The US is doubling down on Rwanda on accusations of its involvement in the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, as a regional force meant to bring peace received approval to tap into an African Union Peace Fund.
This week, the African Union endorsed a proposal to have the East African Community Regional Forces (EACRF) to receive financial support from the AU targeting to streamline operations.
At the same time, the US accused Rwanda of deploying troops to DRC, adding blame to Kigali’s role in the violence in the vast neighbouring country.
A statement issued on Wednesday said Washington was asking Kigali to adhere to regional peace initiatives.
“We reiterate our call on Rwanda to cease support for the M23 armed group and to withdraw its troops from the DRC to facilitate implementation of these commitments in accordance with the timeline endorsed at the February 17 EAC mini-summit,” said the Department of State.
Blame on Kigali
This is the first time the US is pinning blame on Kigali for involving their military in the DRC. Previously, Washington had sided with Kinshasa to accuse Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels, made up of Congolese Tutsis who have taken up arms over alleged marginalisation in their country.
Washington said it endorses a decision of the recent meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council, which asked all foreign armed groups to leave DRC and all rebels to withdraw from occupied positions.
Kigali has always rejected accusations of fomenting conflict in the DRC. On the margins of the recent AU Summit in Addis Ababa, President Paul Kagame indicated that his country was ready to play its part in the search for peace but not by carrying the burdens of others.
Price of peace
“There are no lessons Rwanda needs to be taught about the meaning of peace. Those of us who have fought for peace know its price. We need peace more than we need minerals,” he said, according to talking points shared with the media on Friday.
At the Summit last week the US sent Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee and special envoy for the US-Africa Summit Johnnie Carson. Ms Phee met separately with João Lourenço of Angola, Félix Tshisekedi of the DRC, Kagame, William Ruto of Kenya and Ugandan Foreign Minister Jeje Odongo.
“In each meeting, Assistant Secretary Phee discussed with regional leaders our shared commitment to achieve peace and stability in eastern DRC and the urgent need for revitalisation of the peace processes.”
The decision by the AU to provide a window of funding for the EACRF came as Kinshasa looks for a plan B on actual combat against rebels. At its meeting, the AU Peace and Security Council endorsed a proposal “particularly the revitalisation of the Framework Agreement and utilisation of the AU Peace Fund to support the deployment and operations of the EAC Regional Force.”
This means the EAC can renegotiate the agreement with Kinshasa to prolong the stay of forces in the DRC, meant to initially last six months, as it draws funding from the continental body.
The AU authorised full deployment of the EACRF, as approved by the EAC heads of state. But it was unclear whether the mission can enter full combat as demanded by Kinshasa, especially since the AU Peace Fund focuses on mediation and preventive diplomacy, a programme launched in 2017 to also support institution rebuilding in places of conflict.
The fund raises its money from 0.2 percent levy members pay, calculated as a percentage from import duty. It has a kitty of $400 million, enabling “the AU to fully finance mediation and preventive diplomacy activities, institutional readiness and capacity, maintain a crisis reserve facility as well as meet its commitment to finance 25 percent of its peace operations budget.”
When the EACRF was first accepted by Kinshasa, the formative agreement for deployment, known as the Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) was for deployment to Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu provinces to “contain and where necessary, combat the negative forces and promote peace, stability and development in the greater East African region.”
It is also mandated to jointly plan and conduct operations with FARDC and support the Programme for Disarmament, Demobilisation, Community Re-integration and Stabilisation process(P-DDRCS), a past programme endorsed by the UN.
This week, the regional force applied for a renewal of its SOFA, which expires this month. The legal instrument, which spells out its mandate in eastern DRC, was signed on September 8, 2022 by the EAC Secretary-General Pater Mathuki and Christophe Lutundula, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs to guide the conduct, mandate and privileges of the force as well as the support and facilitation by the host nation.
At the moment, only Kenya Defence Forces are deployed.
Tension in Goma
There have been tension between the locals in Goma over the failure of KDF soldiers to combat the M23. KDF have chosen buffering and diplomacy, something that Kinshasa is uncomfortable with.
This week, Kinshasa suggested it will reach out to the Southern African Development Cooperation (SADC) for military cooperation. Maj-Gen Chico Tshitambwe, Deputy Chief of Staff of the FARDC in charge of operations, announced this on February 21 after his tour of the southern African countries.
“Our SADC partners are wholeheartedly with us. We will see how far we can progress on the defence front,” he said.
Though he didn’t say it, the choice of SADC is believed to rise from frustrations of not having a combative EACRF to deal with M23. The Congolese government has not yet said whether it will stop military cooperation with the East African regional force, nor whether it will oppose extension of the Force’s term once it expires in September.
Despite the pressure from the local community and the host nation, the force in adherence to the Heads of State’s summit in Addis Ababa reiterated the need to prioritise dialogue and political interventions as opposed to engaging the armed groups in combat.
“The Heads of State and Government reiterated the need to promote internal political and diplomatic dialogue to find a lasting solution to the security crisis in the eastern region of the DRC,” a communique from the Summit stated.