Kenya’s deployment is crucial because DRC had asked Nairobi to take a leadership role in the regional force. Its soldiers will be deployed in the areas under threat from M23 rebels.
Furthermore, the deployment comes at a moment of rising tension between Rwanda and DRC. Last weekend, DRC expelled Rwanda’s ambassador and recalled its ambassador in Kigali as M23 rebels captured more territories.
The deployment of the East Africa Standby Force was agreed upon during the Nairobi talks of regional heads of state under the leadership of Uhuru Kenyatta between April and July this year.
However, with the accession of Ruto to the presidency in September, Nairobi had been tight-lipped on its decision on deployment until yesterday.
Today’s flag-off was a high-profile event. Ruto was accompanied by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale as well as other senior officials.
H.E President Dr.William Ruto praying for Kenya Defense Forces before departing for their mission to DRC.
— Eloiloi Jairus (@DonJayEJ) November 2, 2022
Ruto said there has been a lot of discussions with other leaders in the past two days before making the final decision. “I want to assure you I have done extensive consultation on this deployment. In the last 48 hours I have talked to the Secretary General of the United Nations who has given his approval of this mission,” he said.
“I have talked to the chair of the African Union who also concurs that this deployment is necessary and is important for regional stability,” he added.
Ruto also said he talked to regional heads of state including Burundi’s Évariste Ndayishimiye who is the current chairperson of the East African Community, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame who Kinshasa has on countless occasions accused of backing M23 rebels.
In return, the Rwanda government has accused Kinshasa of supporting the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), an armed rebel group active in eastern DRC with the intent to destabilise Rwanda.
From the consultations, Ruto said, “I have come to the conclusion that it’s necessary, important and urgent.”
Force composition, mandate
Kenya Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) General Robert Kibochi said the regional force is made of soldiers from South Sudan, Uganda, Burundi and Kenya.
South Sudan and Kenya will each deploy a battalion while Uganda and Burundi will each deploy two battalions. Given that each battalion is made up of 1,000 soldiers, it means 6,000 soldiers will be deployed. But it remains unclear when South Sudan will deploy its troops.
DRC never allowed Rwandan soldiers to enter its territories as part of the regional force. It was agreed that they operate on the Rwanda side across the border. Missing from the mission is Tanzania, a key member of the regional bloc. Tshisekedi was in Tanzania last week.
He inked agreements with President Samia Suluhu Hassan focusing on the improvement of bilateral ties, mainly joint infrastructure envisaged to improve trade and social cooperation.
The regional forces will be conducting operations with their Congolese counterparts, Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) in eastern DRC, support FARDC in keeping law and order, support humanitarian agencies and supporting disarmament of rebel groups.
Despite the deployment, it remains unclear whether Kenya soldiers will push M23 rebels from the territories they have captured. As the lead mediator in the Nairobi process, the country will have to be cautious in its operations to maintain the trust of a neutral mediator.
During the flag-off event, Kibochi said: “Success of the mission will be predicated on the outcome of the political and diplomatic track that demands cessation of hostilities to create conditions for the disarmament of armed groups.”
Yet DRC has rejected any suggestion of holding direct talks with M23 rebels, the group that has led to rising tension between Kinshasa and Kigali. Tshisekedi has described the group as a terrorist organisation.
…this deployment is necessary and is important for regional stability.
The deployment’s initial duration is for six months. However, Ugandan soldiers have been in DRC since November last year hunting Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels. The actual date of the start of deployment remains unclear.
The question of funding also remains unanswered. The East Africa Community was directed by heads of state to set up a peace fund during the last state summit in July, expecting contributions from African governments keen to see the deployment succeed. However, only Kenya, Angola and Senegal have contributed to the fund.
Another idea discussed by heads of state was to approach funders such as the European Union which has heavily invested in Africa’s peace missions, especially in Somalia. But as per diplomatic sources, there has not been a formal approach.