More SADC troops for eastern DRC

SANF 23 no 9 – By Clarkson Mambo

SADC will deploy additional forces to the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo intensifying efforts to bring about peace, security and stability in the country which is due to hold general elections at the end of the year.

This decision was made at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Extra-Ordinary Summit of Organ Troika, Plus SADC Troika and Force Intervention Brigade Troop Contributing Countries held on 8 May 2023 in Windhoek, Namibia, where a common position was approved to have a coordinated approach, given the multiple deployments in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) under different bilateral and multilateral arrangements.

The deployment of more SADC forces follows a field assessment by the region’s defence chiefs in March 2023 after a resurgence of armed conflict by the M23 and other rebel groups in the eastern DRC, which is rich in natural resources.

Calling for more regional support to the DRC, while condemning the rise in civilian attacks by rebel groups, the extra-ordinary summit reiterated its call for the immediate cessation of hostilities and unconditional withdrawal from occupied areas by the rebels.

“Summit approved the deployment of a SADC Force within the framework of the SADC Standby Force as a regional response in support of the DRC to restore peace and security in eastern DRC,” reads the communiqué released at the end of the extra-ordinary summit.

The SADC Standby Force was launched in 2008 and is made up of military, police and civilian support for regional peace operations. The brigade operates as an instrument of the SADC Organ Troika and receives its guidance from the SADC Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff and the Committee of SADC Police Chiefs.

The Republic of Angola approved a decision in March 2023 to contribute up to 500 troops to support the efforts to bring about peace in the eastern DRC.

The summit did not announce the mandate of the force, which will be deployed in addition to the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) that SADC seconded to the eastern DRC a decade ago as part of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO).

The MONUSCO force began operations in July 2010, and by February 2023 it was made up of 16,316 personnel from the military and police from several contributing countries.

Chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, President Hage Geingob of Namibia said the region is ready to address the “changing dynamics in the eastern DRC”.

“Given our long-term commitment to peace and security in the DRC, SADC must focus on regaining the achievements we made through the FIB since March 2013, eradicating the illegal armed groups, securing and consolidating the territorial integrity and future of a DRC, whose socio-economic development is intertwined with our regional developmental goals,” President Geingob said.

Silencing of the guns is fundamental to the ideals of SADC in the advancement of its regional integration agenda as “peace, security and good governance” are foundational pillars for the region’s development.

A cessation of hostilities will allow DRC to conduct its general elections set for 20 December 2023 in a conducive environment. President Felix Tshisekedi will be contesting for a second term after winning the previous election in December 2018, and he will be challenged by businessman Moise Katumbi.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees says the fighting has displaced 6.2 million people internally, while more than 1.3 million have become refugees.

President Geingob said it is imperative that the African regional organisations harmonize their efforts to bring peace to the eastern DRC. This follows the adoption of a SADC Common Position to have a coordinated approach in addressing the instability in the DRC, and a decision by Kinshasa to join the East African Community (EAC).

The DRC formally joined the EAC on 8 April 2022 and remains a member of SADC which it joined in 1998.

The Extra-Ordinary Summit of the Organ Troika acknowledged the positive response to the African Union’s call to organize a Summit of the Quadripartite of SADC, the EAC, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), and the Economic Community for Central African States (ECCAS) for the coordination and harmonization of interventions in the DRC.

The Summit also acknowledged the work of the President of Angola, João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço who was appointed by the AU as mediator to facilitate dialogue between the DRC and Rwanda. The DRC and others accuse Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels, a charge which Kigali denies.

The Extra-Ordinary Summit of Organ Troika, Plus SADC Troika and Force Intervention Brigade Troop Contributing Countries was attended by the Heads of State and Government from the DRC, Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania as well as a representative from Zambia.

The SADC Organ Troika is responsible for supporting peace and security, and is mandated to steer and provide Member States with direction regarding matters that threaten peace, security, and stability in the region.

The Republics of Namibia, South Africa and Zambia make up the current Troika, and participation rotates among the SADC Member States.

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