UN News: During the recent general debate, the President of the DRC declared that it was imperative to accelerate the withdrawal of MONUSCO. Do you agree with him that the current situation requires an acceleration of withdrawal?
Bintou Keïta: Just to frame the conversation, the notion of acceleration is important, but what is also important is the fact that the Mission, MONUSCO, has already left many provinces of the DRC. For example, we withdrew from Kasai province in June 2021. We also withdrew from Tanganyika province in June 2022.
And for the size of the country, which has 26 provinces, MONUSCO is now only deployed in three provinces, Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu, and these are the three provinces where there are conflicts active with armed groups – two local armed groups. and also foreigners.
Thus, the acceleration of our departure or withdrawal from the DRC will be done from these three provinces, and this will be done in conversation and dialogue with the national authorities and the provincial authorities, in order to decide, based on the hotspots. where the Mission ensures the protection of the population. And there is not enough army or enough police to guarantee their presence. Right now, we are withdrawing and they are the ones who will take over the task of protecting the population. This is going to happen very soon because we understand that this is a joint effort, aimed at national authorities; and there is one that comes out, it is MONUSCO.
In the DRC, the 26 provinces have 145 territories (administrative subdivision), out of these 26 provinces and we are in three. The hot spots that we are looking at in the three provinces, when we talk about territories, are more or less 15 to 20 territories where we really have to address the issue of physical protection of the population, because we also do protection by others i.e. advocacy which constitutes the civilian component of the Mission to work with provincial and national authorities.
UN News: Demonstrations were organized against MONUSCO. Do you think that the role of peacekeepers is poorly understood and that misinformation plays a role in the perception of the role of the Mission?
Bintou Keïta: I think so, because there is a gap between the population’s expectations regarding the implementation of the mandate and particularly that which concerns the Force, because it is a component which is the physical protection of the population.
The population considers that if someone loses their life or in the presence of the MONUSCO Force, it means that MONUSCO is not doing its job properly. This is of course a huge disconnect, because the reality is that physical protection consists of proximity and presence, and it also disarms armed groups in many ways to get closer to the population.
Disinformation is part of the population’s expressions of anger and frustration, but it is also manipulation on the part of a certain number of organizations because they have an interest in tarnishing the legitimacy of the presence of MONUSCO as well as in not having the Mission. as a witness to some of the things they do in the three provinces.
UN News: Do you have a specific example of actions carried out by MONUSCO to combat disinformation?
Bintou Keïta: Yes, since last year we have intensified our fight against disinformation. One of these activities is workshops with young people in which our communications colleagues train young people to understand the difference between fake news, disinformation and misinformation.
We train young people to decide, to pause, to stop and ask: Can I share this? Yes or no
We train them to decide, to pause, to stop, and to ask, “Can I share this?” Yes or no”.
And when I see the reaction of young people, they become more aware of social media – which, in a way, is the place where everything happens, including lies and fabricated fake news.
Just to give you an example, while the high-level segment of the General Assembly was taking place, I was in Kinshasa when someone decided to create fake news which was a photo of me from a year ago. three years, I think, when I was assistant secretary. -General for Africa (at UN headquarters), in New York and I had the text which basically said that I, as head of MONUSCO, resisted the departure of the Mission. This is false because, firstly, I was not present at the General Assembly. I was in Kinshasa.
We had a discussion about what we’re doing, are we saying it’s wrong? What do we do at the end? I think the colleagues decided: OK, it’s wrong and here we go.
One of the things that matters most is social media monitoring, and MONUSCO colleagues now have fortnightly reports every month to see trends and discussions related to MONUSCO and with the support of their colleagues here at headquarters of the UN in New York, they’re really helping us shape in some way the narrative of what the Mission does and what it doesn’t do.
UN News: My last question concerns the elections. Elections are scheduled for the end of this year. What type of support does MONUSCO provide to the authorities to organize these elections?
Bintou Keïta: We have different roles:
One of our roles is to provide logistical support to the Electoral Commission, specifically in the three provinces where we are deployed – in Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu – which we do.
Secondly, there is the advocacy to ensure that the parameters and principles guarantee the quality of elections, which concerns the transparency and credibility of elections, peaceful conduct and inclusiveness. If we notice actions, comments or interventions that are not consistent with these principles, we will speak to all stakeholders, wherever and whoever they are. And we are not doing it alone, we are doing it with our partners, the diplomatic community of the DRC and also civil society organizations, so that it is a joint and collective effort.
We are also planning, alongside the Ministry of the Interior, to secure the elections. The way we do this is by embedding our expert within a technical working group under the direction of the ministry.
We also have a lot to do regarding inclusion in elections, notably in the implementation of the security Council 1325, where for us the representation of women, the participation of women, is absolutely essential, whether as a voter or as a candidate in provincial or national elections for Parliament, but also as a presidential candidate.
We therefore train candidates a lot so that they assert themselves, so that they move towards subjects where people normally do not expect them to move into.