In an East African regional force, in joint operations with the Congolese army or under the UN banner, many foreign soldiers are deployed, or in the process of being deployed, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Against the M23 hopes and fears around EAC soldiers in the DRC.
Community of East African States (EAC) regional force
It was created in June 2022 to help bring peace to eastern DRC, which has been plagued by violence from dozens of armed groups and rebellions for nearly 30 years. Its focus has narrowed to the M23 rebel areas of operation north and northwest of Goma, the capital of North Kivu.
Its commander is Kenyan General Jeff Nyagah, who has been in place since mid-November in Goma.
The nature of his mandate is a matter of debate. On his arrival, General Nyagah said that it was to be “an intervention force, not a peacekeeping force. But leaders of the countries involved are now trying to emphasize that it is a “neutral” force and does not have the mission, at least not yet, of “fighting” the M23.
Several countries are participating
Kenya: Parliament approved the deployment of 900 troops on November 10, for an initial period of six months. A first group arrived in Goma on November 12, followed by several others. They are deployed in the territories of Rutshuru (Rumangabo, Rugari) and Nyiragongo (Kibumba, Kibati).
Burundi: In early March, the Burundian army announced the deployment of approximately 100 soldiers, who began arriving on March 5 in Goma. They are deployed in Masisi territory, in Saké, Kilorirwe, Mushaki.
Uganda: A contingent of 1,000 troops, according to General Nyagah, arrived in eastern DRC on Friday. They are to be deployed in Bunagana, Rutshuru, Mabenga and Kiwanja (Rutshuru territory).
South Sudan: On December 28, the South Sudanese army announced the dispatch of 750 soldiers “as soon as possible”, who have not yet arrived.
United Nations Force (Monusco)
For 23 years, the UN has been managing one of its largest peacekeeping missions in the world in the DRC. Today, it still has some 16,000 soldiers of dozens of nationalities, the main contributing countries being Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, South Africa, Nepal, Indonesia, Morocco, Tanzania, Uruguay and Malawi.
On March 17, the Angolan parliament gave the green light to send about 500 soldiers to the DRC, after the failure of an umpteenth cease-fire that Luanda had helped negotiate between the Congolese army and the M23.
According to Luanda, their mission “will not involve combat operations” but will consist of “supervising the disarmament and reintegration process of the M23 forces. The date of their deployment has not been set.
Against the M23 hopes and fears around EAC soldiers in DRC
Against the M23
Since November, the EAC force has been deployed in Kibati, Kibumba, Rugari, Rumangabo, then Mushaki, Sake, Kilolirwe, Kitshanga… Since last Friday, the Ugandans have been in Bunagana, a commercial crossroads on the border between the DRC and Rwanda.
The M23 (“March 23 Movement”) rebels have withdrawn from certain localities in the territories of Rutshuru and Masisi. Since Saturday, according to residents interviewed by AFP, they have left Bambo, Mweso and the village of Kishishe, where they are accused of having massacred more than 170 civilians at the end of November, according to the UN.
The M23 took over all these places last year, gradually strangling Goma, which it had briefly occupied ten years earlier, before being defeated in 2013.
The predominantly Tutsi movement, supported by Rwanda according to UN experts, emerged from its mountain strongholds and took up arms again in November 2021, blaming Kinshasa for failing to meet commitments on the reintegration of its fighters.
The DRC accuses Rwanda and its M23 “auxiliaries” of wanting to get their hands on the minerals in eastern Congo. The M23, for its part, claims to be defending a threatened segment of the population and is calling for negotiations, which Kinshasa refuses, ruling out discussions with “terrorists.
While the M23 has withdrawn from some villages, it remains present in others, including where the EAC force is deployed, which, like the UN, is unable to bring peace and is accused of passivity or even complicity with the rebels.
Against the M23 hopes and fears around EAC soldiers in DRC
Some Congolese see the usual threat of “balkanization” of the east of the country, plagued by violence from armed groups inherited for many from wars that bloodied the region in the years 1990-2000.
“Who can still believe in efforts to stabilize the east with the help of the #EAC Force composed largely of destabilizing states?”, for example protested on Twitter the famous Congolese doctor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege. “It is time to review regional diplomacy and security governance to break the deadlock!” he added.
Two oral questions were also addressed by deputies, one to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the other to the Minister of Defense, on the nature of this regional force, in particular the presence in its ranks of Ugandan soldiers.
Last June, Kampala was strongly suspected of having, at best, turned a blind eye when the M23 rebels seized Bunagana. In general, the Congolese are suspicious of both the Rwandans and the Ugandans, bearing in mind the role of these two neighbors in the destabilization of the east of their country over the past three decades.
The deployment of the East African force corresponds to “the implementation of the plan” of de-escalation adopted by various heads of state, he also stressed. Its contingents have “come at the invitation of the Congolese government”, “this should not be seen as a balkanization”, the spokesman assured.
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