Regional leaders have welcomed the Southern Africa Development Cooperation (SADC) move to deploy troops to the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, providing Kinshasa with a potential plan B against rebel groups.
Sitting in Luanda, the capital of Angola, on Saturday, the leaders under the International Conference of Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), SADC and the East African Community (EAC) said the new forces under the SADC Standby Force could add to combined regional response to threats of peace and security in the Congo.
But the move could potentially give President Felix Tshisekedi new grease in his elbows as he pursues the M23 rebel group in particular, having blamed the onsite East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) of sitting on their hands against the rebels, which he claims are sponsored by Rwanda, a charge Kigali rejects.
Last month, SADC said it would send troops to the DRC to help fight rebels in the country’s east during a special SADC meeting in Windhoek, Namibia. It would be the second such deployment, if it happens, in eastern Congo in three decades of the conflict.
In the past, the deployment was not so successful and troops from Zimbabwe were also accused of looting.
The EACRF, deployed last November, had their mandate extended last week after a summit of the EAC in Burundi said they had another six months to provide buffers to civilians and encourage the withdrawal of rebel groups. But their presence has been controversial, with Kinshasa insisting they must attack the M23, while the forces maintain they lack such mandate to enter combat.
In fact, the DRC has refused to hold dialogue with the group it calls terrorists, which Rwanda says will prevent the search for a long-term solution. Edouard Ngirente, the Rwandan Prime Minister, told the EAC Summit on Wednesday that the M23 deserve to be in the dialogue room as every decision on their surrender, integration, reconciliation and cantonment affects them.
In Luanda, where ICGLR leaders gathered for the tenth extraordinary summit on peace and security in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Republic of Sudan, they called on all parties to sue for peace by abiding by a ceasefire.
Angolan President João Lourenço hosted the summit as the current chair of ICGLR. He is also the AU Champion for Peace and Reconciliation in Africa and the facilitator of the dialogue between the DRC and Rwanda on their simmering feud over allegations of rebel support.
The ICGLR is an inter-governmental organisation established to pursue political stability among countries of the Great Lakes region of Africa. These are Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia.
The Luanda Summit was attended by Presidents Félix Tshisekedi of the DRC and Faustin Archange Touadera of the Central African Republic. The other member States sent senior government representatives.
Kenya’s former President Uhuru Kenyatta, the EAC facilitator of the DRC peace dialogue, and Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission, were also present.
“Summit directed ministers of Foreign Affairs of Angola, DRC, Rwanda, and Burundi, as the current chair of the EAC, supported by the Ad-hoc Verification Mechanism, to meet periodically to jointly assess the progress made in implementing the commitments from the Luanda Roadmap and the Joint Action Plan for the Pacification of the Eastern Region of the DRC and the Normalisation of Political-Diplomatic Relations between the DRC and Rwanda”.
The meeting statement also said the “summit welcomed the initiative of the Republic of Angola in deploying a contingent of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) with the aim of providing security to the cantonment areas of the M23 and supporting the activities of the Ad-hoc Verification Mechanism.”
As for Sudan, the gathering’s statement said that the “summit received a report on the situation in Sudan from the chairperson of the African Union Commission and the Special Envoy of the President of the Sovereign Council, and condemned the mutiny and resurgence of military conflict”.