Success of East African Community peace process hinges on regional coordination on eastern DRC conflict

The bloc’s first-ever troop deployment to a member country will test its capacity to resolve complex conflicts.
As clashes escalated between the rebel March 23 Movement (M23) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) armed forces in North Kivu, the African Union (AU) on 30 October called for urgent dialogue between the two. The fighting has led to deaths and internal displacement as citizens flee the violence.
Under Kenya’s leadership, the East African Community (EAC) has taken bold steps to resolve the crisis in eastern DRC. The bloc’s diplomatic engagement comes after the DRC joined the EAC in March, becoming its seventh member state.
The decades-long conflict now comprises over 100 active armed groups. Its roots lie in the massive refugee crisis caused by Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, which saw people and armed genocidaires moving into the region. As rebel groups flourished in the absence of a strong Congolese army and government, neighbouring Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi pursued their enemies and their economic interests in the restive region, taking advantage of its enormous natural resources.
On 20 June, former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta (now Kenya’s peace envoy) convened a peace conference (the Nairobi Process) of EAC leaders. They undertook to deploy a regional force to eastern DRC to help combat the armed groups. Under Kenyatta’s guidance, Kenya is leading the diplomatic and military efforts.
This is the first time the EAC is sending troops to a member state. It will be a litmus test of the bloc’s ability to handle complex political and security challenges.
The regional force (comprising contingents from Burundi, Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan) will help the DRC’s armed forces “contain, defeat and eradicate ‘negative forces’” in the east. The Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) has overall command of operations. Backed by EAC troops, it is expected to focus on four provinces: North Kivu, South Kivu, Haut-Uélé and Ituri. The EAC force has a six-month renewable mandate subject to bi-monthly strategic reviews.
This decision was spurred by rising political and security tensions in eastern DRC. Armed groups multiplied, with a notable resurgence of M23, allegedly with support from Rwanda and, to a lesser extent, Uganda.
The EAC peace process puts the bloc’s conflict resolution capacity in the spotlight. Success will depend on resolving intractable political, security and economic challenges in eastern DRC, which probably won’t happen soon.
There are some advantages for the EAC, though. Unlike the various initiatives led by ...