Demonstrations began on Monday in front of the United Nations base in Goma, the capital of North Kivu, and then spread to other towns in the province, including Butembo, with protesters demanding the departure of the peacekeeping forces, claiming that they had failed to protect civilians. That sentiment has been gathering pace in recent weeks, with some government officials and youth groups accusing U.N. forces of being unable to stop a surge of rebel attacks that have left hundreds dead or injured and communities displaced and in dire need of humanitarian aid.
During a trip to eastern Congo this month, the president of the Congolese Senate, Modeste Bahati Lukwebo, demanded the departure of the U.N. forces. “They must pack up,” he said, adding, “We ourselves will ensure peace, security and territorial integrity.”
The dissatisfaction was underlined by Lucha, a Congolese civil society group, which said in a statement that the United Nations had failed to protect the public despite significant diplomatic, logistical and financial backing.
Lush and rich in minerals, Congo’s eastern regions have faced devastation for decades from more than 120 militant groups operating in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri, according to the Kivu Security Tracker, which documents violence and abuses in the region.
In November, Congo and Uganda began a joint operation against the Allied Democratic Forces, one of the deadlier rebel groups in the region that has even carried out attacks in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. In February, the authorities accused another militia, the Cooperative for Development of Congo, of massacring about 60 people, including children, as they slept in a makeshift camp.
Violence also flared in mid-June when another rebel group, known as M23, carried out a spate of attacks in which dozens of people were killed and at least 25,000 others were displaced. Congo has accused Rwanda of backing the group, leading the Congolese president, Félix Tshisekedi, to suspend bilateral agreements with the neighboring country.