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Ex-president Uhuru’s team expected in Goma, DRC to check on peace progress

A team from the Office of the Facilitator of the East Africa Community (EAC)’s Nairobi Peace Process will later this week assemble in Goma, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to assess the current situation.
Part of the mission, the Nation has learnt, will be to engage with the various verification mechanisms involved in assessing the progress of the East Africa Regional Force (EACRF)’s activities and a visit to the force’s headquarters.
The findings of the visit will inform a report that the Facilitator Former President Uhuru Kenyatta shall table before a regional Heads of State meeting later this month and the Nairobi four peace process that is expected to take place soon.
The visit will coincide with the expected arrival of the new EACRF Force Commander Major General Alphaxard Muthuri Kiugu who was appointed to the position last month by President William Ruto following the exit of his predecessor Major General Jeff Nyagah.
The regional heads of states meeting will be the first one since the exit of General Nyagah. On the discussion table, the leaders are expected to discuss the mandate of the regional force owing to a clash in their call for it to engage in military combat only as a last resort to the existing political processes.
While DRC has insisted on having the regional force engage the M23 in combat, the force has maintained on the recommendations of the 22nd EAC Heads of State summit held in July last year that authorized the deployment of EACRF.
Member states have insisted that a political process involving dialogue will lead to sustainable peace in Eastern DRC and encouraged continued complimentary engagement between the EAC-Led Nairobi Peace Process to ease tensions between local warring factions and the Luanda Process to ease tension between the brotherly states of DRC and Rwanda.
DRC has however hinted at having the force leave Goma in June, which is barely two weeks away in the event they “are not effective” on the ground and at a time when armed groups are reported to be regrouping, raising tensions across parts of Eastern DRC.
“We have accepted the EACRF to accompany FARDC to impose peace by trying to stop M23, which Rwanda supports. But, unfortunately, we have noticed certain contingents among this force, except Burundi who is putting all the efforts in the mission as it was defined; other contingents are now living with M23, collecting taxes in the zone they are illegally occupying. That’s a genuine problem and it also compels us to question the purpose of the EAC mission,” President Tshisekedi claimed last week.
The question on whether to renew the regional force’s mandate which expired in March is likely to come up following DRC’s verbal extension of the mandate to June-by technically three months as opposed to six months.
Though the decision is expected to be arrived at by way of consensus, it is expected that DRC’s view of the Force’s performance will have an influence on the decision taken by the Heads of State on the future mandate of EACRF owing to it being a sovereign state.
At the same time, the meeting is happening when tensions are flaring in various parts of Eastern DRC where recent attacks by two armed groups claimed the lives of more than 500 civilians and displaced more than a million others in the territories of Djugu and Mahagi in Ituri according to the Chief Manager of MONUSCO in Ituri, Marc Karna Soro.
Local Radio Okapi also reported new clashes between the Nyatura armed group and M23 rebels in the villages of Kausa and Rushinga on Monday which lasted several hours causing panic amongst the residents.
Back in Kinshasa, Kenya and the DRC have agreed to strengthen  cooperation ties in the effort to stabilise and seek peace in eastern Congo. This was stated by the Kenyan ambassador to the DRC, George Masafu, after he has meet with the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Defence Jean-Pierre Bemba on Tuesday 16 May in Kinshasa.
George Masafu said that with the Deputy Prime Minister of Defence, they discussed the security situation and peace in eastern DRC and how Kenya and DRC are working together.
“As you know, Kenya and DRC are very good friends. Kenya has long been committed to peace in the DRC. We have our troops in the Force Intervention Brigade [FIB in the UN peacekeeping mission]; we have troops in the Quick Reaction Force [QRF in the UN peacekeeping mission] in Beni, North Kivu, eastern DRC. We also have troops for the training of Congolese soldiers in Kisangani”, [North East Congo].

Ambassador Masafu also recalls that Kenyan troops have been protecting Goma, the main town in North Kivu, which was, at one time, threatened by the M23 war: “Our troops have been protecting Goma. The M23 could have taken the city of Goma in November 2022,” added George Masafu, who later said that the troops protecting Goma are in the DRC as part of the East African regional force.

The meeting between the Kenyan ambassador and the deputy prime minister in charge of Defence took place in a context where President Félix Tshisekedi has publicly expressed the possibility of the end of the East African regional force in the DRC.

This regional force, deployed since November 2022 in eastern Congo, is led by a Kenyan command. To date, despite the establishment of a ceasefire between the M23 rebels and the Congolese army in North Kivu, the Congolese authorities blame the East African regional force for “complacency” towards the M23. The Congolese authorities have been asking therefore the regional force to take the offensive against the rebels.

This situation led to the resignation of General Jeff Nyagah, commander of the regional force at the end of April. His replacement by the Kenyan authorities without consultation with the Congolese counterpart, strongly displeased President Félix Tshisekedi.

The Congolese head of state recently stated that the DRC had given the regional force until June to be effective or leave Congo.

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