The Southern Times is reliably informed that the regional bloc agreed at its recent Summit in Maputo, Mozambique, that the situation in eastern DRC requires the physical presence of SADC-mandated troops.
They will be deployed to neutralise DRC army rebels calling themselves M23, who a United Nations group of experts says are backed by Rwanda.
In 1998, SADC mandated Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe to deploy in the DRC against rebel groups backed by Rwanda and Uganda, who were tacitly supported by the United States and France among other Western military powers.
That 1998 deployment led to the achievement of an uneasy peace and it is hoped the new deployment will help bring finality to the DRC’s stability issues.
Heads of the regional bloc, following recommendations from the SADC Troika Organ on Politics and Defence, two weeks ago agreed to the deployment of an interposing force to monitor the border between the DRC and its easterly neighbours.
The force will be made up of Angola and South Africa, while other SADC members will give material and technical support in the collaborative effort.
Angola agreed to assist the DRC after the two governments reached an oil revenue-sharing agreement to end a long-standing dispute on their border, sources said.
The same sources told this newspaper that Kinshasa had agreed to underwrite expenses for the interposing force, though some sources remained sceptical of DRC’s financial capacity, citing previous unfulfilled obligations pertaining to the 1998 deployment.
SADC also agreed to work with the International Conference of Great Lakes region ‑ of which Angola, DRC, Tanzania and Zambia are members ‑ to secure the restive eastern border region.
The regional bloc dispatched an assessment mission of defence and security experts from SADC to the DRC last month.
The team subsequently briefed the region’s defence ministers in Maputo on August 15.
The report from the defence and security experts was adopted by the ministers and by the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, which met on August 18, sources told The Southern Times. It was this briefing that has motivated the current deployment.
The director of the Organ on Politics, Lieutenant-Colonel Tanki Mothae, confirmed to this newspaper that the bloc was looking at “assisting the DRC in collaboration with the International Conference of Great Lakes”.
“To ensure that there is peace and security, a force to monitor the border between the DRC and its eastern neighbours was decided upon,” Lt-Col Mothae said.
“It was also agreed to assist the DRC in capacity-building of its armed forces, to assist in the training of DRC armed forces such that they are able to establish control and authority in areas under conflict in the country.
“Member states will send defence experts and technical assistance to help in those areas. The main aim is to establish security along the border, this will strengthen efforts by the Great Lakes.”
SADC’s stance has been emboldened by UN expert reports, which “point out exactly the role played by Rwanda and it is in line with that report that SADC is acting”, Lt-Col Mothae said.
“We are also obliged by (the SADC) Treaty and Protocol on Defence and Security to assist DRC as a member of SADC.
“Our intention is to stop the conflict. Our job is not to get into conflict but to stop the conflict, stabilise the eastern DRC; we are supporting Congolese efforts to bringing lasting peace,” he explained.
Censure for Rwanda
At the end of the Maputo Summit, SADC slammed Rwanda’s involvement in the DRC conflict and signalled its intentions to put military boots on the ground.
Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane set the tone in his maiden address to the Summit, stating that “the situation in the DRC had become a matter of serious concern”, while calling for a “clear strategy to find a lasting solution in the DRC”.
SADC’s tougher line was also unmistakable in a communiqué issued at the end of the two-day Summit.
“Summit also noted that this (DRC peace and security deterioration) is being perpetrated by rebel groups with assistance of Rwanda, and urged the latter to cease immediately its interference that constitutes a threat to peace and stability, not only for the DRC, but also of the SADC region.
“This situation has called for renewed and urgent attention by the Summit which fielded an Assessment Mission to the DRC.
“Summit endorsed a Report of the Mission which recommended appropriate action to address the security situation in the Eastern part of the DRC.
“Summit further mandated the Chairperson of SADC (Armando Guebuza, Mozambique President) to undertake a mission to Rwanda to engage the government of Rwanda with the aim of urging Rwanda to stop military support to armed rebels in the DRC, the so-called M23,” read part of the communiqué.
Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete, who chairs the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, said they would do their utmost to bring lasting peace in the DRC.
“The situation in eastern DRC is very disturbing and unacceptable. The people of the eastern region of DRC have suffered for a long time, they deserve a break and to live a better life,” President Kikwete said.
“It’s high time the crisis ends – forever!” President Kikwete declared, adding that “SADC has a role to play in this”.
The United Nations has singled out Rwanda as the money and brains behind the M23 rebel movement led by renegade General Bosco Ntaganda.
Ntaganda, notoriously called “Terminator”, defected from the DRC army earlier this year after a fall-out with DRC President Joseph Kabila on integration of former rebels and military service conditions, sources say.
He is now believed to be leading the rebel movement made up of mutineers from the DRC army and his former rebel cohorts in the earlier civil war.
Indications are that he operates out of Rwanda with President Paul Kagame’s backing.
A Handful for SADC
The task ahead for SADC is not easy.
M23 is said to now control North and South Kivu provinces, and is looting some of the world’s most sought-after minerals such as gold, diamonds, coltan, and cassiterite, among others.
There are fears that the M23 rebellion is a precursor to a full secessionist war that will see the mineral-rich area breakaway.
It is believed this is part of a plot to secure strategic mineral wealth for Rwanda, which is allegedly acting as a proxy for France and the United States and to dilute Chinese extractive activities there.
In July, when the town of Rutshuru fell to M23, unsubstantiated reports said Ugandan troops were also backing the rebels.
Observers say SADC’s interposing force will have its hands full.
Besides the M23 advances, other armed groups are stirring in the Beni territory and Ituri, analysts say.
Sources said President Kabila had been desperate for military support in the DRC and appeals to MONUSCO (UN peace-keeping force in the country) to expand its mandate to hunting down the rebels had thus far been futile.
Efforts to also get Rwanda and Uganda to demonstrate their commitment to peace and non-involvement in the rebellion by contributing to a neutral peace-keeping force have also been stonewalled.
Sources say that as such, President Kabila had gone to Maputo seeking a mandate for military support, and he got it.
“It’s also a diplomatic victory for Kabila,” said a source who wryly observed that “DRC delegations to Summit rarely stay up to the official closing ceremony”.
“It’s our duty to help a fellow SADC country, the only problem is their inability to fulfil previous obligations to underwrite the previous SADC intervention.
“When the previous SADC army was at the forefront, then there was no time to wait for DRC to finance their operations. They ended up financing the operations on their own,” said a diplomat who spoke anonymously.
Countries like Zimbabwe in particular, which arguably deployed the biggest force in the previous DRC war, benefitted little from assisting the country. After committing millions of dollars as a show of solidarity and when relative peace was achieved Zimbabwe, largely found itself sidelined from the lucrative reconstruction efforts in the DRC. Instead, those same countries that were said to have fomented instability or who had stood aloof started cashing in on the peace dividend.