A couple of days ago I had the great pleasure and honour of moderating Roger A. Meece, who is the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations and the head of the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at an expert talk convened by the German United Nations Association. Roger A. Meece, a former U.S. diplomat and ambassador to countries like Congo, the DRC and Malawi was truly impressive and there are some points I've taken away from the evening that are worth sharing, at least for foreign policy nerds like me.
For a start, one issue constantly raised during the evening was, somewhat unsurprisingly, the inadequate resources at the mission's disposal. Normally, when talking about blue helmet missions, observers point out that most contributors are not equipped for such complex missions since the largest contributors are states like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, etc., states that do not exactly maintain the most professional of all armies. But there are tactical issues that are often overlooked. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), for instance, the equipment most needed are transport helicopters. But the withdrawal of attack helicopters has left the mission, interestingly, without a major deterrent to warlords. So far, I've never seen a single paper studying the role of attack helicopters in UN peacekeeping missions. Getting into that now entered my to-do list.
But the major issue with which MONUSCO is currently preoccupied are the national elections coming up in November. The outcome of national assembly elections are difficult to predict, but it stands to reason that a number of parliamentarians are about to lose their seat. The elections are a major challenge to MONUSCO and the government. While in 2006 50.000 polling stations were set up across the country, this years' elections will see 62.000 polling stations up and running. With the increase in polling stations come large scale logistical challenges. While there are less candidates running for president in 2011—eleven candidates are registered, whereas in 2006 33 candidates were running—the number of parliamentary candidates has significantly increased. The drop in number of presidential candidates is partly a product of the success of the 2006 elections. Most candidates then running were surprised to find that the elections were taking place at all and initially registered only to be part of an eventually negotiated settlement of the elections.
The 2011 national elections are going to be particularly challenging when it comes to the national assembly. There are now 19.000 candidates running for 500 seats. In all probability the elections will set a world-record in ballot size, with some 1.500 candidates competing for a single seat. However, the larger circumstances of the elections are somewhat more promising than in 2006. In 2006 three belligerent factions made conducting elections difficult, whereas today there are no armed factions threatening the larger area of the DRC. The major security threat in the 2011 elections, by contrast, are demonstrations. Although they could have an impact on the local level, they should be manageable. Overall it needs to be stressed that the elections will in all likelihood not lead to a new Côte d'Ivoire situation and instead can be expected to run rather smoothly.