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William Swing leaves Congo with a note of hope

MONUC - January 11, 2008

William Swing

Mr. William Lacy Swing, former Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in the DRC, left the country this week after five years as MONUC head between July 2003 and January 2008. In a Radio Okapi interview on 8 January 2008, Mr. Swing gave an assessment of his five years at MONUC, and the challenges he faced.

Mr. Swing arrived as head of the UN Mission in the DRC in July 2003, only a few days after the installation of the DRC transition government, resulting from the Sun City Agreement, known as the 1+4 government (1 President, 4 Vice-presidents).

It was both a difficult and crucial moment, because the expectation of the Congolese people was focused on the international community’s support for the final pacification of the country, torn by a decade of fatal war.

And this pacification led the country to the first free, democratic and transparent elections in over 40 years, and William Swing had the responsibility of supporting this process.

Mr. Swing said that “the difficulties and challenges facing the Congolese people were in the nature of things”, because for him “mistrust and hesitation are completely normal for people emerging from a long crisis.”

Transition process challenges

Three events characterised the DRC in 2004: the capture of Bukavu by FARDC dissident Laurent Nkunda and his rebels, the attack on Gatumba refugee camp by Burundian rebels and the uncovering of allegations of sexual abuse by MONUC personnel.

These events caused a negative backlash against MONUC in the DRC, in particular its head Mr. Swing. South Kivu civil society demanded the departure of Mr. Swing, who was accused of the balkanization of the Congo.

After the attack on Gatumba refugee camp, some political actors even suspended their participation in the institutions of the transition, and the international community was once more blamed.

Mr. Swing understood the feeling of the Congolese population after these events, and as a good ambassador did not take a defensive position but acted as a mediator.

“2004 was the most difficult year for MONUC, but we learnt the lessons and understood that we needed a much larger, better trained and well managed force, and we made many changes in the command structure,” he said.

Mr. Swing pleaded the Congolese cause to the UN Security Council who voted in 2004 for a reinforcement of MONUC troops, and military manpower was increased in the Kivus and in Ituri. Mr. Swing also succeeded in applying a zero tolerance policy within the mission with regard to sexual exploitation.


2005 was especially important, because it was to mark the holding of elections and the end of the transition, but unfortunately, it could not take place due to various logistical, technical and financial challenges.

The principal opposition parties of the time - Tshisekedi’s UDPS and Ginzenga’s PALU parties - organised several demonstrations against the government and MONUC to protest against the delay of the elections. The year was later however characterised by the holding of the election referendum.


2006 was also a year of challenges, with the organization and holding of the legislative and presidential elections. From several presidential candidates, two remained at the end - Joseph Kabila and Jean Pierre Bemba.

At the announcement of the provisional first round election results on 20 August 2006, the FARDC and Bemba’s guards clashed with heavy weapons in Kinshasa. Swing, as always, played the mediator to calm the situation.

Before going to the second round of elections, agreements for the security of the losing candidate were concluded and on 6 December 2006, the elected president Joseph Kabila was sworn in, and the elected institutions were thus installed.

2006 also marked a campaign to end impunity, when war lords were brought to justice for their acts. Thus Thomas Lubanga, one of the war leaders in Ituri, was arrested by the Congolese authorities and later transferred to the International Criminal Court.


2007 started with a glimmer of hope for the Congolese, now that the DRC had found its place among the international community. It led to new cooperation agreements with the international institutions, in particular the European Union, the World Bank and the IMF, all of which announced subsidies and donations to relaunch the Congolese economy.

Unfortunately, the events of Bas Congo, with clashes between members of the politico- religious movement Bundu dia Kongo and the authorities, as well as the Kinshasa March confrontations between the FARDC and Bemba’s guards provoked further violence and unrest in the country.

MONUC was once again accused of inaction by the population.

“MONUC did its best to protect the civilian population, and the intervention of MONUC was limited since the majority of its forces were in the east,” Mr. Swing explained.

Mr. Swing’s tenure at MONUC was thus characterised by many key periods, and also much tension and challenging and difficult moments, due to rumours and misunderstanding.
But Mr. Swing, as Fr. Malu Malu, the Independent Electoral Commission president testified, “knew how to channel all the efforts of the international community for the Congolese cause. He was ready to make all the sacrifices so that the process would succeed.”

Mrs. Pétronille Vaweka, police chief of Ituri district explained the very important role that Mr. Swing played in the DRC.

“He was the catalyst of the Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) process in Ituri, where as a good mediator he could bring everyone together, even the black sheep in Ituri, in order to pacify this part of the DRC.”

Such was Mr. Swing’s dedication to peace in Ituri that he visited the district over 50 times in his capacity as head of MONUC.

Reconsidering the Congolese proverb that Mr. Swing liked to quote, in particular “Soki Ngando ayebisi yo ete mbisi aza malade, ndimela ye po bango nyoso bafandaka na maï," which literally means “If the crocodile says to you that the fish is suffering believe it, because they all live in water,” National Assembly president Vital Kamerhe qualified the mandate of Mr. Swing as positive.

“Swing did not miss an occasion to enquire at parliament of the situation in which the Congolese live, in order to share his experience with us. The Congolese thus adopted him and called him Koko Swing and it will remain forever in their memory, because he was part Congolese,” explained Mr. Kamerhe with a smile.

Tasks unaccomplished

At the end of his mandate, Mr. Swing was not completely satisfied because many tasks of the transition remain to be completed, such as Security Sector Reform (SSR).

He recalled that at the beginning of the transition, the UN Security Council created a joint SSR commission, managed by ex vice president Azarias Ruberwa and Mr. Swing.

Unfortunately this commission did not complete its task. Speaking about the repatriation of foreign troops from the DRC, in particular ex-FAR and Interhamwe, Mr. Swing stressed that he would have liked to have done more with the Disarmament, Demobilisation, Repatriation, Reinsertion and Reinstallation (DDRRR) process for foreign armed groups.

Indeed MONUC repatriated more than 10,000 ex combatants to their countries of origin (Burundi & Rwanda), yet 6,000 remain.

Mr. Swing underlined that these foreign armed groups, including the FDLR and the ADF-Nalu, refuse to enter the DDRRR process and continue to sow terror in the east. For this reason he considers the Nairobi agreement of 9 November 2007 between DRC and Rwanda as very important, which must be applied.

He was not very happy to leave the DRC which has irresolved conflicts in the east, and North Kivu in particular.

“Although there have been advances in Ituri and in South Kivu, I consider it regrettable that conflict continues in North Kivu.”

Mr. Swing exhorted all remaining Congolese armed groups - including the Mai Mai and the rebels of ex General Laurent Nkunda and Major Bisogo- to join the brassage process.

However, he welcomed the conference on peace, security and development in North and South Kivu, which is supported by the Congolese people and the international community.

For him, there is nothing, internal or external, which should prevent the peace process from advancing.

“The DRC has the capacity to raise the continent of Africa, for this reason it has profited from the support of the international community.”

He often spoke to the Congoleses using the Congolese proverb “misapi ya loboko ekokanaka te,” which means “the fingers of the hand never resemble each other,” that is to work hand in hand, because “musapi moko ebomaka sili te,” - “one finger alone cannot kill the lice.”

“The DRC is on the right track, for this reason I ask you to stay hopeful,” he concluded.

As for the DRC, we say good-bye to Koko Swing.

Mr. Swing will now take up his new post in Geneva as director of the International Organization for Migration.

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