Close to 300 soldiers have arrived in Nairobi as Kenya’s contingent in the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) begins to withdraw from the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
After one year of deployment, their exit follows the directive of the 23rd Ordinary Summit held on November 24th in Arusha, Tanzania, where East African Community (EAC) Heads of State unanimously decided not to renew the EACRF mandate beyond December 8th, 2023.
The seven-nation EAC first deployed troops to the violence-plagued region in November of the previous year, following an invitation from the DRC to reclaim areas captured by the resurgent M23 rebel group.
However, the future of the deployment became uncertain after accusations from President Felix Tshisekedi of the DRC and residents, asserting that the force was cohabiting with the rebels instead of compelling them to disarm.
The withdrawal of the EACRF is set to be phased gradually, starting with non-critical units. Kenya’s Chief of General Staff General Francis Ogolla lauded the Kenyan contingent, emphasizing their excellent performance in protecting civilians in their area of operations and preventing armed groups from freely engaging in atrocities.
According to FRANCE24, there were no Congolese officials present on the tarmac when the planes departed at around 05:00 am (0300 GMT) and 10:30am on Sunday, and as of midday, there was no official statement from authorities in Kinshasa. The EACRF will transfer security responsibilities in Eastern DRC to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) forces.
Rebels from M23 (the Movement of 23 March) re-emerged in North Kivu in late 2021, reportedly seizing large portions of the province with support from neighboring Rwanda, another member of the East African Community.
“We know they came to help us fight. But they didn’t fight,” a taxi-scooter driver in Goma, Emmanuel Agaye, told AFP.
The EACRF were mandated to conduct joint operations with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC). Their mission included defeating armed groups, supporting forces in disarmament programs, maintaining law and order, and providing humanitarian relief.
Subsequently, all East African force contingents, except those from Burundi, faced accusations from Kinshasa and local authorities of colluding with the rebels. Ongoing conflict persists between the M23 rebel group and the DRC army, aided by militia self-identified as “patriots.”
In response to the withdrawal of Kenyan troops, M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa, using X, formerly Twitter, stated that his armed group “does not intend to allow the Kinshasa regime’s military coalition to invade the areas it (M23) ceded to the EACRF.”