its way from Kinshasa to Kisangani.

These are small things, but MONUC contributed enormously to stabilising the situation despite fighting that is continuing.
The frontline once stretched from Pweto [in the southeast] all the way to the northeast of the country. Today, we no longer hear about places like Pweto and Moliro. We hear about Ituri, which was not part of MONUC's mandate, and North Kivu, where there have been problems recently, unfortunately.

Q: Do you feel you have fully accomplished your mission, given the continued fighting and killings still taking place in the Kivus, and transitional institutions are having difficulty being put in place?

A: You cannot be completely satisfied. There are still killings, there are still problems. This is true. There are problems in North Kivu, but I brought the belligerent parties together [on 19 June] in Bujumbura [Burundi] where they signed a ceasefire accord and agreed to withdraw forces from locations where they had no right to be.

My deputy, Ms [Lena] Sundh, was in Beni last week where she held a meeting with government [officials], the RCD-K-ML [Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-Kisangani-Mouvement de liberation, a rebel group allied with Kinshasa] and the RCD-Goma [a Rwandan-backed rebel movement]. There they signed an agreement regarding practical modalities [for the ceasefire and withdrawal] as had been devised by MONUC.

MONUC continues to do its work. If it were only a matter of MONUC, I believe that we would have had peace a long time ago. But it is not MONUC that signs these agreements; it is the Congolese.

Q: You were declared "persona non grata" in the territory controlled by RCD-Goma, in the east of the country, and during your tenure MONUC observers were killed, abducted and mistreated. How has that made you feel as the special representative of Kofi Annan and as the head of MONUC?

A: I feel I have nothing to be ashamed of. There were some problems of interpretation of documents that fell into the hands of the RCD - illegally, I should add. They took a position that was against me personally. Given that, I cannot say that I am happy that the person they declared "persona non grata" - me - was the very person who negotiated the arrival of the RCD delegation here in Kinshasa and greeted them upon their arrival.

In the exercise of my duties, a great deal of patience was needed in dealing with the different players. This was nothing personal, just part of the job. I did not have any major problems nor have I retained any bitterness.

With regard to the military observers, this was truly regrettable. In order to do the work on the ground, it is imperative that military observers have freedom of movement. They must carry out verifications. If they are not able to do this, it is not worth deploying them in the field. But to abduct them, to kill them - this is truly shameful.

Those in charge of administration of the various territories are obligated to protect the military observers. They are not armed. They are there to observe and write reports to help me in dealing with the various belligerents in an effort to calm tensions. It is not the observers themselves who can calm things in the field. They do not have the means to do this.

Therefore, the administrators of the various territories must fully cooperate, and the UN Security Council has repeated this numerous times in resolutions calling on all parties to cooperate fully with the civilian and military personnel of MONUC, especially with respect to facilitating the work of military observers.

For those who were killed, we have asked the movements that control the concerned territories to conduct investigations with a view towards arresting those responsible for these crimes. We at MONUC are also conducting our own investigations.

Q: MONUC has never made public the results of previous investigations. There were helicopters that were fired upon and there were the military observers who were killed. Now that your mission has come to an end, can you give us the results of these investigations?

A: Conducting investigations does not mean making the results public. For us, it is a matter of establishing the truth about events. And if there are actions to be taken, then they should be taken without using the media to conduct the business of MONUC. Unfortunately, we are always asked why we do not publish the results of our investigations.

With regard to human rights, there are far greater authorities to deal with such matters. We provide reports. There were several Security Council debates based on MONUC reports.

Q: Many people have called for a change in the mandate of MONUC in light of its inability to take action against belligerents who kill, rape and even engage in cannibalism. Now, at the end of your mission, have you come to share this view?

A: That depends on what one is trying to accomplish. If you say that MONUC has been ineffective, how then can you explain that this country has even survived a period where it was completely torn apart, there was fighting everywhere, there was no agreement, there were five foreign forces here in the DRC. I wish someone could explain that to me.

Perhaps MONUC is ineffective, but fighting is now limited to one section of the country, the north and northeast. When the Congo was torn apart, was the problem confined to the north and the northeast? No. Ituri was not even part of MONUC's mandate, but it has nevertheless been asked to bring a solution to the region.
So, MONUC began the process, MONUC recommended the deployment of troops. It was MONUC that first deployed troops in Ituri. Then it was said that MONUC could not restore order and impose security. But this was not the job of MONUC. The proof was that the Security Council authorised another mission with another mandate to impose peace and stability there.

Q: The multinational force deployed to Bunia is due to withdraw in September. Would it not be useful to strengthen MONUC's mandate?

A: This is what the Secretary-General requested in his most recent report on the DRC. But it is neither the Secretary-General nor MONUC who decides on the mandate. It is the Security Council. The Security Council was here on mission. The Security Council mission visited Bunia. They [the delegates] saw the situation on the ground for themselves. Thus, if certain actions must be taken, it is up to the Security Council. MONUC has done its work. There is a report from the Secretary-General that proposes that the Security Council strengthen MONUC and deploy in Ituri a robust force capable of handling the situation.

