The question now is; will the Congolese government once and for all stop its design that, analysts say, would turn eastern DR Congo into a powder keg?
Regional leaders have not only commended the East African Community regional force (EACRF) for its achievement towards the restoration of peace and security in eastern DR Congo but also given it more assignments in order to consolidate the gains made.
This is noted in the final communique of the 21st Extraordinary EAC Heads of State Summit held on Wednesday, May 31, in Bujumbura, Burundi. The security crisis in eastern DR Congo was high on the Summit's agenda.
Somehow, it appears, regional leaders were able to convince Kinshasa which earlier openly signalled that it wanted the EAC troops out of its territory, by June.
Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, who did not attend the meeting in Bujumbura, has been very critical of the EAC regional force.
He has accused it of not being aggressive enough and failing to rein in the M23 rebel group.
Kinshasa asked the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to deploy troops in eastern DR Congo and, on May 8, the Southern African bloc, chaired by Tshisekedi, approved the deployment of a force to eastern DR Congo.
It remains unclear whether SADC will actually carry on with its plan to deploy troops in the volatile region as well. The EAC regional force was deployed in November 2022, to support a peace process that would see the M23 rebels as well as other militias stop fighting.
The Summit in Bujumbura which was chaired by the host and current EAC chairperson, Burundi President Evariste Ndayishimiye, was also attended by President William Ruto of Kenya; Barnaba Marial Benjamin, South Sudan's Minister of Presidential Affairs; Édouard Ngirente, the Prime Minister of Rwanda; Philip Mpango, the Vice President of Tanzania; Rebecca Kadaga, Uganda's First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of EAC Affairs; and Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi, DR Congo's Minister of State in the Ministry of Regional Integration.
According to the communique, after the Heads of State received and adopted the reports on the peace and security situation in eastern DR Congo, the Summit directed the East African Community regional force to: safeguard and maintain the areas vacated by M23 rebels and other armed groups; sustain the orderly withdrawal of M23 and other armed groups from the remaining occupied areas; and protect civilians and support the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to the areas vacated by armed groups.
The East African Community regional force was also directed to work with regional chiefs of defence forces, the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO), and other stakeholders to visit and verify within three weeks the suitability of Rumangabo camp for pre-cantonement of M23 rebels and other armed groups; ensure that local armed groups do not occupy areas vacated by M23 and foreign armed groups to be disarmed and repatriated.
The Summit directed that communications with M23 should be handled by the facilitator.
The summit directed the EAC Secretariat to constitute a technical evaluation team, by June 15, 2023, composed of an officer at the rank of Brigadier General from each partner state to evaluate the implementation of the mandate of the East African regional force and report to the sectoral council on cooperation on defence affairs within 90 days after the extension of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The pact between Kinshasa and the EAC Secretariat initially gave EACRF a mandate of six months. Kinshasa extended it to June, on the condition that the EAC armies battle the M23.
As noted, the leaders "applauded Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi for his commitment to the restoration of peace" in eastern DR Congo and "agreed to the extension of the Status of Forces Agreement" for six months from March 8 to September 8, 2023, "in order to consolidate the gains made by the East African Community regional force."
The Summit reiterated its call to all parties to de-escalate tensions and to use established regional, continental, and international mechanisms to resolve any disputes in the implementation of peace in eastern DR Congo.
Political process, dialogue
The Summit reaffirmed that the security situation in eastern DR Congo "can only be sustainably resolved through a political process and dialogue among all the parties" and urged the Congolese government to work with former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, facilitator of the EAC-led Nairobi process, to finalise the appropriate dates for resumption of the inter-Congolese dialogue.
The leaders also agreed on the establishment of a civilian head of mission to coordinate all political-related matters of the East African regional force (EACRF).
As noted, the Summit appreciated the financial contributions by Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda and thanked Rwanda and South Sudan for their commitment to contribute to the EAC peace facility fund, and urged other partner states to contribute towards the peace fund.
No exact date was set but it was noted that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will hold a follow-up meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.
The Summit directed the EAC Secretary General, Peter Mathuki, to intensify efforts to mobilise resources from the regional and international partners to support the EAC-led Nairobi process.