East African forces to leave the nation by December, DRC official says

Tuesday October 10 2023

Soldiers from the East African Community Regional Force accompany journalists into areas under the control of March 23 Movement in Bunagana, Democratic Republic of Congo on April 19, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


Officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo say East African Community Regional Forces (EACRF) will leave the country by December 8, signaling a refusal to extend any further mandate for the troops.

The current EACRF mandate was extended, for the second time, last month for three months and will expire on December 8.

But according to Communication Minister Patrick Muyaya, Kinshasa will not be granting further permission for longer stay.

DRC Congo's message on the fate of the regional force, he said, has already been conveyed to the leaders of the East African Community, by Deputy Defence Minister Jean-Pierre Bemba, at the extraordinary meeting of the East African Community (EAC) Sectoral Council on Defence Cooperation, held in Arusha, Tanzania last week.

Read: Defence ministers endorse longer stay of EACRF in Eastern Congo

“The message is clear: the EAC regional force must leave the Democratic Republic of Congo by December 8, as agreed, because it has not been able to resolve the problem, particularly that of the M23, which has been blocking the pre-cantonment process for two months, in accordance with the agreements signed in Luanda.


“That was the message he conveyed. There will certainly be a meeting of heads of state afterwards, which will have to rule on the inability of the regional force to resolve this issue, and measures will be taken,” explained Patrick Muyaya at a press conference held on the evening of Monday 9 October in Kinshasa.

The Congolese authorities under President Félix Tshisekedi, have often decried the “lack of effectiveness of the regional force” in dealing with the rebels in eastern Congo, mainly the M23, who took up arms again in 2021, demanding that the Congolese government open "a direct dialogue" with them. 

Currently, the government is accusing the M23 of blocking the pre-cantonment process by maintaining control of strategic communication points in the territories of Masisi, Rutshuru and Nyiragongo, in North Kivu, in violation of the roadmap signed in Luanda in the search for peace. It accuses the EACRF of looking on as the violations happen.

Read: DR Congo security situation still complex, EACRF chief says

But the FARDC has also been accused of using proxies to attack M23 bases while keeping a public profile of obeying a ceasefire signed with rebel groups including, M23 under a mediation known as the Luanda Process.

The revelations mean regional force, which has often resisted calls to enter combat against rebels and insists on being a buffer for civilians, must start withdrawal by December 8.

Yet the violence has continued to erupt. In eastern DRC, a group known as Wazalendo has sought to supplant M23 in areas it must withdrawal from under the Luanda Process. In turn, M23 has dragged feet on the cantonment process, delaying the political process.

In December this year, the United Nations force, known as Monusco, that had been deployed in the DRC for 24 years will also have to begin its “gradual withdrawal” from the DR Congo. In North Kivu, several civil society organisations have organised marches to demand that Monusco and the East African regional force leave the DRC.

Despite the various performances, and despite a public disavowal expressed by President Félix Tshisekedi about the effectiveness of the East African Regional Force, the leaders of the region prevailed upon the DRC to have EACRF stay longer.

Read: EACRF to stay longer in DR Congo

The Congolese authorities are nonetheless satisfied with the Burundian troops deployed in the DRC as part of this regional force. The M23, on the other hand, is critical of the Burundian contingent, accusing it of leaving the field open for self-defence groups to attack rebel positions.

At present, although the Congolese army claims to be respecting the ceasefire put in place at the beginning of March 2023, fighting is an almost daily occurrence in certain territories of North Kivu, notably Masisi, Nyirangongo and Rutshuru. The Wazalendo self-defence group is fighting with the M23 rebels.