When will the guns in eastern DRC be silenced?

What you need to know:

  • Last week all the military and diplomatic efforts could not stop the massacre of people in a church. This was the second major known large-scale killing after the alleged massacre that led to the deaths of another 300 people last November

Arusha. Last year, trouble flared up in eastern DR Congo, leading to lots of deaths. Diplomatic efforts to amicably resolve the crisis were immediately kicked into gear, though with little success so far.

One of the strategies to defuse the crisis was the deployment of a peacekeeping force last month.

However, last week all the military and diplomatic efforts could not stop the massacre of people in a church.

This was the second major known large-scale killing after the alleged massacre that led to the deaths of another 300 people last November.

Parts of the resource-rich region have been at war for decades. Lately, the situation has kept on changing rapidly, such that a day or two is too long to wait.

This has seen the conflict enter a new phase with each passing day, with different media houses in different countries giving their versions.

Late last week, it was reported that the commander of the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) had been recalled to Nairobi from the battle zone.

According to reports, the East African Community (EAC) summoned Major General Jeff Nyagah (from Kenya) over a stalemate in the eastern Congo peace agreement.

January 5 had initially been set as the deadline for the withdrawal of the M23 rebel group from three key towns in eastern DR Congo.

The army commander was expected in Nairobi early this week for consultations with former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the facilitator of the peace process.

A fortnight ago, Mr Kenyatta, who started facilitating the process in June last year before he stepped down, held talks with M23 leaders in Mombasa.

Withdrawal of the rebel groups from earmarked areas in the battlezone is aimed at paving the way for resumption later this month or early February.

For the first time, the inter-Congolese dialogue will be held in eastern DR Congo, a region that has known no peace for decades. The three previous rounds of talks for the EAC-led peace process took place in Nairobi. Goma will likely be the venue for the fourth round.

The DR Congo peace dialogue has been wracked by accusations and counter-accusations between Rwanda and its vast neighbour. While Kinshasa has alleged that M23 rebel forces enjoyed support from Kigali, the latter has repeatedly denied the charges.

While the EAC is still strategising on the situation, which is increasingly fluid, all is not well in Goma, the likely venue of the next talks.

On Wednesday, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets, protesting against the inability of the EACRF to bring them the peace they had expected.

Although the conflict in eastern DR Congo is seen as a regional issue, the truth is that it has effectively put DR Congo and neighbouring Rwanda at loggerheads.

Moses Allan, a political commentator based in Arusha, the EAC headquarters, is among the observers highly disturbed by the turn of events.

“It is high time for Africa to come to collective conclusions to end bloodshed by silencing the guns,” he said.

He has reasons to be worried. Mr Allan is the president and CEO of Friends of East Africa, an Arusha-based lobby for regional integration.

The lobby has been advocating for increased regional cooperation between the EAC countries, especially in areas of peace and security. He recently told The Citizen that the recent allegations of shooting down a DRC plane should not be taken lightly because of the danger that such an act would cause if carried out.

“Such allegations are not to be taken lightly. An international investigative committee should be formed to come up with unbiased findings,” he said.

Mr Allan has often commented on the conflicts in the vast DR Congo, which joined the EAC only last year, becoming its seventh member.

“Yes, we agreed to have joint forces in eastern Congo, but that should not be the first thing. We need to set up a mediation and harmonisation commission,” he said.

The latter would figure out how to include Kinyarwanda-speaking Tutsi people who have lived in the DRC for generations and be granted citizenship.

This, according to him, will lead to peace and harmony “since people living without nationality in the territory of the DRC will always be considered refugees.” He further added, “So we need a comprehensive technical team to analyse what it all entails living in this part of Africa with such a complex historical background.”

In Goma, the capital city of North Kivu, demonstrators called on authorities to enforce an agreed withdrawal of M23 rebels from the occupied territory in the region.

The deadline for a ceasefire brokered by the region had been extended; the new deadline was January 15, according to Congo’s presidency.

The M23, a force allegedly backed by Rwanda, has been repeatedly accused of violating the agreement, particularly by the DRC and other parties.

The Congolese had expected the deployed EACRF force to help stabilise the region and the M23 rebels, one of the more than 130 armed groups said to operate in the region.

A political analyst in the region, Prof Gustave Tombola, said although there was some progress in intra-DRC dialogue, the demonstrations in Goma pointed to something sinister.

“The protests against the regional force show that some actors in the DR Congo wanted war,” he was quoted as saying in Rwandan media.

The EAC’s position on the conflict is for diplomacy to be given priority among efforts to pacify the country’s restive region. Protesters, however, expressed concern on Wednesday about the regional force’s alleged passivity and inaction.
Since the proposal of the regional force in June 2022, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi has appeared to be opposed to it.

The M23 is a militia that claims to defend the interests of Congolese Tutsis, the ethnic group that was targeted in the Rwandan genocide.

According to them, the latest resurgence is the result of frustration with the slow demobilisation process and reintegration into civilian life.

The EAC regional force acknowledged that civil society groups have a right to demand immediate peace in eastern Congo.

The M23’s latest offensive has not only displaced at least 450,000 people but also sparked a diplomatic crisis between the DRC and Rwanda.

On its part, the EAC has said it is committed to a peaceful solution to the DRC conflict and that it will strive to ensure this is achieved.

“We call upon all local militia groups in eastern DRC to embrace consultations, lay down their arms, and join the political process,” said secretary-general Peter Mathuki.

He reiterated the full respect for the territorial integrity of the DRC restating the commitment to the utilization of existing regional and global frameworks to address conflict.