During a recent press conference in Kinshasa, DRC's deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, Christophe Lutundula, signaled his government's intention to pull the plug on the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) by the end of June, supposedly for failing to defeat M23.
"It's simple, they [EAC troops] have not delivered the expected results," he said. "I'm speaking plainly. It is as clear as water in a clear glass. Otherwise, we would no longer be talking about the M23. It doesn't require any particular demonstration."
This scathing assessment by DRC's leadership indicates a profound lack of self-awareness, given that President Tshisekedi's government is not known to ever deliver on any expected results. What they do have is an undisputed track record of chucking blame on others for the insecurity and grim living standards that plague the Congolese people.
The EACRF was deployed with a mandate to support a peace process that prioritized political dialogue, punctuated by the withdrawal of M23 from the territories they captured from the FARDC, per the Luanda and Nairobi agreements. It was also stipulated that the heads of state would mandate offensive action only if M23 refused to withdraw. However, despite various attempts by EAC leaders to clarify the regional force's mandate, Kinshasa remains adamant that the force should be solely offensive. Unsurprisingly, Kinshasa's position has become that they are right, and everyone else - including countries that have deployed their soldiers and invested financially in the mission--is wrong.
What the EAC heads of state understand, and Tshisekedi has refused to acknowledge, is that political dialogue that gets to the root of the problem is vital to addressing the M23 question. After all, M23 is one of the symptoms and not the cause of the crisis in eastern DRC. Part of the underlying issue is the persecution of Rwandophones and Congolese Tutsi, who face identity-based violence and are systematically excluded. Problems rooted in ideology can not be fixed with bullets. What EAC leaders offer, and Kinshasa rejects, is an opportunity to create conditions for constructive and definitive dialogue to achieve sustainable peace in the East.
At the start of the conflict in eastern DRC, Kinshasa rolled out a campaign accusing Rwanda of supporting M23, and then it was Uganda, then Kenya. Now DRC officials
are going on tours des bureaux diplomatiques mondiaux accusing the regional force of siding with the armed group. On a recent trip to Botswana, the President, without evidence, accused the EACRF of colluding with M23 rebels to mount roadblocks to impose illegal taxes on the population.
At the strong behest of President Tshisekedi, Rwanda was excluded from the EACRF. This seems to have been a blessing in disguise as the world now has a front-row seat to what Rwanda has repeatedly pointed out: The core problem in DRC isn't a scarcity or failure of intervention; it's an absence of state and effective governance. The regional force has not failed; it has been failed through a series of deliberate and calculated sabotages.
Posturing from Kinshasa would have us believe that insecurity in DRC exists only in the east when, in fact, it's a widespread issue. The Teke-Yaka, communal violence in Kwamouth, a city 100 kilometers from Kinshasa, has forced local community leaders to petition the UN to send MONUSCO because the government has failed to protect them; Mobondo rebels groups have entered Kinshasa, where also Kaluna gangs continue to kill hundreds; Maniema and Katanga criminals operate with impunity, and in Ituri ADF and CODECO set the law of the land. During his visit to Kinshasa, French President Emmanuel Macron aptly summed up the situation when he asked Tshisekedi "not find the guilty among third parties."
To replace the regional force, President Tshisekedi has approached SADC, whose deployment is expected to have an offensive mandate. At this point, the multilateral and bilateral military deployments in eastern DRC are rivaled in number only by the staggering over 260 armed groups that operate there, some of which, like FDLR, are embedded in the government forces. It's not just the EAC regional force that ran afoul of Kinshasa; MONUSCO has also received a cold shoulder. Faced with Tshisekedi's many calculated hindrances, even a legion of angels descended from heaven might re-ascend in protest.
SADC certainly has its work cut out for them and will undoubtedly soon learn the bitter lesson that it's either Tshisekedi's way or the highway. Going forward, it's imperative that new actors being drawn into the DRC security dilemma demand good faith from Kinshasa because, right now, they are the biggest obstacle to peace.
The writer is a Political Analyst and Graduate of International Security at SciencesPo, Paris.