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Rethink KDF's intervention in troubled DRC

KDF troops land in Goma ahead of a six-month peacekeeping mission in Northern Kivu. [Patrick Vidija, Standard]

The first batch of Kenyan troops landed in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s city of Goma to participate in the East African Community’s Regional Force, early this month. The declared objective is to pacify the volatile eastern part of the troubled country.

The Kenyan government has not sufficiently explained the real national interests behind its decision to take a lead role in a combat mission that could lead to loss of lives. This is particularly jarring because the public will foot the bill. Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale said the operation could cost Sh4.5 billion in six months, which could balloon into Sh7.2 billion in a year.

The DRC is a complex nation misruled since its independence in 1960. In fact, it’s a victim of its own resources, which is being exploited by its neighbours, local and international criminals and even corrupt officials.

Last March, the US Treasury said: “More than 90 per cent of DRC gold is smuggled to regional states, including Uganda and Rwanda.” The bulk of revenue from this illicit trade funds the conflict. 

More than 120 armed groups operate in the vast country, and as in every conflict, civilians bear the brunt of lawlessness.  The UN says 27 million people are in “dire need of assistance” in the DRC.

Hundreds of thousands of people have so far left their homes since the M23 group renewed its rebellion. 

It’s in our DNA to help troubled neighbors. At one time, we had the largest refugee camp in the world. It’s good to help the DRC in its hour of need, but it’s better to be strategic and not get sucked into the geopolitical mess in that country. 

Foreign military operations are costly and dangerous, and are only undertaken under necessary circumstances. We’re not a superpower that can afford to send troops to different parts of the world. We’re still smarting from our decade-old operation in Somalia. 

It is not for nothing that our country enjoys peace in a conflict-plagued region. Therefore, President William Ruto’s administration would do well to end the bellicose foreign policy initiated by late President Mwai Kibaki and sustained by his successor, Uhuru Kenyatta. 

We can emulate Turkey’s “Policy of Zero Problems” with its neighbours. As a 58-year-old nation, we’re still a work in progress and can’t afford to pick a fight with others. Nor can we be the police of our neighbours or risk our soldiers’ lives on behalf of others. 

Let’s focus on nation building and support others to the extent we can practically and strategically. Our DRC intervention doesn’t fall in those categories, so let’s rethink our involvement before it’s too late.