The search for what appears to be an elusive solution to the crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo saw East African Community Heads of State meet at State House Nairobi for the third time on Monday.
The regional Heads approved the immediate deployment of a standby force meant to stabilise and ‘’directly and aggressively’’ pursue rebel movements in the mineral-rich region.
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This force, which will work in tandem with the military and administrative forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo will be under the command of Kenya.
The military command of the joint force was agreed upon by all the six Presidents who attended the conclave meeting at State House, Nairobi.
Kenya’s Chief of Defense Forces, General Kibochi is the chairman of the Committee of the Regional military chiefs.
According to a joint communique released by the Kenyan Presidency, the force will be constituted in accordance with the community’s protocol on peace and security as well as Article 125 on cooperation in defense.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has already ratified the accession to the Treaty- with all the protocols including the peace and security one.
The remaining step is to deposit their instruments with the trade bloc Secretary-General, Peter Mathuki which they have until the end of September.
The French-speaking country formally joined the East African Community after the signing of the treaty of accession on 8 April in Nairobi, Kenya and was given up to September 29, 2022, to undertake internal and constitutional processes to ratify the Treaty and deposit the instruments of ratification with the Secretary-General.
It is not yet clear what the structure of the regional force will look like but the Congolese Presidency reported on Monday evening that details will be released in the coming days.
Though the Nairobi meeting joint communique did not elaborately communicate the technical details of the force putting in mind this is a military operation, key questions arising from the meeting seek to answer;
- The size of the force
- Number of boots each country will contribute
- The duration of the standby force in the DRC
- The financing of the force
On the contribution of boots, the Kinshasa-led government's position of not wanting the Rwandan military as a possible force on its soil was upheld by the Regional leaders.
A diplomatic source present at State House, Nairobi told The Standard that the Heads of state agreed that ‘’Rwanda would remain within its borders’’ but it will still be involved in the management of operations together with other member states.
Once deployed, the joint force will join the United Nations mission in the DRC, (Monusco) and the SADC-led Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), a special component of the UN stabilization mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The SADC brigade had a more robust mandate than the rest of Monusco, to enable it to mount offensive operations against the myriad rebel groups that make the lives of those living in the eastern DRC miserable.
The security situation in the eastern part of the DRC has been deteriorating with hundreds forced to flee their homes. Fighting between the DRC army and the M23 rebels has revived hostility between the DRC and Rwanda.
The DRC is accusing Rwanda of funding the M23 rebels blamed for the insurgence in eastern DRC. Rwanda on the other hand claims the DRC is collaborating with the FDLR movement.
In the escalating crisis, Kinshasa suspended all engagements with Rwanda, closed its shared border and banned Rwandair flights from their airspace. It is not yet clear if the regional Heads discussed the issue of normalizing ties between the two countries.
The rising tensions have provoked vehement civilian protests in eastern DRC, with much of the anger directed at the Rwandan leader, Paul Kagame- whose government has been accused of funding, abetting and sympathizing with the M23 rebel movement.
With the military solution set to be initiated, a political resolve may help to attain sustainable peace and security in Eastern DRC and end the animosity between the two neighbours.
Regional and security analysts argue that boots on the ground not backed by political concessions will just be a band-aid solution.
Thus, the military option must be supported by dialogue- and the actors involved especially politicians must abandon their hardline stances for peace to prevail.