“The Force Intervention Brigade is something very positive,” Brigadier General James Aloizi Mwakibolwa said. “The soldiers who are coming in are very professional. They are trained and instructed specifically on this mission and on how they have to perform.”
Less than two months after arriving in North Kivu to lead the newly-established Force Intervention Brigade against rebels from the 23 March Movement (M23), the Brigade’s commander, voices a deep sense of duty and purpose to the Security Council mandate and to contributing to peace in the Great Lakes region.
“It should be understood that our first concern should be the protection of civilians as we take on the armed groups,” he concluded. “A UN peacekeeper is a person who must protect UN staff and UN property but, above all, he must protect the civilians.”
In March, the Security Council authorized the deployment of an intervention brigade within the existing UN peacekeeping operation in the country (MONUSCO) to carry out targeted offensive operations, with or without the Congolese national army, against armed groups that threaten peace in eastern DRC.
The brigade – which will be based in North Kivu province and total 3,069 peacekeepers – is tasked with neutralizing armed groups, reducing the threat posed to State authority and civilian security and make space for stabilization activities.
The first contingent of Tanzanian soldiers forming part of the Brigade arrived in Goma earlier this month.
Since taking command, Brig Gen Mwakibolwa has focused on putting the team together and getting them ready for the mission.
“When you are selected and made commander of a new mission, you feel great about yourself,” Brig Gen Mwakibolwa said. “I have to make sure that I deliver. That I meet the expectation of the international community and the United Nations which formed the Force Intervention Brigade and ultimately agreed to make me commander.”
Nevertheless, Brig Gen Mwakibolwa, with more than three decades of experience as a general in the Tanzania Peoples’ Defence Force, is quick to emphasize that while he heads the brigade, he is not the head of the UN force in the country.
“We are part of MONUSCO and our instructions come from the Force Commander of MONUSCO,” Brig Gen Mwakibolwa stressed. “How, where and at what time it will happen depends on the Force Commander.”
A military man who believes a soldier is better judged in the field of action than in the talking fora, Brig Gen Mwakibolwa acknowledged that there are fears among some in the civilian population that the Brigade will exacerbate the already tenuous atmosphere.
“Perhaps they expect collateral damage and this and that to the extent that several people are not positive about the brigade,” the Brigadier General said.
Noting that this is his first UN peacekeeping mission, Brig Gen Mwakibolwa is experienced in the region. He served as commander of the Military Assessment Team of the International Conference on Great Lakes region (ICGLR) in October 2012 to assess the military situation in eastern DRC and come up with a concept of operation.
“I think this contributed to my nomination as commander of the brigade because of the fact that I was the one to come and assess the situation.”