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Is the Force Intervention Brigade still justifying its existence?

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The Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), the sharp end of MONUSCO – the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – earned its stripes in 2013 when it helped the DRC’s army defeat the powerful Rwanda-backed M23 rebels in the east of the country.

But not a lot has been heard about the FIB since, though it has remained deployed in the eastern part of the country for four years. What has it been doing?

The unit of some 3 000 troops from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi has a more muscular mission than the rest of MONUSCO to use necessary force to ‘neutralise’ all the ‘negative’ armed rebel groups in eastern DRC. Its second target was supposed to be the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the armed group founded in the mid-1990s by Rwandan Hutus who fled the country after the genocide against the Tutsis.

That campaign took a long time to get off the ground, including a long delay when the UN withheld its cooperation from the impending campaign against the FDLR by FARDC – the Armed Forces of the DRC – because two FARDC commanders appointed to head the campaign had been implicated in human rights abuses in the field.

The delays fuelled suspicions that in the eyes of President Joseph Kabila’s government and his fellow SADC members in the FIB, the force’s real mandate was to give DRC rival Rwanda a bloody nose. The FDLR, which provided a pretext for Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s military interventions into eastern DRC several times since the genocide, did not seem to be a high priority for the DRC or the FIB.

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