The security crisis in eastern DR Congo is high on the agenda as the 21st Extraordinary East African Community (EAC) Heads of State Summit begins on Wednesday, May 31, in Bujumbura, Burundi.
According to the EAC Secretariat, the latest Summit which convenes four months after the last one in the same city – the 20th extra-ordinary EAC Summit held on February 4 – will consider a progress report and a way forward on restoration of peace and security in eastern DR Congo.
The February 4 Summit observed that the security situation in eastern DR Congo is a regional matter that can only be sustainably resolved through a political process and emphasized the need for enhanced dialogue among all the parties. At the time, regional leaders also directed that the political process should be strengthened and escalated to involve all stakeholders.
The regional Summit also comes two days after an extraordinary meeting of army chiefs from EAC partner states was held in Bujumbura, to discuss the security situation in eastern DR Congo.
The military leaders met as the EAC regional force (EACRF) in DR Congo, comprising troops from Kenya, Burundi, Uganda, and South Sudan, has secured areas vacated by the M23 rebels but continues to face criticism from Congolese leaders. The latter claim that the regional force has failed to fight the M23 rebels and, as such, it should leave.
The EAC regional force has made tremendous progress in its efforts to restore peace and stability in eastern DR Congo, the EAC secretariat noted on May 1. As noted, “the EAC is proud of the work that has so far been accomplished by the EACRF towards restoration of peace and security” in eastern DR Congo.
During their last meeting in Bujumbura, regional leaders had, among others, also called for an immediate ceasefire by all parties; the withdrawal of all foreign armed groups, and directed their chiefs of defence forces to meet within one week and set new timelines for the withdrawal and recommend appropriate deployment matrix; that this process be accompanied by dialogue.
Violations were to be reported to the chairperson of the EAC Summit, Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye, for immediate consultation with members of the Summit.
The February Summit directed all EACRF troop-contributing countries to immediately deploy and urged Kinshasa to immediately facilitate the deployment of troops from South Sudan and Uganda to the East African Regional Force.
The summit reiterated the need for implementation of the decisions and directives of the 22nd meeting of the summit of the EAC heads of state on the security situation in eastern DR Congo and directed all local armed groups in eastern DR Congo to embrace dialogue, lay down their arms and join the political process as a path towards unconditional disarmament and creation of an enabling environment for participation in upcoming democratic processes.
Kinshasa, which has asked the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to deploy troops in eastern DR Congo, is threatening that the EAC regional force will have to exit by the end of June if it does not confront the M23 rebels.
On May 8, the Southern African bloc, currently chaired by Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, approved the deployment of a force to DR Congo as a regional response to restore peace and security in the east of the country.
Kinshasa maintains that the EAC force’s mandate was ‘unequivocally offensive,’ which has led to disagreements during the course of the more than five months the regional force has been in eastern DR Congo, a vast region that is home to more than 130 local and foreign armed groups, responsible for numerous atrocities.
According to a peace deal signed on November 23 in Luanda, Angola, the EAC regional force would only use force against the M23 rebels only if they refused to withdraw.
The Luanda summit also ordered the FDLR militia to disarm immediately and embark on an “unconditional repatriation.” That has not happened. The UN-sanctioned genocidal group based in eastern DR Congo for close to three decades was formed by the masterminds of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and it is, together with its splinter groups including CNRD/FLN and RUD-Urunana, at the heart of the insecurity affecting eastern DR Congo and the region.
The Rwandan genocidal militia, now reportedly openly incorporated into the Congolese national army, has bases in North Kivu and South Kivu provinces of eastern DR Congo.
For nearly three decades, the Congolese Tutsi population in the region continues to take the brunt of the militia’s crimes.
Multiple interventions, including one of the UN’s largest peacekeeping missions, have failed to end decades of violence in the country.