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Elections in the DRC, and the image of the UN

It sounds like the elections in Congo went as well as anyone could possibly expect them to. Arson closed polls in some areas of Mbuji-Mayi where Etienne Tshisekedi had urged supporters to boycott polls – they were reopened today, but voter turnout remained low, reported at 5-15% of eligible voters, in contrast with 60-80% turnout in other parts of the country.

Disabled voter casts his vote in the DRC elections. From a post on The Salon

But violence was not widespread, and blogs like The Salon are filled with pictures of people from all walks of life voting in elections that are likely to be declared free and fair.

Elections don’t come easy, especially in countries with the security and infrastructure challenges that Congo faces. Xan Rice in the Guardian reports, “Watched by 17,600 UN peacekeepers, 80,000 local police officers and 1,000 EU troops, people queued before dawn at 50,000 poll stations.”

There’s a lot of people to thank for a succesful Congolese election – and before the thanks get given out, it’s worth waiting to see whether there’s a run-off election and whether the elected government is able to take power. But after congratulating the Congolese people for embracing a chance at hope, I’d like to thank the UN.

Yes, the UN. America’s favorite whipping boy. The allegedly ineffectual talking shop that has a far better recent peacekeeping record than the US. We don’t hear a lot about the success of UN efforts here in the US:

…the successes are by definition quiet. Headlines you will never see include “Ceasefire between Ethiopia and Eritrea Holds for 476th Consecutive Day,” “Zero Killed in Cyprus,” or “East Timor Still Functioning.” Most people don’t realize just how frequently the United Nations puts itself between trigger-happy combatants around the globe: Lebanon, Cyprus, the Golan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, Namibia, Angola, El Salvador, Cambodia, Somalia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Georgia, Liberia, Haiti, Tajikistan, the former Yugoslavia, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Côte d’Ivoire, the Congo, India and Pakistan and East Timor, just in the last 20 years. Which ones of these do most people associate with the United Nations? The ones in which U.N. troops failed to prevent disaster: Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia.

The above quote is from “Blue Man Group“, an article by Robert Lane Greene in the New Republic which is required reading for anyone griping about the UN’s ineffectuality. If Bob Gorrell had read up on UN peacekeeping, perhaps he’d have thought twice before penning this (remarkably stupid, recent) cartoon:

Gee, Bob. Just because you can’t find Congo on a map doesn’t mean the work UN peacekeepers does is worthless. In a world where the US is so overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan that we probably couldn’t intervene in Lebanon if we wanted to, it’s pretty useful to have a multinational force that can stabilize situations that don’t capture the attention of the “world’s policeman”… or where US intervention would worsen a bad situation.

As TheMalau notes in commenting on the image at the top of this post, “Who would have thought, 2 years ago, that we would see this wonderful image: a disabled person joining his fellow Congolese to vote for a better future. The little things like that, that is what brings me hope.” You wouldn’t have gotten the image without the UN – not only did they secure the poling places and help disarm the militias, they reported on the elections and disseminated photos like this one. The most trusted radio network in Congo, the one most trusted by Congolese voters to introduce the 33 competing presidential candidates: Radio Okapi. Oh yeah, the UN’s responsible for that too.

The UN’s got an image problem, and it’s not entirely their fault. The situations where the UN has been most effective – Sierra Leone, Liberia, DRC, East Timor, to list some recent successes – are low-media attention countries. Most globally-aware newspaper readers can’t tell you the root causes of instability in DRC… which makes it very hard to appreciate the success of peacekeeping efforts. And the UN’s missteps – including the horrific stories of UN peacekeepers exploiting children in Congo – don’t help with getting the good stories heard.

If the DRC elections continue to go smoothly, MONUC, and the UN as a whole, deserve our congratulations. Too bad the person responsible for conveying them on behalf of my nation will never do so.

2 thoughts on “Elections in the DRC, and the image of the UN”

  1. A is more worthlsee. B is trying to do something for the world(at least in theory), but A is destroying the world.

  2. Pingback: B.L.O.G. - Bissige Liberale ohne Gnade » Urlaubslektüren 06.08.2006

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