As the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) celebrates 50 years of independence, the Stabilisation Unit's John Myers is working with the UN peacekeeping mission to address continuing instability in the east of the country.
Since mid-January John Myers has called Goma, in the DRC, home.
John is a member of the Stabilisation Unit’s (SU’s) 1,000-strong Civilian Stabilisation Group - the SU is a centre of expertise in stabilisation jointly owned by the Department for International Development (DFID), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the MOD.
His first deployment with the UN peacekeeping mission MONUC (United Nations Organisation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) is supported by DFID from the Africa Conflict Pool Programme, and has involved a steep learning curve.
An experienced humanitarian worker, John spent four years in the late nineties in Burundi with Oxfam and Save the Children.
He is no stranger to Goma, having worked there for Oxfam in 1998. He returned to the DRC five years later in South Kivu with UNOCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). All useful experience for the rigours of his new role.
John acknowledges that good interpersonal skills are key to the job:
They count for everything. Often in MONUC there aren’t clearly defined links. Structures are more virtual than real, boundaries are blurred. You have to negotiate your space successfully with other people in order to achieve results,” he said.
John is currently tasked with co-ordinating work for five UN missions on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
All these missions are affected by the activities of the LRA, originally a Ugandan rebel group which now operates on the international boundaries of the DRC, Central African Republic and South Sudan.
Whilst small in number and disparate in nature, these groups remain under the nominal leadership of Joseph Kony. Their activities have struck fear into the hearts of the civilian population with killings and widespread displacement in one of the least accessible areas of Africa.
John’s regional coordination role was developed at the request of the Eastern Coordinator of MONUC and endorsed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Alan Doss.
Earlier work included developing policy to guide MONUC’s own approach to the LRA.
There was a strong emphasis on protection of civilians and the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former fighters.
A UK Army Major, a senior officer in the Eastern Integrated HQ, has assisted John in his work. He also liaises closely with DFID, the British Embassy and the FCO’s representative in Goma.
This work has led MONUC to re-evaluate the importance of tackling the threat presented by the LRA. John said:
The work we’ve been doing has elevated the issue and made it a priority in the mission’s mandate.
John has also been significantly involved in the development of a project to reduce human rights abuses by the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC).
John is also focused on strategies to demobilise and integrate remaining Congolese armed groups, loosely known as Mai-Mai, into the FARDC. The Mai-Mai still pose a significant threat to both the peace process and future stability in the eastern DRC.
On 28 May, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of MONUC.
Approximately 2,000 UN military personnel will be withdrawn by 30 June 2010. From 1 July, MONUC will be renamed the ‘United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’ or MONUSCO.
The name says it all. The renewed mandate will emphasise the importance of stabilisation to the mission. This will allow John to develop stabilisation strategies, something he will no doubt savour.
On the mission’s future, John is cautiously optimistic:
I’ve been following the Congo since 1998, and the country has gone through some very hard times over the years.
However, what is clear is that, despite its shortcomings and with the odd setback, MONUC has helped the DRC make positive progress towards greater stability, accountability and better governance.
I’m certain this would not have been achieved without the UN’s assistance, and am convinced that it still has a vital role to play.