SADC to send troops to DRC to help quell disturbances in East

Democratic Republic of Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi arrives for a summit in Bujumbura, Burundi, May 6, 2023. [Reuters]

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) plans to send troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo to help fight rebels in the country's east.

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi arrived in Botswana's capital on Tuesday and is expected to discuss details of the deployment with the regional bloc's leaders. He also will talk with Botswana's President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Addressing the media at the end of a special SADC meeting in Windhoek, Namibia, Namibian President Hage Geingob said the security situation in eastern DRC is cause for concern.

"The summit reiterated SADC's solidarity to assist the government and people of the Republic of Congo in its efforts to restore peace and stability in the eastern part of the country, particularly in light of the upcoming national elections scheduled for December 2023," said Geingob, who serves as chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Security and Defense.

Reading out the Windhoek Summit's resolution, SADC Executive Secretary Elias Magosi said the meeting resolved to send troops to the DRC to assist in ending hostilities.

"Summit approved the deployment of a SADC Force within the framework of the SADC Standby Force as a regional response in support of the DRC to restore peace and security in Eastern DRC. Summit approved a SADC Common Position to have a more coordinated approach, given the multiple deployments under multilateral and bilateral arrangements in the eastern DRC, and urged the Government of the DRC to put in place the necessary conditions and measures for effective coordination amongst sub-regional forces and bilateral partners operating in the DRC," said Magosi.

South Africa, a SADC member, already has 1,184 soldiers deployed in the DRC under the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known as MONESCO.

Security expert Willem Els at the Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies said there is a need for clarity on the deployment of the SADC force.

"They want to send troops but they did not give any details. We do not know if they are going to complement the troops that are currently deployed in the DRC under MONESCO or whether they will be separate," said Els. "We know that Kenya as well as Uganda have already deployed some troops there."

Conflict has heightened in the DRC's North Kivu province, where hundreds have been killed and more than 300,000 displaced in fighting between M23 rebels and government forces.

Els said any SADC troops deployed in the DRC need sufficient backup in order to be effective.

"If these troops are going to be deployed without the necessary air support and also to provide them with air dominance, they are going to face a similar outcome like we currently have in Cabo Delgado," said Els.

Troops in Cabo Delgado have been unable to stop an Islamist militant insurgency in that energy-rich Mozambican province.