Ndayishimiye to steer wider regional east DRC peace shuttle
Burundi President Evariste Ndayishimiye is set to take over the leadership of a wider regional peace mechanism, granting him additional duties to steer the peace shuttle in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ndayishimiye, the current chairperson of the East African Community, will now lead the Regional Oversight Mechanism (ROM, an African Union and UN-supported regional mission in the Great Lakes Region meant to help end violence in eastern DR Congo.
A joint communique released on Saturday after the EAC Summit in Bujumbura had indicated the leaders were calling for urgent ceasefire and directed defence chiefs to draw up a new withdrawal plan for rebel groups.
But EAC Secretary-General Peter Mathuki said President Ndayishimiye will carry additional duties for the region, including working to ensure decisions are followed.
“President Evariste Ndayishimiye now has an additional responsibility to oversee the process, coordinate the process and ensure that he follows the process and reports regularly to the members of the summit,” said Dr Mathuki.
The move may mean that President Ndayishimiye’s role will keep rising in regional politics, with his own country having seen sanctions lifted by the European Union only at the end of December 2021 and a UN observation mission closed earlier in 2021.
Six East African heads of state attended the meeting. They included Tanzania’s Samia Suluhu Hassan, William Ruto of Kenya, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and DRC’s Felix Tshisekedi.
This was the first time President Kagame had visited Burundi in almost 10 years.
But the new role could also give President Ndayishimiye a delicate job to try and steer the peace process in one of the most enduring conflicts in the region.
The ROM is meant to ensure parties to the conflict adhere to the peace process including ceasefire, withdrawal from occupied territories, departure of foreign armed groups and for foreign countries to stop fanning armed rebel activity inside the DRC.
The East African Community heads of state met in Bujumbura on Saturday exactly because the peace processes — known as the Luanda Process and the Nairobi process — had been defied or violated with the DRC also accusing its neighbour Rwanda of fuelling the M23 violence and Kigali accusing Kinshasa of territorial violations.
Tension between DRC and Rwanda escalated recently after a Sukhoi 25 jet from the DRC was shot at by the Rwandan military, accusing DRC of violating its air space.
Rwanda officers deported
Last week, the DRC deported three army officers of Rwanda at the EAC regional force headquarters.
The Bujumbura meeting was the first time presidents Tshisekedi and Kagame had met this year following months of acrimony.
Their body language still showed their animosity as they sat far apart.
After a closed-door meeting, the heads of state called for an immediate ceasefire and more deployment of regional forces.
“The summit observed that the security situation in eastern DRC is a regional matter and not a matter of one or two countries,” said Dr Mathuki while addressing journalists in Bujumbura.
This week, defence chiefs will meet in Nairobi to chart a new plan for rebel movements to withdraw. This meeting is also expected to determine whether the East African Community Regional Force will enter combat or stick to military dialogue, the latter of which has infuriated some local civilians and President Tshisekedi.
After the Bujumbura Summit, a video emerged showing Tshisekedi remonstrating with the Kenyan Commander of the EACRF, Maj-Gen Jeff Nyagah, for not acting on M23 defiance.
Additional reporting by Aggrey Mutambo