Joint SADC-DRC Military Operations: A New Phase in Countering M23 Rebels in North Kivu

Lieutenant General Fall Sikabwe

Goma, January 17, 2024 – The recent developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) involve the commencement of joint military operations between the DRC military and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). This collaboration aims to counter the March 23 Movement (M23) rebels who have occupied parts of North Kivu province, specifically the territories of Masisi and Rutshuru.

Lieutenant General Fall Sikabwe, the coordinator of military operations for the DRC’s military in North Kivu, announced the start of these operations in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. He emphasized that the SADC force’s mission is offensive, intending to reclaim territories illegally occupied by M23 rebels. The SADC military force, comprising primarily soldiers from South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi, is expected to be more effective than the previous East African Community (EAC) regional force, which the DRC authorities deemed ineffective.

The SADC’s offensive mission aligns with the mandate from the heads of state members of the SADC, focusing on large-scale operations against the enemies of the Republic. The immediate objective is to end the long-standing hostility in the region. This operation has seen the deployment of at least 400 South African soldiers in North Kivu since mid-December, and more soldiers are expected to join from Malawi and Tanzania.

General Sikabwe urged the displaced population to trust in this offensive mission, which is essential for recovering the illegally occupied territories and allowing residents to return home. These developments follow several years of relative dormancy by the M23 rebels, who resumed arms in late 2021 and seized significant areas of North Kivu province. There have been allegations from Western governments and the United Nations that neighboring Rwanda supports the M23, which Kigali denies.

The DRC government has also requested the withdrawal of the U.N. MONUSCO peacekeeping force, which is set to be completed by the end of 2024. The DRC has expressed dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of the U.N. force in protecting civilians from armed groups and militias that have destabilized the eastern DRC for three decades