This week, Kenyan President William Ruto officially announced the deployment of hundreds of Kenyan troops to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to join an East African regional force tasked with protecting civilians and bringing peace to the region. The deployment actualizes a decision adopted in June by East African Community leaders at a summit hosted in Nairobi by Ruto’s predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, who was then also serving as the EAC’s chairperson.
At the time, Kenyatta proposed the formation of a regional standby force comprising troops from all the bloc’s members and under Kenyan command to be deployed to eastern Congo, amid an escalation in hostilities there between government forces and the M23 rebel group. But details of the mission, including what forces would make it up, were not made clear. A heated dispute between Kinshasa and Kigali over the latter’s alleged support for the M23 fighters led Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi to reportedly demand that Rwanda not be included in the proposed deployment, which was subsequently delayed while regional leaders sought to tamp down tensions between the two capitals.
In the meantime, Kenyan troops deployed personnel to Congo in August as part of MONUSCO, as the United Nations’ stabilization mission in Congo is known. This week’s deployment of the EAC force is expected to share MONUSCO’s mandate to protect civilians, support stabilization and neutralize local militia, in cooperation with other armed forces deployed in eastern Congo. At a flag presentation ceremony for Kenyan soldiers set to be deployed to Congo, Ruto said that the troops were “on a mission to protect humanity,” adding that “as neighbors, the destiny of DRC is intertwined with ours.” The force will be commanded by a Kenyan general and will include soldiers from Burundi, Uganda and South Sudan. A Rwandan contingent will be deployed along the border with Congo, in line with Kinshasa’s objection to Kigali’s participation in any operations within Congo.