SADC’s mission in the DRC is to “neutralize” rebel groups

SANF 24 no 6 – By Clarkson Mambo

“Any armed attack perpetrated against one of the States Parties shall be considered a threat to regional peace and security and shall be met with immediate collective action”.

This bold promise contained in Article 6 of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mutual Defence Pact of 2003 is the basis upon which regional leaders agreed to deploy a regional force to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on 8 May 2023.

SADC views peace and security as a foundational pillar of the region’s integration, growth and development agenda.

The regional force, known as the SADC Mission in the DRC or SAMIDRC was deployed in the eastern DRC on 15 December 2023. The mission has a separate mandate from the peacekeeping mission that was already active in the area under the auspices of the United Nations (UN).

The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), was earlier known as the United Nations Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) and deployed in November 1999.

The decision to have a UN peacekeeping force in the DRC came after the signing of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement in July 1999. The agreement was signed by the government of DRC and its allies Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe with Rwanda and Uganda which had invaded the eastern DRC.

Under the terms of the ceasefire agreement, Rwanda and Uganda were to cease supporting rebels operating in the eastern DRC, particularly the March 23 Movement, or M23.

The government of DRC accuses Rwanda of fuelling the instability in that region by continuing to support the M23 rebels. This claim has been supported by different countries and institutions, including the United Nations, although Rwanda has denied the allegation.

The role of the UN mission was initially to oversee the implementation of the ceasefire agreement, disengagement of forces and maintaining liaison with all parties to the agreement. This function was later expanded in May 2010 to include the protection of civilians, humanitarian personnel, and human rights defenders and consolidating peace “by any means necessary” following the recognition that the ceasefire was not holding.

Noting that the situation remained fragile, with rebel groups launching attacks at intervals despite the presence of MONUSCO for over two decades, the government of the DRC, led by President Félix Tshisekedi requested for the withdrawal of the UN mission.

In November 2023, the DRC and the UN signed an agreement for the gradual withdrawal of MONUSCO, which began in the first quarter of 2024. A complete withdrawal of over 16,000 military personnel is expected to be achieved by the end of 2024.

The withdrawal of the UN peacekeepers places a greater role on SADC and SAMIDRC, which is led by Major General Monwabisi Dyakopu from South Africa, in addressing the instability in that region.

The contingent is currently made up of forces from Malawi, South Africa, and the United Republic of Tanzania.

“SAMIDRC has an offensive mandate to support the DRC to neutralize negative forces and illegal armed groups in the eastern DRC to restore and maintain peace and security, to create a secure environment as well as protect civilians and their properties under imminent threat or attacks,” said Major General Dyakopu, explaining the role of the mission.

An “offensive mandate” allows the regional force to use necessary means including proactive action to drive out the rebels. This is in contrast to the role of the peacekeeping force, which was more of self-defence.

Major General Dyakopu said the SADC force is working with the national army of the DRC (FARDC) in the planning and execution of its mandate.

“SAMIDRC conducts joint operations and training with FARDC to ensure high efficiency and interoperability during these joint operations. The SAMIDRC is committed to peace and security in the DRC and will continue to collaborate with the national army in the fight against negative forces and illegal armed groups,” said Maj Gen Dyakopu.

The regional force operates under the auspices of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security. The President of Zambia, Hakainde Hichilema currently chairs the Organ.

The mandate of the Organ is to provide a foundation of peace and stability in the region as a prerequisite for the achievement of SADC objectives of socio-economic development, poverty eradication, and regional integration espoused in the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan 2020-2030 and the SADC Vision 2050.

Its operations are guided by the Protocol on Politics, Defence, and Security Cooperation which aims to promote peace and security in the SADC region and to protect the region’s people from instability due to any breakdown of law and order.

In January 2024, the SADC Executive Secretary Elias Magosi visited SAMIDRC to appreciate and oversee the progress in the setting up of its operations. He also visited the troops in the field to make sure they were properly equipped.

SADC is also supporting various diplomatic and political processes aimed at silencing the guns in the eastern DRC, which include the Luanda Process of the African Union and the Nairobi Peace Process which was initiated by the East African Community.

The President of Angola, João Lourenço, who is the current chairperson of SADC is leading the Luanda process, initiated in November 2023, which is focused on ending hostilities between the DRC and neighbouring Rwanda.

The former President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, leads the Nairobi process which was launched in April 2022with the objective of facilitating dialogue between the DRC government and the armed rebel groups. The dialogue is intended to achieve a ceasefire, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of armed groups, and the return of displaced people to their homes.

The United Nations International Organisation for Migration estimates that the conflict in the DRC has displaced more than six million people.

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