SADC forces engage M23 rebels in eastern DRC as violence intensifies

Saturday June 08 2024

Soldiers are seen on a vehicle in Sake, Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on February 11, 2024. PHOTO | XINHUA


The Southern African Development Community (SADC) troops in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have, unlike their East African predecessors, been involved in armed combat against the M23 rebels, making peaceful negotiations a distant reality.

The East African Community countries (EACRF), whose mandate ended in December 2023, had sought to buffer the frontlines to encourage dialogue.

But, while this helped push back the M23 without firing a shot, it angered Kinshasa for not targeting what it called ‘terrorists.’ For SADC, however, this approach has come at a cost, recording more deaths than EACRF. On May 31, the South African army, a member of this mission known as SAMIDRC announced that it had lost a soldier.

“The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) confirms that on May 30, 2024, the SANDF members came into contact with M23 at Sake, in the battle ensued between M23 and our forces. Thirteen members were injured, and one was fatally wounded. All the injured members were evacuated to Goma Hospital and are recuperating,” it said.

Read: At odds in DRC, Rwanda and SADC battle rebels side by side in Mozambique

Col Ndjike Guillaume, Spokesman for the Congolese army (FARDC) in North Kivu, accused M23 and the Rwandan army of having a hand in it.


“South African soldiers were wounded, including one fatally, early on Thursday 30 May, when the Rwandan army and their M23 allies began indiscriminate bombardment of the town of Sake and the surrounding area. The FARDC and its partners reacted effectively. At that stage, the enemy movement was stopped dead in its tracks," he claimed.

Rwanda has denied having a hand in the conflict even though Kinshasa has insisted M23 are backed by Kigali, claims also sustained by the US and France.

This is the 5th South African soldier to die since the deployment of that country's troops under SADC mission. Like the first four who lost their lives, hit by mortars, the fifth is also South African. It was between December 2023 and January 2024 that SADC troops were in the DRC, alongside the Congolese. It means Goma now faces a threat of violence.

Several mortars have fallen in the town, killing civilians and children. The fighting got closer, 20 kilometres from Goma, in the town of Sake, which is the last lock before reaching the capital of North Kivu. It is in this locality that South African and Congolese troops have set up to block the rebel assaults.

Nicaise Kibel Bel, a military expert based in Goma, believes that the strategy to escalate the fight by the rebels has two aims: To put pressure on the government in Kinshasa to open a dialogue, and to send a message to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to agree to withdraw his country's troops fighting under the SADC banner.

Read: East Congo struggles with conflict, humanitarian crisis

“This is just a diversion. It's a message sent to the Congolese government and to the population, saying we want to take over Goma, push the government to open a dialogue because the government is doing nothing to achieve dialogue. “And indeed, these offensives are creating debate among Congolese citizens. As for the attacks on South African troops.”

Mr Bel points out that rebels are putting pressure on President Ramaphosa to take responsibility over the death of South African soldiers.

In South Africa, some leaders have used the election season to accuse South African president of sending troops into territory deemed dangerous.

“Cyril Ramaphosa wants to kill our soldiers in DRC, they are not properly trained, they're sent to be killed", declared Julius Malema when the troops landed in the DRC.

In Kinshasa, it is not certain that the intensity of the war will prompt the authorities to change their policy on the war in favour of negotiations.

Under a new government structure, Deputy Defence Minister Jean-Pierre Bemba has been replaced by Guy Mwadiamvita. Although a novice in matters of war, he is expected to follow in the footsteps of Bemba and President Félix Tshisekedi in rejecting all dialogue.

Like Tshisekedi, Guy Mwadiamvita belongs to the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, a party known for its rough stance on the war in the eastern DRC.

Read: AU to offer aid to SADC troops in Congo

Daddy Saleh, a political analyst and lecturer in North Kivu, "the misunderstanding of this war is what is preventing us from finding solutions.” Saleh sees it as an "economic war.”

“The aggressors are not going to stop until they achieve their goal, which is to divide the DRC and plunder the minerals as much as possible.

“The war will continue, and the DRC must invoke Article 86 of the Constitution to declare a state of war in order to block the path of the enemies of peace and put an end to this war.”

The situation in Kivu augurs well for the continuation of the war, despite the harmful effects on the civilian population in part of North Kivu, who are still condemned to wandering.