EDITORIAL: Only gift of peace can justify military invasion of DRC

Saturday December 11 2021
Ugandan soldiers

Uganda sent more troops and equipment, including armoured vehicles, into eastern DR Congo. For lasting peace, any intervention must also have elements that build the capacity of the DRC state to assert itself over its territory. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

By The EastAfrican

The launch of joint operations by the Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) armies against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) has raised hopes for an enduring peace for war-weary civilians in the long-suffering east of the country. On November 30, Ugandan Airforce and artillery units launched a fiery campaign that rained bombs on four locations occupied by the ADF.

There were no immediate numbers on the impact of the operation but dozens of surrendering ADF fighters provided early evidence that the campaign had at least succeeded in killing some enemy combatants and disrupting the rebels control over their forces.

More than a week later the ground forces were yet to make contact with ADF fighters, reflecting the elusive nature of the enemy and the logistical constraints that any conventional army pursuing the fighters faces in the jungles of the eastern DRC. Ground operations were halted at forward bases as equipment was moved to open up roads for armoured forces.

Despite the setbacks, excited residents celebrated the prospect of peace and even turned hostile against Monusco, the decades-old UN mission to the DRC which has failed to pacify the volatile east. To some extent, the early challenges encountered by the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) and their Congolese allies are emblematic of the difficulties Monusco has been facing.

It is also true, however, that the UN force lacked the force multipliers — the jet fighters and heavy artillery that the UPDF employed in the early hours of its foray into the Congo.

It is also probably true that Monusco was largely symbolic, betting on the assumed respect for the blue helmets. Its fighters lacked the motivation that the Ugandans, who view the ADF as an existential threat, would have under such a mission.


It is now up to the Ugandans to justify this intervention by running a disciplined campaign that focuses on the objectives of the mission and avoids any conduct that could attract sanctions against the effort.

The lack of contact between ground forces suggests that this is going to be a long and twisted mission. That alone has an inherent risk that needs to be mitigated. The model of the Tanzanian intervention that routed the M23 rebels offers valuable lessons. It defeated the enemy but did not deliver durable peace.

It might not be a popular idea but, for complete pacification, the DRC probably needs a parallel intervention in South Kivu, with Rwandan and Tanzanian forces working alongside their DRC counterparts.

For lasting peace, any intervention must also have elements that build the capacity of the DRC state to assert itself over its territory.

The country also needs a comprehensive solution that encompasses elimination of the FDLR rebels in South Kivu that pose a threat to Rwanda.

History will judge Uganda kindly if the current intervention stays within the boundaries of mission objectives, delivers a durable peace and opens up the eastern to DRC to development and organised trade.