East Africa Undertakes Another Costly Venture to Pacify DRC

East Africa is ready for another costly venture, pacifying the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo-DRC, where the billions of dollars spent by the UN have apparently failed.

Burundi was the first country to send troops under the regional arrangement in August, adding to the already unknown number of soldiers it had ‘secretly deployed’ against a rebel group, ‘Red Tabara’ which has made raids across the border in the past.

Kenya has also approved and deployed just over 900 troops, while Uganda has sent in 1,000 soldiers. South Sudan last month approved the contribution of 750 soldiers but are yet to depart for the Congo, with the reports indicating that the government in Juba is yet to mobilise the required funds for the operation.

But Unlike the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) which is funded by the UN annual budgets, the funding method for the East African Regional Force is such that each contributing country caters for its operations. The governments have not revealed how much they are spending on the mission in the DRC, save for Kenya, which got the approval of parliament to spend USD 37 million on the initial six months of the operation.

After the deployment of soldiers against the Allied Democratic Forces-ADF last year, the Ugandan government sought parliament approval for 90 billion ShillingS (24 million US Dollars) to facilitate the operations. However, the MPs approved 64 billion (17.2 million US Dollars).

A draft paper on the regional force states that the force will have between 6,500 and 12,000 troops working with the Congolese army on a six-month renewable mandate, with each country funding its own troops. But a source at the Ministry of Defense said the details of the funding cannot be disclosed, although he hastens to add that some of the activities are an extension of Operation Shujaa which is already funded majorly by the Ministry of Finance.

The DRC mission also comes at a time when the countries are experiencing rising debt levels as they struggle to meet their budgetary needs.

South Sudan, for example, has failed to meet its annual budgetary contribution of 8 million US Dollars (29 billion Shillings) to the East African Community budget, while Burundi says its reluctance to meet her obligation is due to outstanding issues, especially on the structure of the contribution structure.

Compared to the UN force that has been in the country for two decades, the money being budgeted by the East African countries is a tiny fraction, despite having a more difficult task on the face of it.  MONUSCO’s mandate is ‘Civilians’ protection, and ‘Support for the stabilization, the strengthening of public institutions and the major governance and security reforms’ in DRC.

“It should take all necessary measures to ensure rapid, dynamic and integrated effective protection of civilians under threat of physical violence in the provinces where the Mission is currently deployed while retaining the necessary capacities to intervene elsewhere if the situation happens to deteriorate seriously.

The priority strategy here is to: in consultation with local communities, deter and prevent all armed groups and local militias from committing violence against populations or by intervening to put an end to such acts by disarming them and by supporting or engaging local mediation initiatives to prevent further escalation of violence,” reads the mandate given to the UN force.

The Mission mainly focuses on protecting civilians gathered in internally displaced persons and refugee camps, peaceful demonstrators, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders. It is also mandated to carry out mobile presence and conduct foot patrols in high-risk areas, and, in support of DRC authorities, carry out unilaterally or jointly with FARDC, targeted and robust offensives with a view to neutralizing armed groups, among others.

The size of this UN force ranges between 17,000 and 18,000 at any one time, with a funding of more than 20 billion dollars to date, averaging 1.4 billion (5.2 trillion shillings) per year. Despite these billions of dollars, more than 120 armed groups thrive in the DRC, with the strongest and most lethal consistently being those associated with Uganda and Rwanda either in terms of support or origin.

For the East African force, the mandate is to “contain, defeat and eradicate” armed groups. 

“Our priority first is to the political process of Luanda and Nairobi,” said Kenya’s Maj. Gen. Jeff Nyagah is the overall commander of the EAC regional force.

He says the second step will be “The disarmament and mobilisation of armed groups and the reintegration of persons displaced in North and South Kivu provinces”, in addition to opening up of humanitarian aid routes to the affected populations.

“In the event of the failure of these schemes, we will call on force action. We have deployed more capabilities so that we are able to undertake operations as the situation may dictate,” Nyagah told the media in Goma last week.  The Force says it will stay impartial and observe international law but ensure that “everybody complies with the mandate as provided.”

According to the draft concept agreed upon by the EAC heads of the State Summit earlier in the year, each force would operate in a separate area with specific instructions, especially where some have already been operating under previous arrangements.

The Uganda People’s Defense Force soldiers, for example, are expected to enhance the fight against the ADF in North Kivu and Ituri Provinces. Kenya will also operate in North Kivu and around Goma the province’s capital, in areas where it is in operation under MONUSCO, but they will still have distinct roles.

Tanzanian soldiers (yet to be deployed) and Burundian troops would operate in the South near their border areas and where the Burundian army is battling the RED-Tabara militia. South Sudan soldiers are expected to operate Army further north in Haut-Uélé, where they are expected to take on Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army and other militias in the area.

Rwanda was denied a direct combat and area role due to its current sour relations with the Kinshasa government but will participate by way of patrolling roads and providing intelligence to the overall commence.

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