Military option without political will won't solve Rwanda-DRC conflict

President Uhuru Kenyatta welcomes his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame at State House for a Regional Heads of State Summit on DRC-Rwanda tension. [PSCU, Standard] 

President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday chaired the third Conclave Meeting of East Africa Community (EAC) Heads of State at State House Nairobi. Top on the agenda was the escalating conflict between Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda armies along the border in eastern DRC.

The meeting comes against the backdrop of President Kenyatta's proposal for a regional military force to fight the M23 rebels in eastern DRC, a move welcomed by DRC but with a rider that Rwandan forces should not be part of it.

The DRC government in Kinshasa accuses the Kigali-based Rwanda government of supporting the M23 rebels. Kigali too says Kinshasa is supporting Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FLDR) rebels to fight President Paul Kagame's regime.

President Kenyatta as the chair of the seven-member EAC, thus proposed a regional force to try and bring an end to decades-long conflict between Kigali and Kinshasa, and at times Uganda since the latter and DRC have a joint operation against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group.

Accusations and counter-accusations and the escalating conflict has seen casualties on both sides and has led DRC to close all its borders with Rwanda and suspend all engagements with Kigali. The DRC has borders with six of the seven EAC member states and trade will definitely be affected since other members have to pass through Rwanda. 

There is need to find a lasting solution, and President Kenyatta must be lauded for his efforts to bring all the warring parties to the table for dialogue. In 2013, he chaired a meeting between the rebels and the DRC government, which came up with the 2013 Nairobi Declaration.  

The rebels' resurgence is informed by the fact that some of their demands were not met to their satisfaction by Kabila's successor Felix Tshisekedi, who assumed office in 2019. In April this year, President Kenyatta chaired a Nairobi Process on Security Situation in DRC following the failure of 2013 Nairobi Declaration.

This conflict does not bode well for the nascent EAC which aspires to improve trade and other relations between member states and just recently welcomed DRC to its fold.

President Kenyatta's latest proposal for a regional force is a confirmation that dialogue has failed. But with DRC's rider that Rwandan forces cannot be part of the force, his proposal might also not work.

While using the military might sound a viable solution since the rebels are armed, it will only succeed if all member states are on the same page, and the respective supporters of the rebels on all sides withdraw all forms of assistance and devote all resources — military, financial and political — to the cause of ending further shedding of blood.

Thus, the military option must be supported by dialogue — and the politicians involved must abandon their hard-line stances for peace to prevail.