Why DR Congo Urgently Calls for Withdrawal of East African Troops: A Complex Situation Unveiled

After just 11 months in action, the East African force established to quell militia violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has been instructed to depart from the country.

The Congolese government has decided not to extend the mandate of the East Africa Community (EAC) Regional Force, following months of complaints from Kinshasa about the group’s lack of effectiveness.

This decision comes at a time when violence between the M23 rebel group and pro-government militias has reignited in DR Congo’s troubled eastern region.

What was the mandate of the regional troop?

The East African Community (EAC), comprising seven countries, deployed its troops to DR Congo last year after a resurgence in fighting by the M23. The force was established shortly after DR Congo joined the regional club.

Formed over a decade ago, the M23 has seized control of large areas in the east, claiming to defend the interests of ethnic Tutsis against Hutu militias it accuses the government of supporting.

Burundi was the first of four countries to send troops to DR Congo in August last year, followed by Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda, with Kenya in overall command.

The EAC’s Regional Force asserts that its mandate is to oversee the withdrawal of armed groups from captured territories.

However, the Congolese government and local communities want the force to directly engage in combat with groups like the M23.

The force was established to work alongside the United Nations troops already present in the country. The UN peacekeeping force, known as Monusco, has faced growing public discontent for its failure to end the conflict in its 25-year deployment. President Félix Tshisekedi expressed his desire for Monusco to withdraw from the country in December.

In a recent statement, the EAC stated that its forces are dedicated to closely collaborating with the government to facilitate the safe return of internally displaced people to their homes and improve the overall protection of civilians.

Its mandate has been extended twice since the mission’s inception.

Why does DR Congo want East African troops to leave?

The deployment of the EAC soldiers has been the subject of repeated criticism from the Congolese government and civil society groups.

President Tshisekedi has emerged as one of the main detractors, citing the mission’s “lack of effectiveness” and issuing ultimatums for more aggressive action against the M23 or for the force to leave the country.

The failure to resolve the conflict has led to protests against both the EAC force and Monusco. A protest in September turned deadly, resulting in the loss of more than 40 lives.

Communications Minister Patrick Muyaya stated, according to local media, “The message is clear: the EAC regional force must leave the Democratic Republic of Congo by 8 December, as agreed, because it has not been able to resolve the problem, particularly that of the M23.”

What has the EAC force achieved?

Since entering DR Congo last year, the EAC force has overseen the withdrawal of armed groups from several areas, including Karuba, Mushaki, Kiloriwe, and Kitchange.

However, achieving complete stability has proven to be challenging. The force has encountered logistical and operational difficulties.

On Tuesday, a Kenyan soldier attached to the force was killed in a mortar attack launched by rebels. This marked the first death of a Kenyan member of the force.

Earlier this month, the EAC stated that its forces had faced hostilities due to propaganda spread by armed groups.

Why has fighting resumed?

DR Congo’s mineral-rich eastern region has long been plagued by dozens of armed groups.

After a tenuous six-month truce, fighting has resumed between M23 rebels and pro-government forces, known as Wazalendo, this month.

Kinshasa accused the M23 of failing to disarm and honor the ceasefire, while the M23 blamed pro-government forces for the resurgence of violence.

DR Congo’s army maintained that it was still abiding by the truce, but witnesses contested this, stating that soldiers and pro-government loyalists had been fighting alongside each other against the M23.

The renewed violence has taken its toll on civilians, with at least 60 people being killed in attacks on North Kivu’s Rutshuru territory just last week, as per a local official.


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