Leaders from four East African nations and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have agreed to form a regional force that will fight armed groups in Eastern Congo.
The Presidents of the DRC, Félix Tshisekedi Tshilombo, Evariste Ndayishimiye of Burundi, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, as well as Paul Kagame, of Rwanda, reached the decision during a summit in Nairobi on Thursday, April 21.
In a release from the Kenyan Presidency, a copy of which Timescape Magazine procured, the leaders called for the ‘urgent deployment’ of force to help contain or fight what it called “negative forces” in the Eastern DRC.
“The meeting directed that planning for such a force commence with immediate effect with the full consultation of relevant authorities in the region.”
The leaders said they would be engaging in a political process that should see consultations between the DRC and armed groups, with Uhuru Kenyatta doing the facilitation.
They warned that groups that will shy away from the political process would be militarily handled by the regional force.
“The leaders called on all armed groups in the DRC to participate unconditionally in the political process to resolve their grievances. That failure to do so, All Congolese Armed groups would be considered as negative forces and handled militarily by the region,” the communique states.
It further calls on all foreign armed groups in the DRC to “disarm and return unconditionally and immediately to their respective countries of origin. That failure to do so these groups would be considered as negative forces and handled militarily by the region.”
Eastern Congo has been the theater of conflict for decades, ravaged by foreign invasions and homegrown rebellions that have killed and displaced millions.
While the roots of conflicts are traceable colonial-era ethnic conflicts which have been worsened by the thirty-year dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko, the horrific scale of the recent fighting grew out of events beginning in 1994.
Genocide in Rwanda pushed many Hutus to flee to Eastern Congo. They threatened retaliatory incursions back into Rwanda. The Tutsi government in Rwanda invaded eastern DRC in 1996 to do away with the threat. Sweeping from east to west, Rwandan forces, together with their regional partners and Congolese allies, overthrew Mobutu and installed a new government under Laurent Kabila.
But in1998 the Kabila government turned against Rwanda and ordered all foreign troops out of the country. This led to regional rebellions, and local militias sprouted up.
Regional leaders now say it’s critical that the guns go silent in the Congo so the country’s vast natural resources can be tapped into.
The recent effort at restoring peace comes after the DRC joined the East African Community.