Eastern and southern blocs to collaborate on DR Congo stability
Two of Africa’s regional blocs have signalled a working cooperation in the search for permanent peace in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), signalling a concurrent troop deployment by the two regions.
Separate decisions reached at the end of last week, and on Monday this week, show that the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) and the Southern Africa Development Cooperation (SADC) standby force will work hand in hand.
DRC President Felix Tshisekedi’s office said on Monday evening the SADC will assess working areas and the actual decisions will be reached after a meeting of SADC, EAC, representatives of the Great Lakes Region as well as members of the association of central African states.
“SADC has launched processes for the convening of a Tripartite Summit of the East African Community (EAC), the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and SADC plus the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), with the participation of the African Union and the United Nations in order to consider a coordinated approach in support of the DRC,” the Congolese presidency said.
Angola is on May 15 expected to host the tripartite meeting which will decide the arrangements.
Kinshasa, which wants to curb the M23 rebels by force and at all costs, has been pestering the EACRF to combat the group. But the EACRF, deployed last November, insists such a decision should come from the heads of state of the EAC as they had previously only allowed combat when armed groups actually refuse to withdraw from occupied territories.
On May 6, a meeting of the Signatory Countries of the Peace, Security and Cooperation (PSC) Framework for the DRC held in Bujumbura, Burundi, condemned the violence of the M23, but also labelled other armed groups like the FLDR, Allied Democratic Forces, Codeco, Mai-Mai, RED Tabara and the MTM as unwanted and urged them “to cease hostilities without pre-conditions”.
The meeting was attended by all DRC’s neighbours as well as Kenya, representatives from the UN including Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat and officials from the EAC and SADC, and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.
Extend EACRF mandate
According to its resolutions, the UN mission, Monusco, Congolese army, FARDC and the EACRF as well as the ad hoc Verification Mechanism will continue to enhance “coordination and synergies” to impress upon all armed groups to lay down the arms, “including, if necessary, by use of force. The leaders said any other troops deployed under bilateral arrangements should commit to the same arrangements, but asked the DRC to authorise the extension of the mandate of EACRF which expired at the end of March.
SADC’s return to the picture — it had once deployed a force there — may mean Kinshasa is dissatisfied with the EACRF, which has chosen to be a buffer for civilians rather than take down armed groups.
“The question is, how will the co-existence between the SADC brigade and the forces of the EAC be? One thing is certain, the mandate of the SADC brigade will be offensive compared to the friends of the EAC who only have a buffer force role,” wrote Paul Diakese, President Tshisekedi’s information officer.
Diakese added that “with this evolution, the situation will be in favour of Kinshasa and, in turn, the days of the EAC are counted especially that their presence has not satisfied the whole Congolese community, which only asks for their departure”.
The SADC meeting was in Windhoek, Namibia, where the heads of state of the region met on Monday to discuss several aspects of this worrying security situation in the eastern part of the DRC, particularly in North Kivu.
The meeting follows the other of ministers of the SADC region held on Sunday, May 7, on the situation of peace and security in eastern DRC.
President Tshisekedi, who has been in Namibia, will then travel to Botswana to pursue the diplomatic process. For the Congolese President, this question is of great importance. The Congolese leader visited Windhoek with ministers, including Jean Pierre Bemba, deputy prime minister in charge of Defence and generals of the Congolese army including Chief of Staff Christian Tshiwewe.
President Tshisekedi’s communications office stated that “it is in recognition of the immediate and urgent need to restore peace and security in the eastern DRC that this meeting of ministers of the member countries was convened as well as this Summit of Heads of State of SADC”.
The East African community troops, consisting of the Kenyan, Ugandan, Burundian and South Sudanese armies, were deployed to the eastern DRC to combat local and foreign armed groups in North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri. Since their deployment, several protest marches have been organised calling on these forces to attack the M23 rebels. For the past few weeks, a regional force from East Africa has imposed a ceasefire, speaking to both the Congolese army and the M23 rebels.
Additional Reporting by Aggrey Mutambo