EAC Congo mission renewed, but with revised mandate
Sunday March 26 2023
The Democratic Republic of Congo has agreed to retain the East Africa Community Regional Force (EACRF) on its territory, even though the actual terms for the mission will be re-negotiated.
The details emerged after representatives of the East African Community partner and their Chiefs of Defence Forces met in Bujumbura to review the performance of EACRF, six months after the decision to deploy. The Status of Force Agreement (SOFA), which provided for the deployment, has expired.
The EastAfrican understands that the meeting in Burundi agreed that the EAC Secretary-General Peter Mathuki formally writes to Kinshasa to ask for the renewal of the SOFA, which will enable the troop contributing countries to fully deploy. Kenya and Burundi already deployed and Uganda.
A dispatch from the meeting indicated South Sudan and Ugandan troops are “to deploy by March 30.”
Winning hearts, minds
The EACRF had already agreed on operational boundaries within with each country is to serve in the mission. A dispatch indicated complete deployment will be needed to realign the forces and build confidence with locals through visibility among communities.
Under the operational boundaries, each of the troops has specific sectors, most of which lie in areas vacated by the M23 rebel group. And the EACRF is banking on Kinshasa’s extension of SOFA to help the mission endear itself to the public.
It says Kinshasa will help encourage local officials and civilians to embrace EACRF and mobilise displaced civilians to return home. Kinshasa was also asked to re-allow expelled Rwandan soldiers initially assigned to work at the EACRF headquarters in Goma. They had been expelled as the two countries bickered over interference in each other’s territories.
Complaints from Kinshasa
When the troops first deployed, there were complaints from Kinshasa and among the public of being passive. They wanted the force to attack M23 rebels. DRC has since gone on to invite Angolan troops under a bilateral arrangement.
The Defence chiefs meeting in Burundi agreed bilateral arrangements won’t affect the work of the EACRF which is to build confidence for dialogue as it pursues those who refuse to lay down arms. EACRF will discuss with other missions, including the UN Stabilisation Mission in the Congo (Monusco) for a legal framework of cooperation.
The DRC has demanded that the military and political programmes of the force run concurrently, meaning that the troops can fight while encouraging dialogue.
EACRF, however, has not fired a shot yet, something that frustrated Kinshasa.
Sources told The EastAfrican that the DRC was still demanding certainty that the Force will actually target rebel groups that refuse to surrender, singling out M23 group which Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of supporting. But the EACRF chiefs also pledged to target the FDLR, another controversial rebel group Rwanda accuses DRC of supporting. They agreed to pursue the FDLR and all other armed groups including the foreign ones and the local one and share information on existing and new threat.
In the absence of SOFA, Kinshasa is expected to maintain a status quo at least until April. EACRF plans, in its second phase will also launch long-term programmes including disarmament, demobilisation of militias and community recovery including return of refugees and IDPs. However, troop contributing countries will have the task of mobilising for funds to run some of the programmes.
North Kivu calm
North Kivu, where the EACRF has been based has been calm but the DRC was not resting easy after violence erupted near Kinshasa.
Tension steamed up after 15 people were killed in Maluku area by unknown assailants who disappeared after the massacre. Maluku is a rural area of Kinshasa, 80km from the city centre.
National Assembly Speaker, Christophe Mboso termed it an “insurrectionary movement” called Mobondo. The violence in Maluku was associated with an earlier incident in Kinsele village, in Maï Ndombe province, more than 250 km from Kinshasa.
The authorities have been struggling to identify the origin of the skirmish in hitherto peaceful provinces of the country where killers arrive with machetes. Earlier this year, the Governor of Maï Ndombe Rita Bola said the massacres were the “work of a black hand to prevent the holding of elections.”
It forced the Minister for Interior and Security Daniel Aselo to move in with contingents of the army and police to eradicate the conflict between the Bayaka and Bateke tribes. The carnage faded but now seems to be resuming.
The real beef
Locals are said to be fighting over levies and land ownership. Last year in June, at least 250 people were killed in Mashambio and Kwamouth, in Maï Ndombe, which are the epicentre of the conflict between Bayaka and Bateke.
But according to Mboso, “the conflict has nothing to do with the two tribes who are peaceful by nature and have always developed links of brotherhood and collective living together”.
By Aggrey Mutambo, Mary Wambui and Patrick Ilunga