As the devastating war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) rumbles on, pressure continues to mount on the nation’s leaders to bring about a rapid denouement of a seemingly never-ending affair. East African countries have persistently worried about political insecurity in the region, and have viewed the DRC as a problem area for decades. Though as a result of such anxiety, East African leaders, by virtue of the region’s economic bloc The East African Community (EAC), have agreed to assemble troops in the eastern part of the country, in order to combat armed groups who have ravaged the area in recent times. The Congolese authorities, led by President Félix Tshisekedi have announced the first instance of troop deployment in the region, with fellow member states Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda looking to follow suit.
Declared by the Norwegian Refugee Council as “the world’s most neglected refugee crisis”, the conflict in the DRC has since heated up once more, with simmering tensions having come to a boil in recent weeks and months. Skirmishes were reported in the North Kivu province near the Rwandan and Ugandan borders between the Congolese army and the March 23 Movement – an armed militia group – with such tension having reportedly displaced up to 160,000 people. In light of such devastation, the EAC’s heads of state called for an immediate ceasefire in the eastern DRC and decided to go ahead with an emergency meeting at an even more expeditious rate. It was here that Kenya’s chief of defence forces General Robert Kibochi presented the plan for members of the EAC to join forces in order to “contain, defeat and eradicate the negative forces” in the eastern DRC who have had their way for far too long.
The move highlights the strength of the EAC, having historically come under great criticism, as many had perceived it to be an entirely powerless organisational structure. However, its response to the ongoing crisis in the DRC appears commendable, and emphasises that all member states are firmly on the same page when it comes to promoting stability in the region, and most importantly, to ending the destruction of the Congolese nation. The topic of intervention in the DRC had always persisted as innately contentious, with no leader having historically sought to tread on this red line. Though it appears that times have changed. The actual deployment of troops implies that the EAC are now clear in their objectives in the DRC, and are crucially united in order for conclusive action to be taken. Whilst the success of such a move will of course be revealed in due course, the first, and arguably the most vital step, has been taken, with the move hopefully representing the commencement of the DRC’s long road to recovery.
The current tension in the DRC has its origins an awful long time ago, with the conflict stemming from the colossal refugee crisis and spillover of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Perpetrators of the genocide from the Hutu ethnic group, fled to the eastern DRC in its aftermath, and formed armed groups to oppose the Tutsi and other rebel groups formed by rival ethnicities. The Congolese government was simply unable to stem the flow of refugees, whilst simultaneously being rendered helpless to control the newly-founded armed groups, inevitably leading to the outbreak of war. Whilst the initial conflict represented the First Congo War, the Second Congo War was fought from 1998 to 2003 with Congolese government forces backed by Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe having clashed with rebels supported by Uganda and Rwanda. Over three million people tragically lost their lives, with the rebel groups continuing to retain their positions in the eastern DRC up to this very day where a startlingly grave threat continues to be posed.
The need for further action in the eastern DRC is therefore starkly underlined, although great obstacles unfortunately endure. Whether or not the cost of such an operation can be borne by East African governments remains to be seen, though time is running out on a nation that has entirely forgotten what peacetime fundamentally is.
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