Activists planning a march in Goma to pressure the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) into combat against rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo were Wednesday stopped by police.
The protest organisers say they want to raise concerns against the “passivity and inaction” of the EACRF who were drafted to help rein in armed groups that refuse dialogue, but who are yet to fire a shot, preferring military diplomacy to instead convince groups like the M23 to abandon violence.
The activists are also protesting the arrival of troops from South Sudan in the DRC as part of the EACRF, a mission decided by the heads of state of the East African community since April last year.
Goma mayor, Senior Superintendent Kabeya Makosa François, on Wednesday banned the planned protests in the city where the regional force, mainly composed of Kenyan contingents and led by Major-General Jeff Nyagah, is based.
‘State of siege’
The mayor, in a statement released on Tuesday, told the protesters the “state of siege” is still ongoing.
Since April 2021, North Kivu and Ituri provinces, both of which are plagued by insecurity and war, have been under a state of siege, which made President Félix Tshisekedi to replace the civilian governors with soldiers and police officers. Since then, all public demonstrations have been prohibited.
“This activity is not authorised in order not to play the enemy's game,” the mayor of Goma said.
“On the other hand, it is imperative to trust the actions of our armed forces engaged in the fronts by providing information in real time,” he added.
He asked the organisers of the planned protests to pick three people to go and present their grievances at the town hall, which will then be transmitted to provincial and national officials.
On Wednesday morning, Congolese police cordoned off areas in Goma to prevent the march. The presidential guard, a much-feared unit of the Congolese army, was reinforcing its positions in Goma to help the police contain the march.
The mayor of Goma had already warned that “any violator would face the force of the law".
But the organisers were still trying to defy the order. They intend to march against the regional force as they had already protested against the United Nations mission in the DRC (Monusco) in July 2022. That march, which was organised in several cities, left 36 dead following confrontations.