East African leaders held a summit last weekend in Bujumbura, Burundi, where they discussed efforts to contain the escalating conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Hosted by Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye, who currently serves as the rotating chairperson of the East African Community, the bloc’s leaders also explored potential ways to defuse tensions between Congo and neighboring Rwanda, which have flared due to the resumption of violence in Congo’s restive eastern region. The summit demonstrated the bloc’s potential as a regional mediator, but also its limitations in the face of regional challenges.
After the summit, the EAC’s leaders released a communique calling for “an immediate ceasefire by all parties” and the withdrawal from eastern Congo of “all foreign groups.” In addition, they directed the defense chiefs of the bloc’s seven members to set new timelines for the withdrawal of rebel forces, while reiterating previous calls for all parties “to de-escalate tensions and to use established regional, continental and international mechanisms to resolve any disputes.”
The gathering also marked the first meeting in several months between Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi and his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame. The two leaders were originally scheduled to meet last month in Doha at a peace summit mediated by Qatar, but that meeting was postponed after Tshisekedi reportedly backed out.