Kenya deploys new commander to pacify DR Congo

Saturday May 20 2023
Aphaxard Muthuri Kiugu

Maj-Gen Aphaxard Muthuri Kiugu (C), the new East African regional force commander, inspects a guard of honour in the force’s Goma on May 18, 2023. PHOTO | FILE


Kenya has finally deployed a new commander to the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF), banking on his past experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to deal with concerns raised by Kinshasa.

Maj-Gen Aphaxard Muthuri Kiugu assumed office in Goma on Thursday, where he will face a multitude of problems, including suspicions from Kinshasa that the EACRF was slow on tackling rebels considered by the Congolese government as enemy.

Maj-Gen Kiugu had been in the Congo before, and that may help him steady the ship. He was involved in the management in peace support operations as a Disarmament, Demobilisation, Reintegration and Repatriation Officer while serving with the UN Mission in eastern DRC between 2003 and 2004. He has also served as Defence Liason Officer in Kenya’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, New York.

“I am coming to pick from where Maj-Gen Jeff Nyagah left and according to my assessment, you have done well,” he told the troops in Goma on Thursday.

Read: Congo army, M23 trade blame for ceasefire violation

Past experience


“However, there are certainly lessons that we can learn from past experience, that can enable us to improve towards achievement of the desired end state. I believe in co-operation and teamwork, and I want to remind each one of us that we are one people of EAC with a common objective of enabling the citizens of Eastern DRC that are affected by insecurity to realise peace,” he added.

Maj-Gen Kiugu was referring to his predecessor, Maj-Gen Nyagah, who left the force in Goma last month and was redeployed by Nairobi to head the Western Command of the Kenya Defence Forces.

At the installation ceremony, Maj-Gen Kiugu was welcomed by his juniors. There was Deputy Force Commander (DFC) in charge of Intelligence and Operations, Brig-Gen Emmanuel Kaputa, DFC Administration and Logistics, Brig-Gen Ndorarigonya Gregoire, Chief of Staff, Bri-Gen Michael Kibuye, Contingent Commanders and other Force Headquarters Staff Officers.

In his address to the EACRF officers present, the force commander noted that the regional force has achieved significant milestones since the deployment in November 2022, including ensuring withdrawal of M23 from previously occupied spaces and other tasks such as the protection of civilians and humanitarian support in the contingents’ areas of operation.

Reviewing tactics

He instructed the contingents to operate guided by the Status of Force Agreement and Rules of Engagement and advised them to keep reviewing tactics in conformity with the mission-changing dynamics so as to remain effective in the ongoing peace and stability efforts. He also encouraged the contingent commanders to share their experiences for the success of the force.

Read: Tshisekedi to EAC force: Act on rebels or leave

“We shall continue co-operating and collaboration with all stakeholders operating in the region including the various civil society entities so that we can leverage on each other’s efforts and ideas” added the force commander.

His arrival, delayed by three weeks, came after Kenya moved to address lingering suspicions arising from problems with the East African regional force, seeking to strengthen ties on other issues with Kinshasa.

On Tuesday, Kenya’s ambassador to the DRC, George Masafu, met with the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Defence Jean-Pierre Bemba during which they discussed the security situation and peace in eastern DRC and how Kenya and DRC can collaborate. Bemba had been critical of the EACRF and is said to be one of the brains behind pushing for Kinshasa’s plan B, of tapping Southern Africa Development Cooperation (SADC) troops.

“As you know, Kenya and DRC are very good friends,” he said after the meeting in Kinshasa.

Quick reaction

“Kenya has long been committed to peace in the DRC. We have had our troops in the Force Intervention Brigade UN peacekeeping mission; we have had troops in the Quick Reaction Force in the UN peacekeeping mission in Beni, North Kivu, eastern DRC. We also have had troops for the training of Congolese soldiers in Kisangani."

Masafu, who has fought diplomatic fires for Nairobi, was meeting the Congolese official three weeks after Maj-Gen Nyagah left his station amid allegations the force had refused to beat down troublesome rebel groups in the Congo.

Read: Congo war: Enter SADC, exit EAC?

In fact, the EACRF has said it is a buffer force meant to support political means to ending the conflict. Kinshasa though has declared lack of satisfaction with the mission and recently embarked on the search for plan B.

Masafu has in the past been the soothing voice to the Congolese after President William Ruto (then deputy president) made a snide comment about Congolese trousers while on a campaign trail last year.