EAC Regional Force Coming Into Focus in Eastern DRC
When President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) attended the 77th United Nations General Assembly, his country’s restive eastern provinces were at the top of his agenda.
After accepting the DRC as a new member in March, the East African Community (EAC) agreed in June to send thousands of troops to four provinces that have been plagued by violence for two decades.
“The force is being deployed,” Tshisekedi told reporters on September 26. “That is why we were here and why we made contacts. It was to sensitize donors to support this regional force.”
Burundian troops were the first to deploy on August 15 to South Kivu province.
Since mid-September, Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) have been deploying logistical support systems in North Kivu province around the towns of Bunagana and Kasindi, just across Uganda’s southwest border.
“It’s being deployed little by little,” Tshisekedi said.
South Sudan has said it will send 750 Soldiers. Tanzania and Uganda will make up the remainder of the EAC force. But thus far, there has been no announced timeline for further deployments.
The force will fight jointly with the Congolese military and be commanded by Maj. Gen. Jeff Nyagah of the KDF, who presented a concept of operations during a September 9 meeting at EAC headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania.
The EAC will assemble between 6,500 and 12,000 troops with a mandate to “contain, defeat and eradicate negative forces” in four Congolese provinces: Haut-Uélé, Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu.
Nyagah, who will establish the combat force’s nerve center in North Kivu’s capital Goma, said the renewable mandate will be subject to a strategic review every two months.
“We have a period of six months and then from there we’ll be in a position to undertake an assessment of what we have been able to do together and whether there are gaps,” he told Uganda’s NTV after the September 9 EAC meeting.
Nelleke van de Walle, Great Lakes Region project director for the Crisis Group, reported that each troop-contributing country will pursue a distinct mission.
- Ugandan Soldiers will reinforce their units that have been fighting the Allied Democratic Forces rebels in North Kivu and Ituri since November 2021.
- The KDF is deploying in an area that has been controlled by the M23 rebel group since June 14, when the group renewed fighting after lying dormant for nearly a decade.
- Burundian and Tanzanian forces will operate in South Kivu, where the Burundian army has been fighting the RED-Tabara militia with the DRC’s implicit approval since December 2021.
- South Sudanese troops plan to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army near the country’s border with the DRC’s Haut-Uélé province.
Van de Walle cautioned that more boots on the ground in DRC could amplify the instability rather than limit violence.
“There are significant risks in the EAC going ahead with a combat mission,” she wrote. “Armed interventions in the region do not have a strong record of enduring success, and enlisting countries with strategic and economic interests in the region could escalate an already dangerous situation.
“Several of the DRC’s neighbors have repeatedly and deliberately undermined stability in its east by bolstering proxy fighters and tapping its huge natural resources.”
Despite widespread distrust of foreign intervention by Congolese in the east, Great Lakes Region security analyst Dismas Nkunda said the EAC force has the potential to win over civilians.
“It’s a welcome idea,” he told Voice of America. “We had thought the only countries maybe would have deployed without conflict of interest would have been Tanzania, South Sudan and Kenya.”
Winning hearts and minds is part of Tshisekedi’s plan.
“It´s also important for there to be sensitization of the local community on the objective of the regional force to quell any negative suspicion, so we can have peace in that area,” he said in a September 9 statement after authorizing the EAC deployment.