Ensure no nation derails efforts to stop DRC violence
Finally, the member States of the East African Community (EAC) have decided to take action against the armed groups that have wreaked havoc in eastern DRC for years.
Meeting in Nairobi, the EAC Heads of State, under the chairmanship of President Uhuru Kenyatta, arrived at a decision to deploy a regional military force to eastern DRC to stabilize and secure that region.
This is indeed groundbreaking, as regional politics have for years stymied member states of EAC from taking a common stand on the instability in DRC. The countries involved are Kenya, Uganda, DRC, Rwanda, South Sudan and Burundi.
The decision was made amid the ongoing peace conclave in Nairobi between the DRC government led by President Felix Tshisekedi, and representatives of armed groups and rebels. It is being chaired by President Uhuru as the Co-convenor of the peace process.
The regional force can also be seen as early positive impact from DRC’s formal ascension into the EAC.
The deployment of the regional force has received approval from the African Union.
The regional force is expected to pacify the provinces of South Kivu, North Kivu and Ituri.
The deployment and operations of the regional force, however, risk being derailed by the tensions between DRC and Rwanda.
DRC accuses Rwanda of sponsoring M23 rebels who have in recent times increased the level of violence against Congolese military and civilians. Rwanda denies this. The situation is so bad that DRC has suspended all bilateral pacts with Rwanda.
Further, DRC has also rejected the inclusion of Rwandese army troops in the regional force. It is difficult to see how the force is going to work effectively when DRC and Rwanda are feuding over the support to the very rebels the regional forces are supposed to be dealing with.
Not only will this level of tension between the two countries definitely derail the regional effort, it will also poison EAC relations going forward once the military operations start. It is not beyond the realms of possibility for members of the EAC to find themselves up against each other in the battlefield. This is not a pipe dream. In 1999, Ugandan and Rwandese troops fought heavy battles in the streets of Kisiangani in DRC.
Rwanda must demonstrate goodwill for the regional effort to work. DRC has accused Rwanda of interfering in its eastern border, and even claimed that it has come up against Rwandese soldiers in its territory.
This tension must be dealt with along with the peace conclave and the regional force deployment.
As a basic minimum, however, Rwanda must make a public statement that it does not upport the M23 rebels, and dissociate with them. Unless this happens, it is difficult to see how the regional peace force will be managed by feuding “peace partners.”
The regional force must do things differently. The UN peacekeeping force in DRC has been “babysitting’ the rebels for over 20 years. This “babysitting’ will no longer do.
The regional force must be an offensive force, capable of aggression against the militants, and with a mandate to clear them out of eastern DRC for all time.
Pacifying DRC holds great promise for EAC. A peaceful DRC will be a major boost for the economic bloc.
DRC is a country with huge potential in all fields one cares to name. Indeed, instability has been a major disincentive to investing in DRC, and many Kenyan firms have actually eagerly rushed there to exploit the open potential, only to close shop and return to base badly bruised.
It’s time peace was allowed to prevail in DRC. Nobody should be allowed to derail the current twin processes of the peace conclave and successful deployment and operationalization of the regional military stabilization force.