North Kivu: MONUSCO encourages communities to foster social dialogue with a view to fighting misinformation
On Thursday, May 18, 2023, MONUSCO Goma office organized an open house at the Indian battalion base in Saké, located about twenty kilometers from the city of Goma, in North Kivu. Roughly a hundred participants took part, mainly from civil society organizations, the Congolese National Police (PNC) and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC).
MONUSCO enlightened its partners on the priorities of its mandate set out in resolution 2666 of December 2022. The issues of civilian protection, support for the electoral process, MONUSCO’s support to the DRC security forces as well as the burning issue of eliminating the threat of armed groups in the province were reviewed.
The head of MONUSCO/Goma office, who also made the trip to the locality of Saké, recalled the Mission's determination to respond to the concerns of the Congolese population, particularly around the M23 crisis in the eastern part of the country. Leila Bourhil also made references to the multiple efforts by the Mission to overcome this much decried crisis by pointing out, among other things, the field work carried out carried by the civilian and military components of the Mission.
Dialogue to restore mutual trust
Ms. Bourhil also made the audience aware of the harmful effects of disinformation, misinformation and rumors distilled through social networks. She deplored the fact that "these scourges have undermined the confidence of the Congolese people in MONUSCO".
She went on to say “There was a campaign of disinformation, misinformation and false rumors which created a breach of trust that MONUSCO and the population shared. It is important that we rebuild that trust, and in this regard, we need to engage and communicate much better. Initiatives such as this open house seek to establish more open lines of communication between MONUSCO and the Congolese people.”
Laila Bourhil recalled that one of the objectives of the open house was to open dialogue between the population and MONUSCO, insisting on the fact that the dialogue between MONUSCO and the Congolese people must be based on facts, but not on rumors or manipulations. "This will restore and rebuild mutual trust," she said.
During this day, several presentations were made to highlight the various initiatives for the restoration of peace already undertaken by MONUSCO in the area.
The Mission has already organized round tables where local leaders, community members, members of civil society come together to discuss conflicts that negatively affect social cohesion and how to limit them in the future.
It continues to provide multifaceted support in its partnership with the Congolese government to help improve the security situation in the region. This includes, among other things, the provision of logistical and operational support to the FARDC. MONUSCO also rehabilitated or constructed several buildings in the Petit Nord region in support of government administration.
Major General Clément Bitangalo, Commander of Operation SUKOLA 2, focused his intervention on the added value and importance of dialogue and collaboration between the FARDC and MONUSCO.
Like the head of MONUSCO Goma office, General Bitangalo also indicated that disinformation and misinformation have played an important role in the deterioration or breakdown of mutual trust between the population and the Mission.
Speaking from his own experience, after witnessing a similar situation while working as a peacekeeper in another UN member country, he urged people to beware of misinformation and disinformation, while launching a wave of solidarity with the blue helmets of MONUSCO. “I encourage the blue helmets, who are doing a lot to help restore peace in the DRC, and proceed with their mission”.
Show of solidarity for the Blue Helmets
Mr. Bitangalo Bulime seized this opportunity to sensitize the population to appreciate the work of peacekeepers: “We work in a difficult environment. Sometimes there are misunderstandings. I want people to avoid consuming and spreading false information that only makes the situation worse. When you attack the UN, it doesn't help. MONUSCO is our mission, it is there to restore peace in the DRC. We must all work together towards this goal,” he concluded.
During the session, the Force projected videos explaining the activities undertaken on the ground for the implementation of the protection of civilians’ pillar, small-scale community programs that benefit local beneficiaries and their partnership with the FARDC to help improve the security situation.
For their part, Jean-Claude Bahati Muhindo from the DDR section and Kingnide Julien Olihide from the Political Affairs section addressed the issue of the protection of civilians. They recalled that the protection of civilians is a primary responsibility of the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and MONUSCO comes in support and does not replace the Congolese State.
MONUSCO also mentioned other priority tasks of its mandate which include stabilization and strengthening of government institutions, disarmament, demobilization, repatriation or reintegration of ex-combatants, monitoring of human rights violations and support for the upcoming elections.
This open house ended with a fruitful debate during which the participants asked questions and expressed their concerns to MONUSCO military and civilian leaderships, as well as to the FARDC. The participants welcomed the organization of this open house which made it possible to remove the ambiguity on some misunderstandings created by the "fake news.
During the debates, one participant maintained that “hearing about disinformation and how it is used helped me change the way I think about MONUSCO. Before, I would receive many WhatsApp messages only talking about bad things. Now I understand those were lies. I hope there will be more events like this, so that people can better understand the realities and avoid being manipulated.”