On Saturday, Kenyan troops arrived in the eastern DRC city of Goma. According to reports, they were welcomed by local dignitaries and Congolese soldiers in the area. They arrive as tensions in the Great Lakes area are rising; the M23 rebel group is advancing across North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Kenya has explained why it sent troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, claiming that the effort was to safeguard its interests in the mineral-rich country.
The Kenyan government claimed that the choice was made based on its strategic investment interests. It also acknowledged the seriousness of the situation and the potential consequences for its own loss should the issue not be resolved.
“The long-term local and regional benefits of peace and stability, as well as strategic Kenyan investments in the Democratic Republic of Congo, outweigh the costs,” Nelson Koech, MP for Belgut and chairman of the National Assembly Committee on Defence and Foreign Rel-ations, told the local media. “Through this deployment, Kenya will also secure its vital interests including Kenyan businesses like banks operating in the DRC, numerous Kenyan businesspeople in the country, bilateral trade with the DRC, and utilization of the Mombasa port by the DRC, among others.”
Earlier, it was reported that Kenya was shelling out $37 million for a peacekeeping operation in the neighboring DRC. The Kenyan government also announced that it would send around 1,000 soldiers to support the mission.
In a statement, Koech reassured the public that Kenya is better prepared to handle international crises of this magnitude. He referred to Kenya’s encounter with Al-Shabaab terrorists in Somalia.
“In Somalia’s case, the priority was to crush the Al-Shabaab infrastructure to incapacitate their ability to attack Kenya. In DRC, the mandate of the KDF is simple. We move in to facilitate ongoing regional stabilization efforts to create room for dialogue,” Koech explained.
Colonel Guillaume Ndjile, spokesman for the Congolese army in North Kivu, said that the instructions of the head of state were “very clear” and that the DRC neighbors are on “a purely offensive mission.”
Last week, Kenyan President William Ruto described the mission as “necessary and urgent” for regional security.
Armed group violence in eastern Congo has sparked a diplomatic crisis between the country and its neighbor Rwanda, which both accuse the other of supporting particular organizations. Leaders of the East African Community (EAC) proposed the formation of a combined military force back in June. A Kenyan commander is in charge of the regional force, which also includes two battalions from Uganda, two from Burundi, and one from South Sudan.
The M23 (March 23 Movement) rebels, a largely Congolese organization, started fighting again in late 2021 after going years without engaging in combat. They accuse the DRC government of breaking a deal to incorporate its members into the army.
In the North Kivu region, recent militia advances prompted the UN peacekeeping operation to step up its alertness and support for the Congolese army last month. However, in late October, the UN peacekeepers, who are fighting the rebels on behalf of the country’s government, “made a strategic and tactical withdrawal” from a military camp in the DRC. The DRC forces suffered a significant blow with the retreat, which also marks the end of an era of largely peaceful conditions in the country’s east. The rise of the M23 has severely affected relations in central Africa.
In the eastern DRC, where fighting has been raging for decades but has recently gotten worse, at least 100 armed groups are active.