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DRC: Will SADC regional force be deployed in September?

By Romain Gras

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Posted on July 21, 2023 14:18

Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi © Presse présidentielle RDC
Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi © Presse présidentielle RDC

EACRF’s mandate expires on 8 September, but a new regional force, is preparing for deployment, possibly with a South African commander.

Approved on 8 May at a meeting of the troika of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the body responsible for defence and security issues within the organisation, some additional clarity has been brought to the deployment of the organisation’s new joint force.

Among other issues, the subject was discussed during the troika’s virtual summit held on July 11, after which “the mandate, legal and operational instruments necessary for the deployment of the SADC Mission in DRC [SAMIDRC]” were approved, according to the statement issued after this meeting.

Document submitted to the heads of state

This exchange between the sub-regional heads of state, opened by Namibia’s Hage Geingob and chaired by Zambia’s Hakainde Hichilema, followed several other meetings of the various SADC bodies. On 4 July, the organisation’s defence sub-committee met in Windhoek, Namibia, to discuss the technical details of this deployment, with the issue being raised again on 10 July at the troika meeting of ministers.

The outcome of these various meetings was compiled by the organisation’s secretariat in a document submitted to the heads of state at their summit the following day. Upon further investigation, we were able to uncover some details on the contours of SADC’s future mission.

Will the EAC regional force give way to the SADC force, or will they coexist in the east of DRC?

Deployment is currently planned for “30 September 2023”, with a 12-month mandate from that date and initial operational capability must be reached by 30 November, according to the document.

In order to assess the feasibility of such a deployment, a verification mission is due to be carried out by 15 August. No precise date has yet been set for this mission, but it remains “essential to the success of the operation”, says the document submitted to the summit.

More than $550m

A preliminary draft budget has also been drawn up and discussed at the ministerial level, stating that the budget is in the region of $554,552,472. This sum, which is subject to change and is intended to cover the first 12 months of the operation, is based on the estimated needs of a workforce of around 5,000 people. In theory, it should cover the costs of the SADC secretariat, the office of the head of mission and, above all, the military components of the force, as well as their equipment.

Two avenues of funding are envisaged in the document: the main one is expected to come from SADC members, while the second will involve the organisation mobilising resources from international partners.

The Congolese government has pledged to provide additional funds to the SADC budget, but the exact amount of this contribution has not been specified. However, the envisaged budget may prove difficult to raise. The EAC’s regional force (EACRF), which has been deployed on the ground since November 2022, is already experiencing persistent funding difficulties, even though it too was supposed to rely on contributions from its member states.

Towards a South African command?

A number of points therefore remain to be decided. With regard to the command structure of the force, the troika’s ministerial committee has adopted the principle of a hierarchy appointed “on the basis of the member states that will commit to providing the majority of the SADC force”. According to two sources familiar with the discussions and a Congolese official, South Africa is among the candidates for the post of SAMIDRC commander.

In operational terms, the main question remains: will the EAC regional force give way to the SADC force, or will they coexist in the east of DRC?

Embroiled in their conflict with the M23, whom they accuse of being supported by Rwanda, the Congolese authorities have repeatedly criticised what they consider to be a lack of effectiveness on the part of the EACRF.

For now, the EAC’s mandate has been extended until 8 September, three weeks before the SADC mission’s potential launch. In the event of a further extension of the EAC’s mandate, the areas of intervention would be broadly similar, implying a significant – and complex – degree of coordination between the various forces present.

While the future of the EACRF is expected to be decided by early September, discussions on the matter of M23 are in-progress. A meeting was held on 12 July in Goma, attended by several diplomats, including

  • the head of Monusco, Bintou Keïta,
  • the minister for regional integration, Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi,
  • the high representative of the head of state in charge of the Luanda and Nairobi peace process, Serge Tshibangu,
  • the deputy prime minister for defence, Jean-Pierre Bemba, who followed the discussions from a distance,
  • and the EAC facilitator for the Nairobi process, Uhuru Kenyatta. The former Kenyan president is expected in Kinshasa in the next few days to discuss the issue with his counterpart Félix Tshisekedi.

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