On March 11, 2023, President Joao Lourenço of Angola said his country decided to deploy troops to eastern DRC and he informed the United Nations and the African Union about the decision.
Six days later, the Angolan Parliament approved the decision to send about 500 soldiers to the DRC. Lourenço is mediating between DRC and Rwanda under the Luanda Process. Any initiative to help ease tensions in the region is welcome.
Angolan troops, as reported, will deploy in eastern DRC to secure areas where the M23, the rebels Kinshasa alleges are supported by Kigali, will be stationed and to protect members of the Angola-led Ad Hoc Verification Mechanism, whose members are in charge of monitoring compliance with the ceasefire.
Much as a Kinshasa-Luanda bilateral arrangement is normal, especially considering the countries’ good relations, the decision to send troops to eastern DRC came as a surprise, and leaves more questions unanswered.
Angola is not among troop contributing countries as agreed by East African Community Heads of State. The decision to deploy an EAC regional force was arrived at during the second EAC Heads of State conclave on the DRC in Nairobi, on April 21, 2022, chaired by former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
In their third Conclave, on June 21, 2022, the EAC Heads of State, adopted the Concept of Operations (CONOPs), Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Rules of Engagement (ROE) and other legal and technical regulations to facilitate the Regional Force and its various operational arms.
“The Regional Force was constituted as an EAC force under the EAC Protocol on peace and security and the EAC Treaty Article 124 on regional peace and security and Article 125 on cooperation in defence,” read the communiqué by the EAC Heads of State. The operational mandate of the force and structure were explained to the Heads of State by General Robert Kibochi who chaired the Committee of East African Community Chiefs of Defence Forces, at the time.
Angola’s deployment of troops is a new element not presented to the EAC Heads of State. This issue was never discussed during the November 23, 2022 Mini-Summit in Luanda, nor does it fall under the AU mandate.
Congolese officials, as reported, say Angolan soldiers are not coming to fight M23 but are coming to implement the verification mechanism foreseen by the Luanda process. But it is not clear under which framework the troops will be deployed.
What is clear is that the objective of the Angola troops is similar to what the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) is assigned to carry out under the command of Kenya’s Major General Jeff Nyagah.
However, Angola’s troops are seemingly deployed under bilateral framework, which affects their legitimacy and potentially undermines neutrality of Angola’s meditation. The entry of Angolan troops with a similar mandate as EACRF is likely to create confusion and jeopardise the peace plan.
Does Angola harbour a hidden agenda? Is its deployment part of a strategy to sideline the EACRF, make it redundant or even replace it completely?
In February, thousands of Congolese were mobilised to take part in state sanctioned demonstrations in Goma against the perceived inaction of the EACRF against the M23 rebels.
President Tshisekedi has resisted several calls to include M23 in the Nairobi process. Instead, he has attempted to hijack the EACRF mandate by exerting pressure on its Force Commander, Gen Nyagah to fight against M23 rebels under DRC terms and conditions. When this did not happen, Congolese authorities openly turned against the regional force. There is an ongoing propaganda in the DRC seeking to discredit the EAC and calling for departure of EACRF in favour of forces from SADC.
Is Kinshasa probably looking for ways to do away with EACRF?
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Eastern DRC is getting congested with many foreign troops. The EACRF comprises troops from Kenya and Burundi while Uganda and South Sudan are also expected to deploy troops under the regional arrangement. Uganda already has thousands of troops further north battling the ADF terrorists while Burundi too has forces in South Kivu hunting down Burundian rebels.
Kinshasa refused to allow neighboring Rwanda’s troops in.
There are also thousands of UN troops under MONUSCO.
And now Angola is coming in, under what remains unclear situation, or mandate. The lack of clarity on Angolan deployment is, most likely, going to cause more harm than good.
In February, a delegation of SADC Military Experts visited North Kivu to "assess the security situation". They will probably also consider sending in troops.
Kinshasa has brought in foreign mercenaries to fight along its national army – FARDC, provide logistical support and more to the Congolese army in the volatile East.
Worse still, Rwandan genocidal forces, or FDLR, are now wearing FARDC uniforms much to the vexation of Kigali which is keenly watching as a disaster unravels on the other side of the border.
Security analysts wonder if the amalgamation of foreign troops in eastern DRC will hasten the peace process or cause more complications. How will regional forces execute their mandate alongside troops working with armed groups?
The writer is Executive Director at Youth Voice For Peace