EAC is getting ready for a military intervention in DRC

By Musinguzi Blanshe
Posted on Friday, 22 April 2022 12:34, updated on Sunday, 24 April 2022 23:10

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta welcomes DRC President Felix Tshisekedi in 2019 (Photo: Twitter)
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta welcomes DRC President Felix Tshisekedi in 2019 (Photo: Twitter)

A hastily arranged meeting attended yesterday by nearly all East African Community (EAC) heads of state has kick-started the beginnings of a regional force to soon be deployed into the newly-admitted state, Democratic Republic of Congo. 

DRC’s Felix Tshisekedi, Uganda’s Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, Burundi’s Évariste Ndayishimiye and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta – the current chair of EAC – met yesterday 22 April in the Kenyan capital. Rwanda’s Kagame was represented by Foreign Affairs Minister Vincent Biruta while Tanzania and South Sudan were not represented at all.

Though all attendants are members of the regional bloc to which DRC was admitted recently, the meeting was dubbed the second regional heads of state conclave on the Democratic Republic of Congo. The EAC secretariat was not part of the meeting meaning the current arrangements are being made outside its structures.

When Tshisekedi joined the EAC, he made his wishes clear: Security and protection of his country’s vast mineral resources.

According to a statement issued by the Kenya State House following the first conclave held on 8 April, preparations for the establishment of a regional force that can fight rebels in parts of eastern DRC was agreed upon. Thursday’s meeting observed that “urgent deployment of such a force” is necessary.

“The meeting directed that planning for such a force will commence with immediate effect with the full consultation of relevant authorities in the region,” the statement says, with DRC to take a lead in the preparations.

When Tshisekedi signed documents committing DRC to join the regional bloc, he noted that his country was not joining for benefits of commerce because “commerce and trade thrive in an environment of peace and security for everyone.”

Dialogue before action

Before a military intervention, rebels will be given an opportunity for dialogue. The political dialogue process will be led by Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta. Tshisekedi, who is still in Kenya, is today (22 April) expected to hold further meetings with Kenyatta on how to commence the political dialogue process.

“All armed groups in the DRC participate unconditionally in the political process to resolve their grievances,” the heads of state resolved. “Failure to do so, all Congolese armed groups would be considered as negative forces and handled militarily by the region.” The same warning was issued to foreign rebel groups operating in eastern DRC.

M23 rebels, Ugandans already in DRC

Eastern DRC, where a UN force has operated since 2000, and where the regional force will be deployed, has not had peace since independence. There are currently more than 100 rebel groups ravaging the areas. Most of these rebel groups are local but a few lethal ones originate from neighbouring countries.

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A day before DRC was admitted to the EAC at the end of March, M23 rebels resumed fighting in North Kivu province, sending refugees seeking safety in Uganda. DRC has pointed fingers at Rwanda for supporting M23 rebels that Kigali continues to vehemently deny.

This new intervention comes at a time when Ugandan soldiers and their DRC counterparts are already deployed in eastern parts of the country fighting the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF),  a militant group that originates from Uganda. Ugandan soldiers were deployed in DRC in September 2021.

Presidential election, martial law

Tshisekedi faces a presidential election next year and security in the eastern DRC, which was one of his major promises during the 2019 election season, could be a factor in his performance. He declared martial  law in North Kivu and Ituri provinces in May 2021, aiming to swiftly end insecurity in the two provinces. But martial law has done little in pacifying the area.

The martial law has been criticised by opposition politicians. Martin Fayulu, who Tshisekedi defeated in 2019, called for its end.

Human Rights Watch says it has documented more than two dozen cases of arbitrary arrests, intimidation, beatings, and abusive prosecutions in the provinces where martial law is being enforced.

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