Museveni rallies region to defeat Congo rebels

President Museveni speaks on the screen as he participates online during the opening of East African Community (EAC)- led Nairobi Process, the third peace talk on the eastern region of DRC, in Nairobi on November 28, 2022. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • The President called for a ceasefire by all fighting elements to allow for meaningful political dialogue and settlement of grievances.

President Museveni, the commander-in-chief of UPDF, has said armed groups destibilising eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) can be defeated with a united regional military assault.

Speaking by a video link, Gen Museveni told the Third Inter-Congolese Consultations of the Nairobi Peace Process, the political track sitting in Kenya, that the problem of insecurity in DRC stems from post-independence accumulation of illegal guns in private hands due to diminished state authority and control in the east of the country.

He called for a ceasefire by all fighting elements to allow for meaningful political dialogue and settlement of grievances.

“The political means start with the dialogue. The dialogue should be preceded by a ceasefire where there’s active fighting and disengagement of forces. The peaceful solution should be the outcome of the dialogue,” Gen Museveni said.

He added: “These armed groups causing insecurity can be defeated if we harmonise efforts. If any Congolese group doesn’t respect the formula reached after the dialogues, the combined resources of East Africa will be brought down on them. No force can defy the combined efforts of East Africa.”

The President’s comments come slightly over three weeks after Uganda’s Deputy Chief of Defence Forces (D/CDF), Lt Gen Peter Elwelu, told a visiting European Union delegation in Kampala that it would not take the East Africa Community Regional Force more than 24 hours to defeat the M23 rebels.

In a November 20 tweet, First Son Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who is a serving UPDF general, warned against mocking M23 that he christened “our brothers”.

“I heard some people saying that they can defeat them in a day? That is what [former Ugandan President Milton] Obote used to say about NRA in Luweero,” he tweeted in reference to the five-year guerrilla war that his father led that ended in the ouster of Gen Tito Okello who had months earlier toppled Obote.

Gen Muhoozi in the tweet noted that when M23 rebels, who claim to be fighting to protect the interests of mainly the Tutsi tribe in Congo, “withdraw for peace, they shall do it because they are serious partners for peace in DRC”.

There are reported to be more than 140 rebel and militia groups marauding in the mineral-rich eastern DRC, but M23 has been the game-changer this year with more sophisticated weaponry and organisation that has enabled it to capture and hold Congolese territory, including the Bunagana border with Uganda.

President Felix Tshisekedi’s government accuses Rwanda of aiding the insurgents --- an allegation Kigali denies --- who have in past weeks made blistering battlefield gains as regional leaders who long agreed on deploying a joint force renew attempts at diplomacy.

Yesterday’s Inter-Congolese dialogue in Nairobi, which brought together civil society and armed groups fighting the Kinshasa government and Congo officials to find sustainable security solutions, was a continuation of the dialogue facilitated by for former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

However, M23 rebels are excluded from the arrangement because the DRC government has christened them a “terrorist group”.

The Nairobi, Kenya, and Luanda, Angola processes, which are initiatives to end the fighting and bring lasting peace to eastern Congo scarred by decades of volatility, directed M23 rebels to ceasefire and withdraw from areas they captured since the start of this year.

The rebels agreed to a ceasefire, but declined to give up occupied areas despite being given an ultimatum that expired on Friday.

President Kagame said Rwanda was committed to the Nairobi process aimed at restoring peace in eastern DRC.

“We need to address the root cause of insecurity in eastern DRC once and for all. We welcome EAC’s swift response in seeking to restore peace in eastern DRC. Rwanda is committed to this process,” he said yesterday.

Congo’s Tshisekedi, who is facing a reelection battle next year, said the time to stop insecurity in DRC was now.

“The time to change the narrative of DRC having protracted insecurity is now. We are committed to the EAC-led Nairobi process and long for peace so [that] we can rebuild the great Democratic Republic of Congo,” he added.

One option on the table is for the fighters to disarm, demobilise and integrate into Congo’s national army, better known by the acronym Fardc, but the country’s Parliament put brakes on it by passing a resolution prohibiting accommodation of ex-rebels.

The EAC regional force, for which Uganda has a standby contingent, is led by Kenya which inserted its special forces in DRC a few weeks ago mainly to undertake surveillance and reconnaissance pending full-scale troop deployment.

Kenyan President William Ruto, who took office after winning the August vote, said there must be security for the region to prosper.

Congo signed the treaty of accession and formally joined the regional EAC bloc as its seventh member in April this year, bringing to the table vast economic opportunities due to its expansive size and natural endowment but also its historical baggage of insecurity.

“Our security and progress is dependent on that of the region. The pursuit of peace is, thus, an inevitable precondition for our prosperity. Kenya is committed to supporting the restoration of peace in eastern DRC,” President Ruto said yesterday.

After M23 captured three strategic border towns and Rutshuru Township, they blocked goods from Uganda and Kenya from reaching Goma City, halting the eastern neighbours from cashing in on lucrative trade.
Long-haul vehicles carrying merchandise from the two countries remain stuck at the Ishasha border in Uganda, some for several weeks.

Burundi President Evariste Ndayishimiye, the current rotational chair of EAC, urged all partners to support initiatives to promote peace and stability in the restive region.

“We are cognizant of the high expectations the region and international community have in this process”, he said, “I am appealing to all partners to commit to supporting initiatives aimed at promoting peace and consolidating stability in the region”.

Ex-president Uhuru Kenyatta, who is leading the shuttle diplomacy between regional capitals, said no efforts should be spared to restore security in Congo.

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