Brazilian Army Lieutenant General Elias Rodrigues Martins Filho is the new military force commander of the United Nations (UN) Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO, in French). The Brazilian officer, who assumed command May 14, 2018, will face the social issues and armed conflicts of one of the largest countries in Africa until May 2019.
In an interview with Diálogo, Lt. Gen. Elias said the position is the most challenging of his career. “The requirements I must manage, considering the technical quality of the decisions I must make, the risks my subordinates face, the observations and demands from the international community, and budget cuts, are a list of items that require full dedication and put my professional skills to the test,” he said.
Diverse military component
Upon arriving in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Lt. Gen. Elias became familiar with the territory and learned about the structures of the mission. “I visited the most remote areas, especially the troubled regions where troops are deployed. When I arrived, I immediately faced crises that forced me to make important decisions, such as the Ebola outbreak in the western area of the country.”
The officer leads nearly 17,000 service members from 49 countries. South Africa, Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Nepal, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Uruguay have troops in the mission area, while others participate in individual missions. According to Lt. Gen. Elias, the diversity of MONUSCO’s military component adds to the experience. “Military culture is similar worldwide. Respect for hierarchy and discipline, observance of values, and a desire to accomplish the mission are factors that make my work significantly easier,” he said.
In addition to the military force Lt. Gen. Elias commands, MONUSCO coordinates with civilian components led by Leila Zerrougui, special representative of the UN Secretary-General in DRC, and police officers under MONUSCO Police Commissioner Awalé Abdounasir. The mission aligns with the position of the DRC government and with representatives from the international community, such as members of the UN Security Council and the multilateral institutions of the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.
Among other responsibilities, Lt. Gen. Elias must protect civilians and fight armed groups. “Currently, these groups have had the freedom to plan, attack, and reorganize themselves, gaining strength with every mission. The best way to neutralize them is to cut off support from the population, prevent access to resources and logistics supplies—food, weapons, or ammunition—and prevent them from planning new attacks, recruit new members, or reorganize themselves after each attack,” he said.
To take on the role, Lt. Gen. Elias studied MONUSCO’s characteristics, focused on the history of the DRC, the culture of the Congolese people, and the origin of the conflict. He gained his knowledge of UN missions over the course of his 36-year career. He participated in the United Nations Observer Mission in Angola and worked in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO).
“The mission in Angola captivated me for the work done to support people affected by conflicts, alleviate suffering, and bring hope. I also served as an assistant military advisor to the Permanent Mission of Brazil to the United Nations, allowing me to get to know the UN system as a delegate to a country contributing to peacekeeping operations. From 2005 to 2008, I was a planning officer at DPKO,” he said.
Brazil has been prominent in its participation in peacekeeping missions, whether with military observers, General Staff officers, or troops. Brazilian officers, in their command positions in Mozambique, Angola, Haiti, and DRC, demonstrated their technical and command capacities, as well as the leadership skills of Brazilian service members. “MONUSCO is the United Nations’ largest and most complex mission. For the country and the Brazilian Army, this makes one of their general officers stand out on the international stage and shows Brazil’s strong commitment to international peace and security,” Lt. Gen. Elias concluded.