The East African force, stationed in eastern Congo, began its withdrawal early Sunday morning after Kinshasa decided not to renew the force’s mandate because it was not working efficiently.
A plane carrying about a hundred Kenyan soldiers took off from Goma airport shortly after 5am (local time) on Sunday morning. In addition to the Kenyans, Ugandan, Burundian and South Sudanese forces are also participating in the mission that was supposed to restore normalcy in the troubled eastern Congo. It remains unclear when other countries will begin withdrawing.
The Kenyan contingent arrived in Goma last year, just over a year after the Rwandan-backed rebel group M23 emerged and captured large parts of North Kivu province.
At that time, the Congolese government contacted the East African Community to expel the rebels. But the local population, and subsequently the regime in Kinshasa, quickly turned against the East African forces for allegedly colluding with the rebels. Only Burundian forces will carry out their mission.
Southern African Development Community
After the East African Community summit last week, the national organization announced that Kinshasa would not extend its mandate “beyond December 8, 2023.” President Felix Tshisekedi hopes to replace EAC soldiers with a force from the Southern Development Community (SADC). There have been talks about such a mission since last May, but it has never become concrete.
The United Nations also still maintains the MONUSCO mission in Congo, and has done so since 1999. This mission includes approximately 14,000 peacekeeping troops, mostly in the east. These forces are also not very popular among the population. It must begin an “orderly but rapid” withdrawal early next year.
Congo’s presidential elections are scheduled for December 20. Due to insecurity, parts of the restive North Kivu province are expected to be unable to vote.
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