The leaders of the East African Community (EAC) on Wednesday approved the extension of the mandate of the regional force in the Democratic Republic of Congo until September.
But the six-month extension, effective March 8, has to be ratified by the government in Kinshasa, the formal requirement to fulfil the pact with the EAC.
The decision emerged from the 21st extraordinary summit of the bloc’s heads of State in Burundian commercial capital Bujumbura, chaired by President Evariste Ndayishimiye.
A communique read by the EAC Secretary-General Peter Mathuki said the extension of the mandate of the mission known as the East Africa Community Regional Force (EACRF) is aimed at consolidating the gains made by the force that has helped achieve a relative return to normalcy in the region, a result of a two-month ceasefire between the local army, FARDC, and the dominant rebel group M23.
The EACRF says M23 has moved to cantonment areas in spite of continual sporadic clashes.
Only two Presidents were present at the summit - President Ndayishimiye, the host, and Kenya’s William Ruto. Other five member states sent representatives: Tanzania Vice President Philip Mpango, Rwandan Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente, Uganda’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for EAC Affairs Rebecca Kadaga, South Sudan Minister of Presidential Affairs Barnaba Marial Benjamin and DRC’s Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration Léonard She Okitundu.
Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, who has openly criticised the EACRF for refusing to take on M23, had initially agreed to extend the force’s stay until June after its mandate expired in March.
In April, the EACRF commander Major-General Jeff Nyagah resigned at the height of the troop’s ineffectiveness claims. EACRF has always argued that its mandate does not allow for combat.
The summit also took note of Nyagah’s replacement, Maj-Gen Alphaxard Muthuri Kiugu, earlier in May.
The heads of State directed the regional force to sustain the orderly withdrawal of the M23 and other armed groups from the areas they are yet to vacate.
EACRF is also required to support internally displaced persons’ return to the areas vacated by the armed groups.
Together with the UN peacekeeping mission, Monusco, EAC directed the verification of the suitability of Rumagambo, a base currently occupied by Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) as a cantonment area for M23 and other armed groups within three weeks.
The leaders also directed that all communications to M23 be handled by the peace process facilitator, former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The summit also called for the resumption of the inter-Congolese talks facilitated by Mr Kenyatta. The leaders noted that the solution to the conflict in the East can only be sustainably resolved through a political process and dialogue among all parties.
The summit also directed the setting up of a civilian head mission to coordinate political-related matters of the regional force.
In a statement, President Ruto said the civilian officer would help shield the East African regional force from political and public affairs matters.
“This will enhance peace and security in the region,” he added.
The EAC Secretariat was directed to form a technical committee by June 15 to evaluate the implementation of the force’s mandate and table a report within 90 days.