Q: What do you mean by strengthening the mandate of MONUC? Would this involve changing the mission’s mandate from Chapter Six to Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, allowing MONUC to become a peace enforcement mission on part or all of the territory of the DRC?

A: Honestly speaking, I would say that it is not the Chapter that counts so much as the duties. It is necessary that the duties of the mission be made clear, and be approved by the Security Council, with adequate means provided. If the duties are not clear, even if it is Chapter Six or Seven, there will still be a problem. However, if the duties are clear and the means adequate, MONUC will be in a position to deal with the situation.

Q: Speaking of adequate means, during your tenure you were expecting to have more than 8,000 soldiers, but they only arrived in small numbers until now at the end of your mandate when only slightly more than a half of this number has arrived. Do you believe you were provided with adequate means for your mission?

A: Of course we did not have sufficient means. And, if the figures were set at 8,700, then we needed all 8,700. At present, we have just over 6,000 who have arrived. But among these 6,000 we have used 740 to provide a neutral force here in Kinshasa that had not been foreseen. We deployed another 800 to Ituri, but this had not been foreseen either. Thus we have used more than 1,500 of the 6,000 available to handle duties that were not the responsibility of MONUC. We are, therefore, doing our best with the resources we have available.

Q: You have said that another phase would begin after your departure. What will this consist of?

A: The transitional phase. The Follow-up Commission is holding meetings. I hope that within a few hours they will declare that they are now ready to begin the transition, which will begin with the inauguration of a transitional government.

I believe there are stages. One should not think that problems of the past four years, particularly military problems, and problems of poor management which have lasted perhaps more than 10 years can be resolved in one day.

Q: Your mission has come to an end as the Demobilisation, Disarmament, Repatriation, Reintegration and Reinstallation [DDRRR] programme of Rwandan combatants remaining in the DRC continues to struggle. When do you think this programme might gain momentum, and what has hampered its success up to this point?

A: It is true that the DDRRR operation has experienced delays. And I would say that MONUC has had some success in getting things started. To date, we have demobilised, disarmed and repatriated some 2,000 Rwandans to their home country. However, this operation was supposed to be supported by a robust task force that would escort and protect MONUC staff, MONUC military observers, who would venture into the forests to establish contacts with armed groups.

The first task force arrived only about one month ago, consisting of 1,500 or 1,700 South Africans who are based in Kindu. MONUC has been asked to effectively carry out this DDRRR programme, which was supposed to be supported by soldiers who have not materialised. It is not MONUC that contributes troops. They must come from contributing countries. We can handle criticism, but is it really reasonable to ask civilians and unarmed military observers to go into the forest, look for armed groups who are there because they fear returning home, who do not want to return voluntarily to their country?

It is clear that we were perhaps a bit too ambitious at the start of the programme. By this I mean that we were trying to carry out a DDRRR programme in a combat zone. There was war, fighting, but we were being asked to go into the forest to seek out armed groups. This was not the fault of MONUC. Of course, you can always criticise MONUC, but it is not MONUC that starts these battles. It is not MONUC that conducts operations aimed at destabilising armed groups who were ready to participate in the process. It is not MONUC that should contribute to the task forces.

Q: Some time ago, MONUC declared that it had brought together groups of Rwandan Interahamwe combatants who had been living in the forests of the Kivu provinces and were awaiting MONUC's intervention in assisting their repatriation. However, every time this repatriation was due to take place, something happened and complicated matters. Can you tell us what was going on?

A: Each time MONUC made contact with armed groups in order to disarm them, there would be operations launched by rebel movements in the east, by RCD-Goma or RCD-K-ML. It is they who are in this zone, along with the Mayi-Mayi [traditional Congolese militias]. But MONUC was always blamed for these failures when it was other groups who were launching operations aimed at destabilising the DDRRR programme.

In all instances, we kept administrators of the various zones fully informed. They were very well informed that MONUC was going to begin activities within several days, but two or three days before our activities were due to begin, fighting would erupt in the region and the armed groups [awaiting demobilisation] would be dispersed.

You can see what is happening right now in North Kivu, where MONUC has made contacts with hundreds and hundreds of Interahamwe around the town of Lubero. And what happens? Fighting breaks out around Lubero. And MONUC is supposed to walk into the middle of all this fighting to seek out people in the forest, demobilise and repatriate them?

Q: What do you believe could be the greatest difficulty for your successor, William Swing?

A: As I have said, a new phase is beginning. I worked in one phase, he will begin in another phase. I cannot predict what difficulties there might be during this period of transition [in the DRC]. But I believe that he has all the necessary experience and competence to deal with situations that might arise during this transitional period.

Q: What do you have to say about the improper behaviour of which certain MONUC military observers were accused of during your tenure?

A: From time to time there have been accusations made against MONUC staff, both civilian and military. However, most of the time we conduct investigations in cooperation with those making the accusations. To date, we have not found a situation where the accusations were well founded.

It seemed that whenever something bad happened somewhere, MONUC was somehow supposed to be behind it. If I have done something wrong, then accuse me directly instead of blaming the whole of MONUC. This is what is really frustrating. I cannot say that all staff members of MONUC are angels, but to attribute blame for the act of an individual to the whole of MONUC, I think that is rather unfair.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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