The East African Community (EAC) Regional Force, composed of seven countries, was dispatched to DR Congo following a resurgence of hostilities by the M23 rebel group. The mission was established shortly after DR Congo joined the regional alliance.
The M23, formed over a decade ago, has sought to control significant portions of the eastern region, asserting that it does so to protect the interests of ethnic Tutsis against Hutu militias allegedly supported by the government.
Four countries, beginning with Burundi in August the previous year, followed by Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda, sent troops to DR Congo, with Kenya assuming overall command. The EAC’s Regional Force asserts that its mandate is to oversee the withdrawal of armed groups from areas under their control.
Nonetheless, the Congolese government and local communities have been pushing for direct combat engagement between the force and groups like the M23.
The force was created to work alongside United Nations troops already stationed in the country. The UN peacekeeping force, known as Monusco, has faced increasing criticism for its inability to halt the conflict during its 25-year presence. President Félix Tshisekedi has expressed his desire for Monusco to withdraw from the country in December.
In a recent statement, the EAC emphasized its commitment to working closely with the government to facilitate the safe return of internally displaced persons to their homes and bolster the overall protection of civilians. Since the mission’s commencement, its mandate has been extended twice.
The Congolese government and civil society organizations have repeatedly criticized the EAC’s soldiers during their deployment, with President Tshisekedi expressing dissatisfaction with the mission’s perceived ineffectiveness and demanding more assertive action against the M23 or the group’s departure from the country.
The inability to resolve the conflict has led to protests against both the EAC force and Monusco, with one such protest turning deadly in September, resulting in more than 40 fatalities.
Local media reported Communications Minister Patrick Muyaya’s statement: “The message is clear: the EAC regional force must leave the Democratic Republic of Congo by December 8, as agreed, because it has not been able to resolve the problem, particularly that of the M23.”
Since its arrival in DR Congo last year, the EAC force has overseen the withdrawal of armed forces from several areas, including Karuba, Mushaki, Kiloriwe, and Kitchange. However, achieving complete stability has proven challenging due to logistical and operational difficulties.
On a recent note, a mortar attack launched by rebels resulted in the death of a Kenyan soldier affiliated with the force, marking the first Kenyan member’s death within the force. Earlier this month, the EAC pointed out that its forces faced hostilities exacerbated by propaganda disseminated by armed groups.
In DR Congo’s mineral-rich eastern region, dozens of armed groups have long been a source of unrest. After a tenuous six-month ceasefire, hostilities resumed this month between the M23 rebels and pro-government forces known as Wazalendo.
The Kinshasa government accused the M23 of failing to disarm and honor the ceasefire, while the M23 shifted blame onto pro-government forces for reigniting the violence. Although the DR Congo army claimed it adhered to the truce, witnesses disputed this, reporting that soldiers and government loyalists were jointly fighting against the M23.
Civilians have become ensnared in the renewed violence, with at least 60 individuals losing their lives in recent attacks on North Kivu’s Rutshuru territory, according to a local official.