African Union Supports SADC’s Military Intervention in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

The African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council, in a session on Tuesday, formally approved the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) decision to send military forces to the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This endorsement marks a significant step in addressing the ongoing conflict in the area, exacerbated by the resurgence of the M23 rebel group and other militant factions.

During the Council’s virtual assembly, aimed at deliberating the volatile situation in the eastern provinces of the DRC and the initiation of the SADC mission known as SAMIDRC, the African Union reiterated its support for the DRC’s sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity. The Council voiced its profound concern over the escalating activities of the M23 rebels, alongside Uganda’s Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), Rwanda’s Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and other armed entities disrupting peace in the eastern DRC.

The AU’s statement condemned these groups for their roles in destabilizing the region and emphasized the urgent need for humanitarian assistance. It called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, the establishment of humanitarian corridors, and the prompt disarmament of all insurgent forces in the eastern DRC, backing the deployment of SAMIDRC.

This decision comes at a critical juncture, following the commencement of the phased withdrawal of United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) forces from the area. The SADC, with its 16-member coalition, ratified the mission to the DRC’s eastern region last May, including military personnel from South Africa, Malawi, and Tanzania.

However, Rwanda, accused of supporting the M23 rebels, has expressed its opposition to the AU’s backing of the SADC troops. In a formal communication to the African Union Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta criticized the deployment. He suggested that the regional force’s involvement, perceived as combatants alongside the DRC army and other militias, including the Rwandan FDLR rebels, might worsen the conflict rather than promote peace.

Biruta’s letter, released on Monday, emphasizes Rwanda’s concerns over the SADC force’s offensive posture and its potential to hinder, rather than help, a political resolution to the crisis. Rwanda argues that the focus should remain on a diplomatic and political process, which it claims has been stalled by the DRC government’s actions.

The backdrop of this endorsement is the M23’s resurgence in North Kivu province, reigniting after nearly a decade of dormancy. The group, just one of the numerous armed factions in the region, resumed hostilities in 2021, adding layers of complexity to the already volatile situation in eastern DRC.