The US government has hailed Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta for getting DR Congo and Rwanda to a meeting last week, saying it could ease tensions between the two neighbours.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with President Kenyatta in a phone call on Thursday about Nairobi’s Initiative under the East African Community Conclave on DR Congo, as the best approach to end armed conflict in the troubled east of the country.
“Secretary Blinken expressed his appreciation for the Nairobi process, which has brought together the leadership of the DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, South Sudan and Tanzania,” US State Department Spokesman Ned Price said of the phone call.
“The Secretary noted these heads of state meetings are instrumental for facilitating the de-escalation of regional tensions, and in particular between the DR Congo and Rwanda.”
The Nairobi Initiative is one of President Kenyatta’s agenda in his role as chairman of the EAC and has targeted to create a long-term solution for peace in eastern DR Congo.
Two weeks ago, regional leaders endorsed President Kenyatta’s call to deploy a regional force — the East African Standby Force, EASF, — after a meeting of EAC chiefs of Defence forces agreed on the Concept of Operations for troop contribution to the force by EAC member states. The actual deployment date has not been decided yet although a dispatch from the meeting in Nairobi indicated details will be shared early in July.
The meeting was, however, preceded by a public spat between Rwanda and DR Congo, with Kinshasa accusing Kigali of supporting M23 militia who are behind the armed conflict.
Kigali denied the accusations, but the first physical meeting between presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Felix Tshisekedi of DR Congo in Nairobi was seen as a crucial ice breaker.
Congolese politicians and the public have expressed reservations about the proposed deployment of peace troops. They said the East Africa Standby Force (EASF) would be duplicating roles of the UN Mission (Monusco) as well as other existing interventions currently on the ground.
The US support for the Nairobi Process now follows that by the UN and African Union for the regional engagement which is seen as the first such public move by regional countries in addressing the decades-long DR Congo conflict. Meanwhile, Kenya on Thursday abstained from a vote extending sanctions on the DR Congo, including a restricted arms purchase. The resolution 2641/2022 was eventually approved but Kenya protested the retention of a clause that requires DR Congo army to notify the sanctions committee of specific arms it intends to buy.
“Kenya voted to abstain in solidarity with the DRC in their appeal for a full lifting of the notification requirement in respect to arms and the provision of assistance and training on military activities,” Dr Martin Kimani, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN explained.
He said notification requirement is an unnecessary revelation that benefits armed groups opposed to the government.