Kenya has defended deployment of peacekeeping troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo, saying it has strategic investments interests to protect in the mineral-rich country.
While seeking parliamentary approval for the deployment, Nairobi said it has a lot to lose if the ongoing conflict in the eastern DRC is not stopped.
The National Assembly this week endorsed the deployment, completing formalities for the participation of Nairobi in its first ever direct military engagement in the DRC
The troops, which will begin touching down in eastern DRC, and cost at least Ksh4.5 billion ($37 million) in the first six months, are being seen as a means to achieving Kenya’s mark on the DRC map.
Cost of not sending troops
However, Kenyan legislators agreed with a pitch by Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale that the cost of not sending troops would be worse than deploying. Members of Parliament noted that Kenya’s rising business interests in the DR Congo means Nairobi has a personal investment in searching for peace.
“The long-term local and regional benefits in peace and stability, as well as strategic Kenyan investments in the Democratic Republic of Congo outweigh the costs,” Nelson Koech, MP for Belgut and chairman of the National Assembly Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations, told The EastAfrican.
“Through this deployment, Kenya will also secure its vital interests including Kenyan businesses like banks operating in the DRC, numerous Kenyan businesspeople in the country, bilateral trade with the DRC, and utilisation of the Mombasa port by the DRC among others,” he added.
The Committee which had been assessing Kenya’s formal deployment, a legal requirement, agreed that DRC’s entry into the East African Community earlier this year provides Kenyan businesses with an opportunity, if the country gets security.
The troops will be part of the regional force deployed by the EAC to target rebel groups who refuse to disarm. But it won’t be the only means.
“The troops deployment is complementary and very strategic to the ongoing political process in DRC. The Kenyan Contingent (KENCON) has a lot of goodwill from residents of Eastern DRC due to the fact that Kenya does not share a border with DRC,” Mr Koech added.
“The KDF will therefore provide leadership and tangibly contribute to the maintenance of peace and security being a current non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council,” he said.
For months, the question has been how the regional force, technically a combat mission, will work with the UN peacekeepers under the Monusco mission in DRC. Kenya had participated in Monusco in the past but the troops to be deployed under the EAC will be Nairobi’s first combat engagement. Other countries sending troops are Uganda, South Sudan and Burundi with Rwanda allowed to deployed on the shared border with DRC.
On Friday, Kenyan President William Ruto hosted Huang Xia, the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General to the Great Lakes region whom he told to push for further support for DRC’s institution rebuilding.
“We urge the International Community through the United Nations to put more resources into the peace efforts by East and Southern Africa nations in the DRC,” President Ruto said on Friday.
“We will support all initiatives to end conflict and bring stability and prosperity to East Africa and the Great Lakes Region.”
Besides financing, the deployment had faced questions on exit strategy. And Kenya has argued this mission will be different from when it launched an operation on al-Shabaab 11 years ago, its then first combat dealings of any kind.
“In Somalia's case the priority was to crush the Al-Shabaab infrastructure to incapacitate their ability to attack Kenya. In DRC, the mandate of the KDF is simple. We move in to facilitate ongoing regional stabilisation efforts to create room for dialogue,” Mr Koech explained.
The mission will, however, rely other factors to succeed. One of them is the relationship between Rwanda and DRC who accuse one another of fomenting rebel movements. This week, the two countries agreed, for the second time in three months, to seek a solution against their military escalation, through political channels. It was a decision out of a meeting in Luanda, Angola, of their respective foreign ministers
In a joint communiqué, Congolese Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula, his Rwandan counterpart Vincent Biruta and the Angolan Minister for External Relations agreed that the parties must speed up the implementation of the roadmap of July 6 this year. On that date, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi met his Rwandan President Paul Kagame in a summit mediated by Angolan President João Lourenço, the African Union's appointed mediator to reconcile Kinshasa and Kigali. The Tripartite summit had ordered a ceasefire between the M23 rebel group and the Congolese army and the withdrawal of the M23 from their positions.